MATTHEW 26:47-56
Pp Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53, John 18:3-12

The crowd
   1. Romans
   2. Jews
The kiss
The sword
The robber

If we’re right in our interpretation of what took place upon the arrival of Jesus and the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, the crowd of men who’d come out from Jerusalem to arrest Jesus must have initially met the eight disciples at or near the entrance to the Garden, realised that Jesus wasn’t among them and then followed Judas as he made his way deeper into the heart of the olive grove.

I noted at the end of the last web page that Jesus advanced upon the crowd and that the Greek indicates that we should see it as a warrior moving towards a recognised enemy to do battle - only, in this situation, there’s no thought of a natural fight with the men approaching but a determination to allow the arrest to occur and to get on with fighting the real enemy on the cross.

The four Gospel narratives need some harmonisation at this point mainly because John adds an incident which needs integration into the three Synoptic accounts.

Firstly, then, the crowds approach the Garden from their exit out from the city (Mtw 26:47, Mark 14:43, Luke 22:47, John 18:1-3) and Judas identifies the one to be arrested by the kiss of greeting (Mtw 26:48-50, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48). It would appear that the soldiers and officials had already begun dispersing into the Garden not only to look for the object of their search but to secure the Garden in case there were groups which could pose a threat to the venture.

Immediately after the kiss and Jesus’ response, He advanced on the crowd which is now coming towards Him - a response which would have had the effect of causing natural bewilderment. Then takes place the conversation between Jesus and the crowd (John 18:4-9) which seems to challenge their very belief in what they were expecting to happen. After all, the One being arrested would have naturally have been supposed to flee and for them to have to pursue.

When Jesus comes towards them and announces that He’s the One they’re looking for, it doesn’t make much sense to them, even more so when He responds with the words ‘I am’ (and not ‘I am He’ as the RSV interprets), a declaration of His divinity. Their response to pull back a short distance and fall to the ground seems to indicate that John wants the reader to understand that a revelation of His divine Sonship was being revealed in that moment and we would do well to pay attention to it for it shows us that, even with revelation, man can still choose to go on their own way regardless of what’s been made known to them.

When their fear (implied) subsides, they arrest Him (Mtw 26:50, Mark 14:46). The band of three disciples who’d been sleeping while Jesus was praying (Mtw 26:40) are probably behind him, rousing themselves from sleep at this point and, although the eight at the entrance to the Garden seem to realise what’s transpiring (Luke 22:49), Peter is the one who doesn’t wait for clear instruction and draws a sword, rushing towards the band of soldiers and officials and wounding the high priest’s slave, Malchus - whereupon Jesus heals the wound and orders Peter to desist (Mtw 26:50-54, Mark 14:46-47, Luke 22:49-51, John 18:10-11) even though the soldiers may have already come forward to attempt to remove Peter’s head from his shoulders.

For this reason, it appears, Jesus is bound (John 18:12, Luke 22:54 - placed here out of order to round off the passage and introduce the next scene) fearing that, if there had been an attempt at deliverance, there may be another in which a shackled prisoner would be easier to prevent fleeing.

Finally, Jesus has some words for the ones who’ve come to arrest Him but His words seem directed specifically at the Jews, for the Romans are there solely at the request of the governing Jewish authorities (Mtw 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-52, Luke 22:47-53).

The crowd
Mtw 26:47,51, Mark 14:43,47, Luke 22:47,50,52, John 18:3,10,12

The reader is faced with the danger of overlooking the Gospel writers’ testimonies of those present at the arrest - that is, those who’d come out from the city to the garden of Gethsemane - and thinking that the arrest was nothing more than a simple apprehension of a troublesome individual in which the forces and authority of Rome took no part. While it’s true that it wasn’t until daylight that Pontius Pilate became directly involved, the Roman soldiers were an integral part of the arrest and would give us a clear indication, therefore, why, when Pilate was approached, he appears to have been already prepared for their meeting - and there are sufficient grounds to believe why Pilate’s wife should have had a dream about Jesus from knowledge rather than out of the blue and with no prior knowledge that such a situation might arise (Mtw 27:19). We may consign her dream to having too much cheese before she went to bed or to a direct revelation from God but, if she had no knowledge whatsoever of Jesus, the dream has to have been of an external origin to her own memory.

Mark 14:43 and Luke 22:47 begin by telling the reader that ‘a crowd’ came out with Judas to arrest Jesus which could summon up in the mind anywhere from around twenty people to hundreds if not thousands. But it’s only Matthew who emphasises the numbers present by speaking of a ‘great’ crowd (Mtw 26:47).

