We have come to the beginning of the end of a man’s life that changed the world forever. It was to be the beginning of the unthinkable; impacting mankind into eternity. Events are set in motion by various groups of men in the night.
When the last meal was finished, Jesus and His disciples departed for the Garden of Gethsemane. They would have left by the gate of the city and go down the steep valley to cross the canal of the Kidron stream. It is into this stream that the blood of the Passover lambs would drain after their blood was sprinkled at the altar of the Temple.
On the slopes of the Mount of Olives lay a little garden. Gethsemane means oil-press. Oil was extracted from the olive trees there. Many wealthy people had private gardens there. Jerusalem was too crowded for gardens and the ceremonial rules forbade soil or manure in the sacred city.
Visitors to Jerusalem are shown a little garden of about eight olive trees; so old they look like rock. They can be traced back to the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, not really to the time of Jesus, but the paths beneath them were surely trodden by the feet of Jesus.
Some wealthy friend of Jesus probably gave Him the key to this garden to use whenever He needed peace and quiet. Judas knew it and he planned the arrest there.
John states there was a company of soldiers plus the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees. The officers were the Temple police. The Temple had police to keep order and the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council of 70) had police to carry out their decrees. There was also a band of Roman soldiers. The Greek word used is speira. It had three meanings: a Roman cohort, which means 600 men or auxiliary soldiers of 1000 men (240 cavalry and 760 infantry). It is sometimes used for a detachment of 200 men.
Even the word in the last meaning indicated an overwhelming force to arrest a simple Galilean carpenter. The authorities were clearly very scared of Jesus and His influence and expected a small war. They sent an army to grab Him!! Just think how surprisingly simple the arrest took place – in surrender and peace – fully under the control of Jesus himself.
- Jesus is courageous. They came with torches as if they had to search in dark places. Remember it was Passover and full moon. The night would have been very light. He was not hiding. He presented himself and declared himself to be the one they are looking for.
- Jesus had the true authority. He stood while the army fell to the ground. His word bowled them over. It is always like that.
- Jesus chose to die, He gave himself for the arrest. He helped them to put God’s plan in motion. This made Judas panic. He hoped for a miraculous confrontation with Roman authorities. [Pebbles 124]
- His love protected his disciples. He presented himself to save His friends.
- He was in full obedience – “drinking the cup of God”.
Peter drew his sword – he was willing to fight. He was willing to die right there and then. He drew his sword against an overwhelming armed force. Peter’s was one of the lead characters of this night. We will discuss his role a bit later.
First, the authorities.
ANNAS (18:12-14 and 19-24)
In both these passages Jesus is before Annas. Only John mentions this. Annas was the power behind the throne of the high priest. He was high priest from 6-15 AD. Four of his sons held the office and Caiaphas was his son-in-law.
There was a time when the office of the High Priest was held for life. It seems that at this time a system of rotation has been implemented. Caiaphas was the high priest that year. Because of all the intrigue, corruption and bribery, the priest had to be in line with the Romans. The high priest was a collaborator and lived in ease, comfort, prestige and power. The family of Annas was very rich and he was the power behind it all – knowing how to play the game.
The moneychangers and traders in the Court of the Gentiles were solely in the service of the high priest. One can just imagine the high profit margins of everything going on there. Do you remember Jesus’ anger when He cleaned them out? Can you imagine how Annas would have reacted to the reports of the cleansing-episodes? (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2: 14,15) The shops inside the Temple were called the Bazaars of Annas. He was notorious.
Jesus was brought to Annas. He touched Annas directly with the cleansing of the Temple. Annas wanted to be the first to confront Him.
The questioning before Annas was a mockery of justice. A death sentence cannot be imposed on a person’s own testimony. One cannot ask questions by which a prisoner incriminates himself. Jesus says: Don’t ask Me, ask those who heard Me. He was saying: Handle the evidence in a proper and legal way. Ask the witnesses, you have no right to ask Me.
One of the officers slapped Him. He was in effect telling Jesus not to instruct the high priest how to conduct the trial. