“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:6
In John 18:1-12, we are discovering how to endure difficult times. So far we have learned we can do this when we…
– Learn about the love of Christ (John 18:1a).
– Look to the Lord in prayer (John 18:1b).
As Jesus crosses over the Kidron Brook with His disciples, He begins to meet with a series of people. Each of these people that Jesus meets, are thinking about and deciding who Jesus really is. This first group of people that Jesus meets will encounter Jesus’ power. From this we get our third way to endure difficult times – LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (18:2-8a). John informs us, “And Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with His disciples.” (John 18:2). Perhaps John recorded this detail because it shows that Jesus was not trying to avoid His arrest. Instead He deliberately goes to “the place” that Judas knew Christ would go. Jesus was actually more concerned about meeting with this group than they were with Him! 1
Judas was a disciple of Jesus, who was in the process of betraying Christ. The word translated “betrayed” (paradidous), is a present participle which suggests “the vividness of an unfolding drama.” 2 The process of betrayal was already in progress. “Then Judas, having received a detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” (John 18:3). It was Judas who led the arresting officers to the olive grove where Jesus was with His disciples.
This group included a “detachment” (speiran) normally consisting of 600 Roman soldiers 3 and temple “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees.” John is the only gospel writer to refer to both Roman soldiers and Jewish temple officers in the arresting party perhaps to reveal even more of the power of Christ. These soldiers were stationed in the Fortress of Antonia just north of the temple during the Jewish feasts. 4 These troops were used to quell riots like an emergency police force. 5
John informs us that this group “came with lanterns, torches, and weapons.” I wonder why such a large group of soldiers came to arrest one Teacher who was accompanied by Eleven terrified followers who had two swords among themselves (cf. Luke 22:38)? Keep in mind that this is Passover time when the moon would be full. 6 A full moon would provide a lot of light to see things. Yet we are told that they brought lanterns and torches. Why? They must have thought Jesus would hide somewhere in the dark recesses of the garden so they brought lights to search for the Light of the world, but they would not need them.
They also brought “weapons” to arrest the Prince of Peace, suggesting that they anticipated resistance from Jesus. But, as we shall soon see, they would not need them either. When all is said and done, this arresting party looks pretty ridiculous, especially Judas. It makes me wonder what Judas had told them about Christ. Judas came in the cover of night because he was afraid. He needed a big group with lights and weapons to compensate for his fear of Jesus. Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus for material gain (cf. Matthew 26:14-16; cf. I Timothy 6:10).
What about us? Do we betray the Lord when we lack finances? Do we seek to dishonor Him when there is financial gain? Do we look to people to meet our financial needs instead of to the Lord? How many Christians have compromised the Word of God for the sake of money? God knew money would be a great temptation for people, that is why He talks more about money and material possessions in the Bible than any other topic except love.
When we compare John’s account of Jesus’ arrest with the other three gospels, John gives less time to Judas than the other gospel writers. John does not even include the kiss Judas gave Christ to identify Him (cf. Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-48). Why? Because John is magnifying the Person and power of Jesus Christ.
How must the disciples have felt when they saw this large army of soldiers and temple guards? They were probably terrified! How does Jesus respond to this arresting party? “Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” (John 18:4). Jesus was not taken by surprise by the arrival of this large army. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. He knew what was ahead and so He stepped out of the dark into the light of their lanterns and torches. Instead of fleeing from this intimidating group, He “went forward and said to them, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ ” This may seem odd to us because people who are about to be arrested, do not usually move toward the arresting party. But Jesus moved towards those who were going to arrest Him. Why? Because He was confident of God’s will. Perhaps Christ also wanted to identify Himself to draw attention away from His disciples.
“They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’ And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them.” (John 18:5a). When the arresting party told Him they were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” Jesus boldly declared to them, “I am He.” Once again Jesus makes an “I AM” (Egō eimi) statement claiming to be God (cf. John 6:35; 8:12, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6). The same Self-Existing God Who spoke to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14) now stepped forward to announce His identity to this large arresting party. This army had come to arrest a fleeing Teacher, but they are confronted by a commanding Leader who claims to be God.
In contrast to Jesus’ claim, “Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them” on the side of the arresting party, not on the side of Jesus. This was a bad choice by Judas because even though the other disciples were outnumbered by this army, they were still on the side of the majority. Why? Because one plus God is always a majority.