We might imagine that there were just hundreds of Jews present and that they were composed of the underlings of the Jewish authorities but, when we look at some of the words used here, we can see that there were specific groups present which represented many sections of Israelite society.

1. Romans

Firstly, John 18:3 and 18:12 speaks of

‘a band of soldiers’

where the first word stands alone in the text with no description ‘soldiers’ which the RSV adds in interpretation - with some justification which will be seen below. Johnmor also points out that the definite article used here may be significant and cause the reader to think not of any band of soldiers but of ‘the’ band which was garrisoned in the Antonia fortress, especially at the time of the annual festivals. This word (Strongs Greek number 4686), according to Vines, means

‘...primarily anything round [and] came to mean a body of men at arms and was the equivalent of the Roman manipulus [one third of a cohort being approximately two hundred men]. It was also used for a larger body of men, a cohort, about six hundred infantry, commanded by a tribune’

The Greek certainly doesn’t have to imply that an entire ‘cohort’ came out but the word occurs only seven times in the NT and its usage is significant in pointing towards the most probable interpretation. Mtw 27:27 and Mark 15:16 speak of Jesus being brought before the ‘battalion’ (as the RSV) where it’s difficult to see any other intention of the writers than to convey the meaning that a large body of men known as the cohort were present in the Antonia Fortress which abutted the Temple - one naturally assumes that the full number were present for there seems no other way to take it.

The word’s also used in Acts 10:1 and 27:1 where ‘cohort’ is the best translation of the word and in Acts 21:31 it seems to demand a similar rendering for it refers specifically to the tribune who would have been placed over such a group of soldiers.

It would be extremely unlikely, therefore, that the word here means anything less than ‘cohort’ (for instance, a ‘group’ of soldiers whose numbers were indefinite) and that, therefore, the presence of a Roman cohort must be specifically being referred to by John. Just as significant for this interpretation that there were a large body of Roman soldiers present is the linking of the cohort with the presence of ‘their captain’ (John 18:12 - the RSV may be going too far by using the prefix ‘their’ as there may be just a general description here to ‘the captain’. It’s certainly implied that this captain belonged to the cohort, however) which is a translation of a Greek word (Strongs Greek number 5506) which is probably better transliterated at this point as ‘chiliarch’.

The chiliarch in the Roman army was the commander of a cohort as can be seen from Acts 21:31 (in both Acts 10:1 and 27:1 a centurion of six divisions within the cohort is mentioned and it doesn’t refer to their single commander over all the men) which speaks of

‘...the tribune [chiliarch] of the cohort...’

and Edersheim comments on John’s text that the word used

‘...must represent one of the six tribunes attached to each legion [of six thousand men]’

This would make a cohort around one thousand men as opposed to the six hundred stated above but Zondervan comments here that

‘The auxiliary cohort numbered from five hundred to one thousand and was composed of infantry and cavalry [where Johncar divides these between seven hundred and sixty foot soldiers and two hundred and forty cavalry]’

and it may be best not to insist on a rigid six hundred men as being the members of each and every cohort, for it may have varied in different places and through different obligations which were laid upon the Roman authorities in specific places (as Johnmor notes).

It must be noted, though, that it wasn’t a centurion who came out with a band of men but a chiliarch who was more used to exercising authority over a group in excess of one hundred. I don’t know of any references which would prove the next point conclusively but it may be not too far wrong to assert that the reason for the presence of the chiliarch as the leader over a cohort shows plainly that a figure in excess of one hundred Roman soldiers had come out with the Jews - otherwise a centurion would have been assigned the task and that the gravity of the situation demanded it. Vines notes that

‘One such commander was constantly in charge of the Roman garrison [Antonia] in Jerusalem’

and it’s difficult to take John’s words as implying anything less than this band of troops was a detachment sent from the Roman garrison itself. Even if we take John’s word employed as referring to a manipulus rather than a full cohort as Vines points out is possible (see above), at least two hundred men would still be implied.

This raises some questions which we can’t answer directly from the text but which seem to imply certain events as having to have occurred long before Judas procured the great crowd which came out to arrest Jesus that night. It would appear, then, that the high priest had signalled his intention to the Roman authorities to make the arrest of an extremely dangerous individual that very night and, even if he didn’t personally request assistance but sent another of the priests on his behalf, he was certainly given it. It seems the more likely, however, that Caiaphas would have claimed that Jesus was a revolutionary and plotting treason (as they tried to get evidence for in Mtw 22:15-22) and that it was in Rome’s interests to lend assistance - there’s also evidence in the label used by Jesus Himself in Mtw 26:55 that this had been their clear intention by their procurement of the Roman cohort (see below in the last section).

