Jesus and the disciples head out to the garden of Gethsemane (which means oil-press as it was in an olive grove.) Judas comes with the temple police, chief priests and Pharisees. A band of Roman soldiers also came – the word used could mean anything up to 600 people. They were there to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
All the gospels record that Jesus knew what was going to happen next. So he steps forward and asks “Whom do you seek?” – remember it is dark! At the answer of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, Jesus echoes those words “I am” – the “he” is an English addition . He is declaring his deity again and that startles them enough that they step back and fall down! John Calvin describes it like this: “This relates to the great power which Jesus breathed with a single word, that we might learn that the ungodly had no power over him except so far as He permitted. He replies mildly that it is He whom they seek and yet, as if they had been struck by a violent hurricane or rather by lightning, He prostrates them on the ground.”
Twice they fall down as Jesus says “I am” – Jesus is all-powerful, but He is meek, strength held under control, because He must be arrested, tried, falsely convicted and executed on our behalf, taking the wrath and punishment that we deserve. Peter again, misses what is really going on and chops off Malchus’ ear. That is not the ‘cup that Jesus is going to drink’. No violent revolution and overthrow!
Jesus is taken to Annas, who questions him as high priest v.12-18, and then is sent to Caiaphas the high priest v.24. The confusion results from the fact it is a family affair and Annas was firstly the high priest, which should have been a lifetime appointment, but Pilate’s predecessor had deposed him. Annas still held power and five of his sons had done the job, including Caiaphas. We saw a few days ago how Caiaphas had prophesied that Jesus must die – thinking it would be to stop the revolution that seemed to be fomenting. The irony is that Jesus’ death started an all-together different revolution of grace!
Peter’s denial, that had been predicted by Jesus, shows that Jesus is sovereign, large and in charge, and knew everything that was going to happen. It also shows us the utter loneliness He was about to experience as even His closest followers desert and deny Him.
Annas’ questions are about Jesus’ disciples and His teaching. He wanted to know how many followers Jesus had, to know how big an issue this was. Annas also wanted to know about Jesus’ theology, because that is the big issue for the Jewish leaders, even though they present Jesus as a political problem to the Romans.
We end today’s reading with Peter’s denials and the cock crowing. How often we fail, how often we are ashamed and lack boldness and as we will see, how wonderful that Jesus picks us up at our lowest ebb, taking away guilt and shame and encouraging us on.