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John 18:1-8

Context
Betrayal and Arrest

18:1 When he had said these things, 1  Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley. 2  There was an orchard 3  there, and he and his disciples went into it. 18:2 (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times 4  with his disciples.) 5  18:3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers 6  and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. 7  They came to the orchard 8  with lanterns 9  and torches and weapons.

18:4 Then Jesus, because he knew everything that was going to happen to him, 10  came and asked them, “Who are you looking for?” 11  18:5 They replied, 12  “Jesus the Nazarene.” He told them, “I am he.” (Now Judas, the one who betrayed him, was standing there with them.) 13  18:6 So when Jesus 14  said to them, “I am he,” they retreated 15  and fell to the ground. 16  18:7 Then Jesus 17  asked them again, “Who are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” 18:8 Jesus replied, 18  “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for 19  me, let these men 20  go.” 21 

1 sn When he had said these things appears to be a natural transition at the end of the Farewell Discourse (the farewell speech of Jesus to his disciples in John 13:31-17:26, including the final prayer in 17:1-26). The author states that Jesus went out with his disciples, a probable reference to their leaving the upper room where the meal and discourse described in chaps. 13-17 took place (although some have seen this only as a reference to their leaving the city, with the understanding that some of the Farewell Discourse, including the concluding prayer, was given en route, cf. 14:31). They crossed the Kidron Valley and came to a garden, or olive orchard, identified in Matt 26:36 and Mark 14:32 as Gethsemane. The name is not given in Luke’s or John’s Gospel, but the garden must have been located somewhere on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives.

2 tn Grk “the wadi of the Kidron,” or “the ravine of the Kidron” (a wadi is a stream that flows only during the rainy season and is dry during the dry season).

3 tn Or “a garden.”

4 tn Or “often.”

5 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author.

6 tn Grk “a cohort.” The word σπεῖραν (speiran) is a technical term for a Roman cohort, normally a force of 600 men (one tenth of a legion). It was under the command of a χιλίαρχος (ciliarco", v. 12). Because of the improbability of an entire cohort being sent to arrest a single man, some have suggested that σπεῖραν here refers only to a maniple, a force of 200. But the use of the word here does not necessarily mean the entire cohort was present on this mission, but only that it was the cohort which performed the task (for example, saying the fire department put out the fire does not mean that every fireman belonging to the department was on the scene at the time). These Roman soldiers must have been ordered to accompany the servants of the chief priests and Pharisees by Pilate, since they would have been under the direct command of the Roman prefect or procurator. It is not difficult to understand why Pilate would have been willing to assist the Jewish authorities in such a way. With a huge crowd of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Passover, the Romans would have been especially nervous about an uprising of some sort. No doubt the chief priests and Pharisees had informed Pilate that this man Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, or in the terms Pilate would understand, king of Israel.

7 tn The phrase “officers of the chief priests and Pharisees” is a comprehensive name for the groups represented in the ruling council (the Sanhedrin) as in John 7:32, 45; 18:3, 12, 18, 22; 19:6. They are different from the Levites who served as “temple police” according to K. H. Rengstorf (TDNT 8:540). In John 7:32ff. these officers had made an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Jesus, and perhaps this is part of the reason why their leaders had made sure they were accompanied by Roman soldiers this time. No more mistakes were to be tolerated.

sn See the note on Pharisees in 1:24.

8 tn The words “to the orchard” are not in the Greek text but are repeated from v. 1 for clarity.

9 tn These were lamps that had some sort of covering to protect them from wind and rain. In earlier usage the word meant “torch” but by NT times it apparently meant a lamp designed to be used outdoors, so “lantern” is a good contemporary English equivalent.

sn Mention of the lanterns and torches suggests a detail remembered by one who was an eyewitness, but in connection with the light/darkness motif of John’s Gospel, it is a vivid reminder that it is night; the darkness has come at last (cf. 13:30).

10 tn Grk “knowing all things that were coming upon him.”

11 tn Grk “Whom do you seek?”

12 tn Grk “They answered.”

sn The author does not state precisely who from the group of soldiers and temple police replied to Jesus at this point. It may have been the commander of the Roman soldiers, although his presence is not explicitly mentioned until 18:12. It may also have been one of the officers of the chief priests. To the answer given, “Jesus the Nazarene,” Jesus replies “I am [he].”

13 sn This is a parenthetical note by the author. Before he states the response to Jesus’ identification of himself, the author inserts a parenthetical note that Judas, again identified as the one who betrayed him (cf. 18:2), was standing with the group of soldiers and officers of the chief priests. Many commentators have considered this to be an awkward insertion, but in fact it heightens considerably the dramatic effect of the response to Jesus’ self-identification in the following verse, and has the added effect of informing the reader that along with the others the betrayer himself ironically falls down at Jesus’ feet (18:6).

14 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 tn Grk “moved back” (but here a fairly rapid movement is implied).

16 sn When Jesus said to those who came to arrest him “I am,” they retreated and fell to the ground. L. Morris says that “it is possible that those in front recoiled from Jesus’ unexpected advance, so that they bumped those behind them, causing them to stumble and fall” (John [NICNT], 743-44). Perhaps this is what in fact happened on the scene; but the theological significance given to this event by the author implies that more is involved. The reaction on the part of those who came to arrest Jesus comes in response to his affirmation that he is indeed the one they are seeking, Jesus the Nazarene. But Jesus makes this affirmation of his identity using a formula which the reader has encountered before in the Fourth Gospel, e.g., 8:24, 28, 58. Jesus has applied to himself the divine Name of Exod 3:14, “I AM.” Therefore this amounts to something of a theophany which causes even his enemies to recoil and prostrate themselves, so that Jesus has to ask a second time, “Who are you looking for?” This is a vivid reminder to the reader of the Gospel that even in this dark hour, Jesus holds ultimate power over his enemies and the powers of darkness, because he is the one who bears the divine Name.

17 tn Grk “he”; the referent (Jesus) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

18 tn Grk “Jesus answered.”

19 tn Grk “if you are seeking.”

20 tn The word “men” is not in the Greek text but is implied. The translation uses the word “men” here rather than a more generic word like “people” because in context Jesus referred only to the eleven remaining disciples who were loyal to him and were present at his arrest.

21 sn A second time Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he,” identifying himself as the one they are seeking. Jesus also added, “If you are looking for me, let these men go.” Jesus successfully diverted attention from his disciples by getting the soldiers and officers of the chief priests to admit (twice) that it is only him they were after. Even in this hour Jesus still protected and cared for his own, giving himself up on their behalf. By handing himself over to his enemies, Jesus ensured that his disciples went free. From the perspective of the author, this is acting out beforehand what Jesus will actually do for his followers when he goes to the cross.



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