Certainly, with the possibility that between one to six hundred Roman soldiers had departed from the Antonia fortress, it would have left the authorities with a weakened defence had an uprising begun that night. It impresses upon the reader, therefore, the seriousness of the threat with which Jesus was viewed by Rome. And, perhaps, they feared a popular uprising and were trying to ensure that such an occurrence would be either dissuaded or crushed by their presence. Therefore Johnmor comments that

‘With passions running high at the festival period, the Romans would be unlikely to refuse a request for help from the high priest. They would always have to reckon with the possibility that Jesus and the eleven would resist arrest and that a host of excited Galileans might join them’

so that a large body of soldiers becomes more than likely a necessity when viewed through Roman eyes rather than as an unlikelihood. Johncar’s comments that

‘ is not necessary to assume that an entire maniple [manipulus - two hundred soldiers] was present’

is expressly incorrect for it would be more likely that at least this amount were present to prevent any problems which might occur, and we cannot be entirely certain just what message the high priest passed on to the Romans for him to be able to secure the troop of soldiers for the arrest.

It also lends weight to the assertion I made in my notes on the Passover meal that Judas may have returned to the feast after leaving it and that, during the time he was back with Jesus and the other eleven, the high priest and his aides were making plans for when Judas would return to them and lead them to where Jesus was.

It would certainly have taken time to secure the Roman soldiers and a meeting with the governor Pontius Pilate would not have been an impossible event to have taken place, even though John 18:28 must be given a complete consideration in such a possibility.

2. Jews

Quite obviously there were Jews present at the arrest - but the people who were here should, once more, make the reader sit up and take notice that the religious leaders saw in the arrest the apprehension of a very dangerous and important individual.

We’ll deal firstly with the statement in Luke 22:52 which mentions the presence of

‘officers of the Temple’

where the word translated ‘officers’ (Strongs Greek number 4755) is the word also employed in Acts 4:1 but in the singular when the captain of the Temple is being referred to. The authority and rights of this main captain is hinted at in Middoth 1:2 where the text notes that

‘The officer of the Temple Mount used to go round to every watch with lighted torches before him and, if any watch did not stand up and say to him “O officer of the Temple Mount, peace be to thee!” and it was manifest that he was asleep, he would beat him with his staff and he had the right to burn his raiment’

Ultimate authority for the running and security of the Temple, therefore, lay in the hands of that one specific ‘captain’ of the Temple precincts. Here in Luke’s Gospel, however, the phrase certainly refers to a plurality of captains rather than the central figure who would, presumably, either be concerned to remain at his post within the Temple or, perhaps, might have been making his way from the Temple courts to the house of the high priest in anticipation of Jesus’ arrest.

These group of captains were those who had specific charge and oversight of a function of the Temple as opposed to the captain who had charge over everything (Lukmor interprets these officials as being the captains of the Temple police but this seems less likely). Shekalim 5:1 mentions fifteen such officers of the Temple though Jeremias seems to imply that there were but seven and I’ve included his number in the chart I used on a previous web page.

Jeremias’ seven temple overseers may represent no more than the seven most important officers who had jurisdiction over the remaining eight captains and his number appears to be partly arrived at from the references in the Talmud. But it’s equally possible that the Mishnah’s fifteen is an extension of Jewish memory which occurred with the passage of time for whatever reason. Certainly, Shekalim 5:2 states plainly that

‘There were never less than three treasurers and seven supervisors...’

and we should place Jeremias’ number as the absolute minimum rather than to see it as the norm. His ‘minimum number’ seems to be set because there were seven gates to the inner courts which needed unlocking each morning and each overseer would have had the responsibility for at least one of these.

Although it would be superfluous to list their functions and responsibilities, a brief read of the list in Shekalim 5:1 is enough to show that, unless they were present and functioning responsibly, normal daily service could not have taken place.

That the main work of the Temple was now finished that night would have released them to be able to come out with the group of soldiers which was traversing the valley of the Kidron. But, again, it would necessarily have taken some time to gather these officials together - even if their number wasn’t the full fifteen we know to have been in existence.

The Greek word translated ‘captain’ in Luke 22:52 could mean simply a military commander but it also came to denote a civil commander and authority over the people. By the descriptive words ‘of the Temple’, it can be plainly observed, however, that we shouldn’t think of them as leaders who were simply over the Jewish nation but who were specifically responsible for the correct function of the Temple and its services.

Another group mentioned in Luke 22:52 and which are separated in the text by the officers of the Temple are

‘The chief priests...and elders’

which appear as a group in Mtw 21:23 as approaching Jesus to demand to know by what authority Jesus was doing the things He was and, at the beginning of the chapter in which they’re mentioned as being at the arrest (Mtw 26:3) where they’re recorded as gathering in the high priest’s residency to decide what had to be done to Jesus.

