John 18:3

18:3 So Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons.

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.

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.

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

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).