“Now when He said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” (John 18:6). When Jesus identified Himself with the words, “I am He,” this army of Roman soldiers and temple guards “drew back and fell to the ground.” Why did they do this? We can understand why when we look at the verb, “fell” (epesan). This word means “one who is overcome in battle by a superior” 7 or “to fall down before high-ranking persons or divine beings.” 8 The sheer power of Jesus’ name or identity causes His well-armed enemies to fall “backward in fear and absolute dismay.” 9 They are overwhelmed with the power and majesty of Jesus the Messiah, including Judas who also fell down at Jesus’ feet. 10 These powers of Rome and Israel were bowing before Jesus and could not touch Him except by His permission.
Tony Evans writes, “The Greek words behind the translation ‘I am he’ can simply be rendered as ‘I am’—the divine name, the self-designation that God revealed to Moses… Jesus is no mere man. He’s the God-Man. He’s the Word who was with God, was God, and became flesh (1:1, 14). Jesus spoke the divine name using the same voice that had spoken the world into existence. And it knocked the betrayer and his accomplices off their feet.” 11
“Then He asked them again, ‘Whom are you seeking?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ ” (John 18:7). Jesus repeats the same question and receives the same answer. “Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I am He.’ ” (John 18:8a). Again Jesus tells them, “I am He.” This is the third time John refers to the words “I am He” in verses 5-8. He is clearly focusing on Christ’s deity. Christ is the Initiator here. It seems as though He is having to work hard to get arrested because they are overwhelmed with His majesty. Even though He is unarmed, and they are heavily armed and outnumbered Him, they are hesitant to arrest Him because they are concerned about what He might do. This big bad army knows Who Jesus is now, but they are still in awe of Him.
What do we learn from this circumstance? Christ has the power to help us endure difficult times so LEAN ON THE POWER OF CHRIST (John 18:2-8a). To whom do we look for power when we are stressed out? This is a daily trial that we have in our decision making with Jesus every day. To whom do we look for power? To politicians? Celebrities? Family? Employers? Do we look to our own strength? Do we look to somebody else’s strength? Do we look to money for power? Where do we look for power in our lives to give us that sense of significance and power? God is teaching us that this power is in Jesus’ name. He has the power to make an army fall down before Him. Therefore, He has the power to enable us to endure difficult times in a way that glorifies Him.
Instead of being in awe of the difficulties we face, let’s take time to be in awe of the majesty of Jesus Christ which causes armies to fall down at the mention of His name. His name is exalted above all others (Philippians 2:9-11). May we never forget Who the Lord Jesus Christ truly is. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last (Revelation 22:13). He is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, (Isaiah 9:6b). Jesus is appointed Heir of all things, through Whom also He made the universe, Who being the brightness of the Father’s glory and the express image of His Person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, Who purged our sins, and now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:2-3). He is the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd Who gave His life for the sheep (John 1:29; 10:11).
As we focus on the majesty of Jesus Christ, we can more fully appreciate the song when it says,
“Turn you eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
Prayer: Lord God, may we never forget that the Baby born in Bethlehem Who grew up to die on a cross as a suffering Servant was Almighty God in human flesh Who is the Maker and Sustainer of the entire universe. Please renew our sense of awe and wonder toward Your majesty, Lord Jesus, which was manifested in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Your death when You boldly announced to Your well-armed enemies, “I AM He.” Help us appreciate the majesty, dominion, glory, and power of Almighty God captured in these words. May the same power that caused an army to fall at Your feet enable us to face these challenging times with boldness and power to honor Your matchless name. Please help us not to underestimate the power of Your Word which not only spoke the universe into existence, but also caused an army to fall down before You. Use our voices, O God, to transform this world with Your powerful Word. In the majestic name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
1. Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel According to John,” The Grace New Testament Commentary, Vol. 1: Matthew – Acts (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), pg. 462.
2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 316.
3. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [BAGD], compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 761.
4. Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 323.
5. J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1946), p. 537.
6. Constable, Notes on John, pg. 323; cf. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. V., Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1932), pg. 284.
7. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 458.
8. BAGD, pg. 659.
9. J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, Pasadena, Calif.: Thru The Bible Radio; and Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1983. pg. 484.
10. W. Hall Harris, A Theology of John’s Writings.” In A Biblical Theology of the New Testament. Edited by Roy B. Zuck, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), pg. 182.
11. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1817.