We saw on my web page which dealt with the former reference that such a phrase needed to be defined as meaning that a substantial amount of members of the Sanhedrin were being referred to. It’s difficult to imagine anything other being meant here, also.

The chief priests would have been almost certainly all Sadducees, members of the ruling aristocracy and we will probably not be going too far wrong to see them as being part of the people mentioned on the chart on the authority structure of the Jewish clergy on a previous web page though I’ve mentioned above that Jeremias from whom the chart is compiled mentions only seven Temple ‘captains’ when the Mishnah states that there were fifteen.

The ‘elders’ would have been, as Jeremias describes them

‘...the heads of the most influential lay families’

for, in Luke 19:47, the phrase

‘the principal men of the people’

seems to be used as a label which means much the same thing. These men would probably have been predominantly Sadducees, but with Pharisees in the overall grouping of that body - a very indistinct assemblage of people. Just how many of each religious party were present is impossible to say but those who knew of the arrest and who felt some allegiance to the high priest would, no doubt, have been present - and this would possibly have excluded most of the Pharisees within their ranks.

Their presence seems to be as representatives for the high priest who would have been making ready to receive Jesus at his own residency. They were probably the highest of those in authority who had come out with the soldiers who would have been able to have positively identified Jesus, for the captains of the Temple may not have listened much to the Galilean teacher if they were busying themselves with their duties.

This group of Sadducees and Pharisees, however, had approached Jesus directly just a couple of days previously (Mtw 21:23) and could be relied upon to affirm that the One who Judas led them to was the One they were seeking to arrest.

Thirdly, in John 18:3, we read that Judas procured, along with the band of soldiers

‘...some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees...’

which marks a clear distinction with the personal representation in the crowd of both major political parties. These ‘officers’ (Strongs Greek number 5257) could imply no more than that these men were, as Kittel’s interprets the word ‘assistant[s] carrying out the will of another’

but the word is used also by John earlier in the Gospel (John 7:32, 7:45) to describe the Temple guards who were responsible for the security of the courts under the Captain of the Temple and who kept the peace whenever there was a disturbance.

These ‘police’ were Levites and Jeremias quotes Philo who describes their various functions. He writes

‘Some of these are stationed at the doors as gatekeepers at the very entrances, some within in front of the sanctuary to prevent any unlawful person from setting foot thereon, either intentionally or unintentionally. Some patrol around it by turn in relays by appointment day and night, keeping guard at both seasons’

Middoth 1:1 also notes that, at night (this is the implication of Middoth 1:2 but the set up probably equally applied to the day time), priests kept watch at three specific places within the Temple while the Levites at twenty-one, the former three areas mentioned probably being the entrances into the holier places that may need entry in order deal with any problems. Jeremias sees these three groups of priests as gatekeepers

‘ the outer doors of the Temple’

while the twenty-one divisions of Levites patrolled the court of the Gentiles and stood at the outer gates. It’s generally believed that it was from these police stationed within the Temple precincts that evening that the ‘officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees’ were made up.

However, as Kittels pointed out, the word means more rightly an assistant who performs the will of those whose charge they’re under and the word is used in the NT to represent something more than a servant and something similar to an employee’s relationship with his employer. It could mean, therefore, that assistants came who lent support to the function of the two sects of religious people here represented.

But, while it could be argued that the Temple police were specially to be considered as assistants to the high priest, John 7:32 makes it plain that they were under the jurisdiction of both the chief priests and the Pharisees so that the natural interpretation would point towards an identification of the Temple police.

It would appear, therefore, that the Temple guard that evening was weakened by the removal of certain officers who were on guard and who would have been gathered together to join with the Roman forces in case a popular uprising took place.

It may have been reasoned that, because Jerusalem was now quiet after the Passover meal, they could spare the men to swell the numbers of the arresting crowd.

Just how many would have gone out is impossible to say mainly because the number present on guard within the Temple seems indeterminable. If we conjecture that the twenty-four posts mentioned in the Mishnah contained near on a hundred men, there could have been as many as fifty additional Jews armed with swords and clubs who went out into the night, across the Kidron valley.

Finally, all four Gospels (Mtw 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50, John 18:10) note the existence of

‘the slave of the high priest’

in the incident of the use of the sword (which may have been no more than what we’d describe as a dagger - but see the discussion below) by one of the disciples which slices through his ear (what terrible aim! It may show that the sword was wielded in a vertical cutting motion rather than horizontally - the latter of which would have had the effect of slicing through the slave’s skull as well).

There are unique snippet’s of information in both Luke and John’s account which are interesting but not necessarily important to the overall plot. John 18:10 tells us, for instance, that it was Peter who drew the sword and cut off the slave’s ear and Luke 22:50 and John 18:10 which inform the reader that it was his right ear. Only Luke 22:51 records that Jesus healed the slave immediately (the other three reports would have made the reader assume that the ear was lying on the ground, presumably, if Luke hadn’t added a note of explanation) while it’s John alone who records the slave’s name as Malchus.

The definite article which is used to denote the slave seems to indicate that this slave was head above all his others (Matmor comments that, although all four Gospels use the definite article, it’s impossible to be certain what position the slave held in the high priest’s household, but it’s more likely that he was one who exercised the high priest’s authority in some matters than just one amongst many who functioned menially. The arrest called for wisdom and cunning and, if needed, the high priest had to be represented) for it seems improbable that the high priest, being in a position of great power and authority over Israel would have had only the one slave in his possession. This slave, therefore, should be seen as being the one who’d been entrusted with responsibility and position over much of the high priest’s estate including those other slaves who were in his possession.

What this shows us is that, although the high priest couldn’t be at the arrest itself, he sent one of his most trusted representatives to oversee the affair and to represent him - and probably he sent more than one single servant for John 18:26 indicates that there was another slave of the high priest in the garden at the time of the arrest.

What the previous discussion should have shown the reader is that the crowd which came out to arrest Jesus was very large, a number which seems unlikely to have been less than two hundred and seventy persons. This figure is arrived at by presuming that the ‘cohort’ could not have been less than two hundred soldiers, that fifty of the Temple police were assembled from the night watch and that the others mentioned were a minimum of twenty people.

In actual fact, there could have been near on a thousand if the cohort was six hundred as normal figures indicate and that more slaves and representatives came out with the leading Jews or sent by those elders who didn’t come with them.

We should note, therefore, that the high priest took the arrest of Jesus with great seriousness and was of the opinion that such an event might have sparked off a popular riot that would have needed to have been suppressed and crushed immediately it occurred.

It’s not surprising that Jesus asks the group the question (Mtw 26:55)

‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture Me?’

for they were showing by the demonstration of excessive force that they’d completely failed to grasp the substance of the Kingdom which He’d preached to them - they still viewed it as some revolutionary plot which sought to overthrow the authorities that were and to set up from Jerusalem an authority which could bring the vengeance of Rome upon them.

Nothing could have been further from the truth, of course, but the numbers and type of people present show that their picture of what the Messiah was expected to be was contrary to who He actually was.

The kiss
Mtw 26:48-50, Mark 14:44-45, Luke 22:47-48

Although it’s certain from the NT Scriptures that the function of the kiss which Jesus received from Judas was to identify the One to arrest while, at the same time, an attempt to conceal the identity of the betrayer, the use of the kiss in both OT and NT is somewhat varied (the following references are not exhaustive and there are a number of passages where the function of the kiss seems to be uncertain).

The most recorded use is that of endearment (Gen 27:27, 48:10, 50:1, II Sam 15:5, 20:9, SofS 8:1, I Sam 20:41, II Sam 14:33) where no sexual connotations are involved but this is unlikely to have been the most common use in everyday society for it was employed both as a greeting (Gen 29:11, 29:13, 33:4, 45:15, Ex 4:27, 18:7, Ruth 1:9, 1:14) and as a farewell (Gen 31:55, I Kings 19:20, II Sam 19:39) and even as a mark of submission to the one being kissed (Ps 2:12, Hosea 13:2, Ex 18:7, I Kings 19:18, I Sam 10:1) where service to either YHWH or to various gods is being implied by the action. There’s at least a few records of the kiss being used seductively (Prov 7:13, SofS 1:2, 7:9) but the rarity of this record when compared to the main uses of the kiss show that to read of a kiss does not imply sexual passion without a definite context to that effect. There was a clear difference between the kiss between two men and that between men and women and such a distinction should be recognised.

When we reach the NT, the kiss’s function is carried over and used similarly as an expression of endearment (Luke 15:20, Acts 20:37), of greeting (Luke 7:45 [implied in the first phrase], 15:20, Rom 16:16, I Cor 16:20, II Cor 13:12, I Thess 5:26, I Peter 5:14), of farewell (Acts 20:37) and of submission (Luke 7:38, 7:45) and the reader will note that my references here are sometimes duplicated in two different categories for it would appear that it could possess a dual function.

In the early Church, there were clearly instructions to greet one another with a ‘holy’ kiss (see the references to ‘greeting’ above) and many have sought to try and explain what the difference between this and a normal kiss were. Probably the best explanation I heard was from a speaker who explained that the essential difference between a holy kiss and a normal one between a husband and wife was about three minutes.

When we come to the kiss of betrayal given by Judas, it seems straightforward that it was meant to be an expression of greeting for Judas specifically says (Mtw 26:49, Mark 14:45)

‘Hail, Master’

simultaneously along with the action. The common verb (Strongs Greek number 5368 - meaning literally ‘to love as a brother’ but, where the context demands, ‘to kiss’) and noun (Strongs Greek number 5370) are used in the majority of references in the three parallel passages (Mtw 26:48, Mark 14:44, Luke 22:47, 22:48) but both Mtw 26:49 and Mark 14:45 employ a slightly different verb when they record Judas’s action (Strongs Greek number 2705) and it’s this which we should turn our attention to.

There’s some debate as to what exactly this verb means and the interpretation seems to change between ‘to kiss tenderly’ and ‘to kiss profusely’ or ‘to kiss repeatedly’ but Vines notes the possibility that it could also mean ‘to kiss fervently’ because the prefix to the normal verb has the effect of intensifying the action, making it more a demonstration of passion than a token gesture of acknowledgement.

Perhaps the best interpretation of the word is given to us in another place in Luke’s Gospel where the word is used in a different event. Luke 7:36-50 records the story of the woman who came in to a feast where Jesus was eating, anointed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and kissed them (Luke 7:38). Although the verb stands alone in that first record and isn’t easily definable by the context, the statement by Jesus to Simon His guest in Luke 7:45 records His words (my italics) as

‘You gave Me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss [2705] My feet’

The act of kissing is linked, therefore, with an endless activity and, even though there’s a double statement of the action which some would see as making one redundant (that is, twice the sentence implies the kissing of the feet repeatedly), the most obvious interpretation of the Greek word would be that the prefix has the effect of indicating repetitive action - though both ‘fervently’ and ‘tenderly’ would equally make good sense. Therefore, Edersheim comments that Judas

‘...not only kissed Him but covered Him with kisses, kissed Him repeatedly, loudly, effusively...’

and the reason seems to be that he wanted to make sure that the soldiers got the point - there may even be an allusion to Prov 27:6 here. After all, it was his kiss that would mark the Man out who they’d come to arrest. There may even have been an element of panic in Judas’ actions for he might have imagined that the soldiers would pounce upon Jesus immediately following that first greeting but, when they didn’t appear, he continued, hoping that suddenly they’d intervene. Jesus seems to have pulled away after a short time, anyway, and moved forward to confront those who were approaching to arrest Him (John 18:4ff).

It’s hard to conclude anything other than, once Jesus was identified, Judas had expected the sudden advance of the soldiers to throw both Jesus and the disciples into a panic and, maybe after a short-lived, ill-fated struggle, He’d be arrested and the disciples would flee. In this case, the disciples would never suspect that Judas had been the instigator of the plot and he’d be safe with his thirty pieces of silver.

But, instead of the sudden flight of panic, Jesus, after being greeted by Judas, went forward to meet the band of soldiers (John 18:4) with Judas with them (John 18:5) and his betrayal became known to all. There may be an element of his perception that even now the disciples were after him to avenge Jesus’ blood that caused him to confront the chief priests and elders to return the money (Mtw 27:3-5).

Matmor sees the kiss as something more than a simple greeting, however, and writes

‘Moses Abernach is cited in the Anchor Bible for the information that “in any group of teacher and disciples, the disciple was never permitted to greet his teacher first since this implied equality. Judas’s sign, therefore, was not only a final repudiation of his relationship with Jesus and a signal to the mob, but also a studied insult”’

but this appears to be going a little too far in the interpretation. Although the point raised may be a valid one, its application to this situation appears to be unlikely because of Judas’ greeting which accompanied it and which defines his action.

The sword
Mtw 26:51-54, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:49-51, John 18:10-11

The word used here for ‘sword’ (machaira - Strongs Greek number 3162) is invariably translated this way by the AV but it may be wholly different to the type of offensive weapon that one normally thinks of when such a word is used. Vines defines it as meaning

‘a short sword or dagger’

where the other Greek word employed in the NT (Strongs Greek number 4501) means something which, comparatively, was much longer and used on less occasions in the text (just seven times). Kittel notes that the machaira is used as a description of the instrument employed by Abraham as he went to sacrifice his son to God in Gen 22:6 and the instrument when Joshua ordered that the Israelites circumcise themselves in Joshua 5:2 where the Hebrew clearly means a knife rather than a large sword (it would be very difficult to perform circumcision with a sword, I suspect).

However, it seems wrong to think of what Peter withdrew to attack the arresting party with as no more than a short blade that would be used to cut meat with for the same word is employed in Mtw 26:55 where Jesus goes on to talk about His captors and how they’d come to Him at that time ‘with machaira and clubs’ and the Roman short sword worn on the right hand side of the body is almost certainly meant (the reason for it’s shortness was simply because it was located on the right side of right-handed soldiers. A longer sword could be located on the left side because the right hand could withdraw the full length but, with the shield held in the left hand, the withdrawal of a sword was easier from the right hip - and it had to therefore be shorter).

Peter’s weapon would appear to necessarily be the same sort of instrument in shape and size and a clear development from Luke 22:35-38 where the existence of the swords have already been noted in a short exchange between Jesus and the disciples.

There, the clear meaning of Jesus’ teaching is that, if He’s treated as a criminal, so will His followers be - that the days had come when a sword would be infinitely more practical to them than an outer covering because Jesus would be ‘reckoned with the transgressors’, adjudged to be a common criminal and sentenced to death.

Jesus had taken up this teaching theme of following in His footsteps of hardship at other times (Mtw 10:24-25, 10:34-39, John 15:20) and, in Luke 22:35-38, He doesn’t instruct the disciples to buy swords that they might defend themselves but is, rather, teaching that their days of ease were now at an end and that the days of great peril had arrived. The often implied teaching that a prospective follower should

‘Come to Jesus and it will be the end of your problems’

is certainly not the doctrine of the NT. Jesus specifically observed (John 16:33) that

‘In the world you have tribulation...’

and Paul also exhorted believers (Acts 14:22) that

‘...through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God’

After all, how can men who live in enemy-occupied territory ever expect to live in peace? A sword would certainly be of far more value to a believer in this world than an outer covering and, if I’m honest, there are times when I’d rather have had a sword by my side that I could have drawn and run someone through than an overcoat I cast over myself in which to walk away!

Against a literal interpretation of buying a sword are Jesus’ words at the arrest (Mtw 26:52) that

‘...all who take the sword will perish by the sword’

The word used for ‘perish’ here (Strongs Greek number 622) isn’t the normal word which would have been expected if Jesus had meant physical death and the idea conveyed by Jesus’ words isn’t one of extinction from the earth but of ruin and personal loss - not of being but of well-being. This is clearly the implication in Mark 8:35 where salvation is what’s being referred to by the word and in I Cor 8:11 where spiritual well-being is the issue. Kittel comments on one such use of the word that

‘In view is not just physical destruction but a hopeless destiny of eternal death’

and we should take it as being implied here in Luke 22:35-38 as well. Jesus is thus referring to the loss of spiritual well being that all who take the sword to use in the defence of the Gospel shall inherit. The natural sword is not an implement to be used in promotion or defence of the Gospel and spiritual death will result which is alienation from the presence and provision of the Father. A life of violence will reap its own rewards, but to employ such a way and yet to proclaim that what’s being done is solely in the cause of the Gospel is deceitful to the truth, the individual reaping the reward in himself of death to the ways and purposes of God. Jesus’ concluding words on the matter in Luke 22:38 and translated by the RSV as

‘It is enough’

when the disciples note that they have two swords with them (one of which appears to be have been used in the Garden) is better interpreted as meaning

‘That’s enough of that kind of talk’

and a rebuke that they’d failed to understand the figurative speech which He was using. They certainly don’t apply it in the Garden, either.

Jesus’ reason for a lack of physical or military strength is found in Mtw 26:53-54 (see also John 18:11) where He notes that there were resources available to Him which could be at His side in the twinkling of an eye but that the will of the Father was such that they were not to be used on this occasion - twelve legions of angels corresponds to an army of some seventy-two thousand troops (and even I can’t make the band which came out against Jesus to reach this number!).

The believer must remember that Jesus isn’t advocating walking into being arrested whenever the disciple finds that official authorities are arrayed against them to do them harm because flight is sometimes the best course of action (Mtw 10:23) as even the apostle Paul discovered (Acts 9:23-25) even though both flight and surrender were far from his mind in the jail at Philippi when he openly challenged and defied the civil authorities who’d ordered him to be released (Acts 16:35-39). What he didn’t do, however, was to round up the believers and march on their leaders to kill them, thinking that Jesus would somehow be with him!

But it was the case here that surrender was actually the way to attack those problems which still stood opposed to mankind coming back into a right relationship with God. Although the world looks upon such a path through life as weak - when it wants to give as good as it gets from everyone - the way of the disciple is often that route that leads away from confrontation into a place that appears to be one of defeat and death.

In the Kingdom, however, appearances don’t matter but the believer must always be certain that what they do is the will of God - whether flight, fight or surrender.

I would presume that those believers who went to their deaths in the immediate years after the ascension of Christ would have armed themselves with the story of Jesus in the Garden and of how He gave Himself up peacefully before His enemies. It may be the case, however - and I don’t mean to judge them here - that they thought that surrender was their only option and didn’t avail themselves of the opportunity for flight when it raised its head.

To follow Jesus doesn’t mean continual passivity in every situation - but only when the will of God plainly requires it.

The robber
Mtw 26:55-56, Mark 14:48-50, Luke 22:52-53

All three references in the Gospels to Jesus’ question directed towards the arresting crowd note that He likens the arrest to that which would have taken place against a ‘robber’ (Strongs Greek number 3027) which should be a surprising comparison to most readers. After all, we’ve seen above that there were probably a minimum of two hundred and fifty people here and that hardly seems justifiable if we’re looking simply at the apprehension of a robber - whether he was armed or not. The Greek word, however, needs some consideration here. Kittels defines the word to mean generally ‘one who seizes prey’

and notes that the word was used for

‘...a soldier or mercenary who has an implicit right to booty...But it usually has a bad sense...for undisciplined troops, then for robbers, bandits...with an implied use of force’

More significantly, however, is it’s use in Josephus (where the only reference I can find is in Matmor of Antiquities 20:160-172 but which I’m unable to locate) where the interpretation would be more in keeping with our present day concept of a ‘terrorist’ but which would place the type of person that the authorities held Jesus to be as a revolutionary Zealot who was set to overthrow the normal order of society and to attempt to establish some kind of messianic Kingdom in which God’s will and rule would be brought in.

This Greek word, then, often means ‘revolutionary’ and Kittels goes on to note that the Romans

‘...execute Zealots as political offenders (by crucifixion) [and] they contemptuously describe them as bandits’

so that the former attempt by the religious leaders to have Jesus sentenced as an enemy of the Empire (Mtw 22:15-22) seems to be the very grounds on which they’ve been able to procure a Roman detachment of soldiers for the arrest. These are also the type of charges with which He’s presented before the Roman Governor (Luke 23:2, John 19:12) and it gives the reader a fuller understanding of the types of people that the two robbers were (the same Greek word is used) who were crucified beside Jesus (Mtw 27:38,44). In Rome’s eyes, therefore, the crucifixion represented the punishment and execution of three revolutionaries who were opposed to the rule of the Empire (Mtw 27:37 - the placard above the cross also indicates this). Of course, this simply wasn’t the case with Jesus, but that appears to be the way the execution on that day was regarded.

Jesus notes, then, the choice of the time at which they’ve come against Him. There’d been ample opportunity to carry out their intentions in the Temple on a daily basis ever since He’d come to the city to celebrate Passover that year but they’d chosen, rather, to await an opportunity when the crowds of pilgrims had dispersed and their will could be done with a reduced threat of a popular uprising (Mtw 21:46).

Both Mathag and Mathen call the religious leadership cowardly - I think that ‘wise’ would be a better description for they were needing to balance the arrest which they considered to be necessary with political expediency so that the favour of Rome might still be granted them. A direct arrest in the Temple using their Temple police could have precipitated an uprising that the Roman soldiers would have had to have crushed and there would immediately have been suspicion pointing towards the religious leadership. The way they eventually chose meant that they could cut their losses and even cause the Romans to do some of their initial work for them.

Jesus’ words, however, would have had the immediate effect of calling those present to account. After all, the arrest had gone off peacefully and, even when Peter had reacted with a sword, the damage was repaired and His disciples were forbidden to fight by the One who they’d come to arrest. It showed plainly that their fears were unfounded and should have prompted the soldiers’ perception of the matter to be changed - even though they appear to have decided against accepting a few hours later what was patently obvious (Mtw 27:27-31).

Matmor observes that Jesus’ words also cut to the root of the will of the religious authorities when he comments that

‘Those in whose hands He now was were not interested in justice. They wanted to simply get Him out of the way and were prepared to stoop to any means to bring that about’

Even though the Roman soldiers may have come out as a genuine response to the situation as they perceived it, the Jewish authorities demonstrate their craftiness in achieving their will regardless of the problems which confronted them and at a time when they were able to so guide the circumstances of the trial that the final verdict was always a distinct possibility.

One has to conclude that they acted more in keeping with the politically astute (as, indeed, the Sadducees were) than the religious believers they professed to be.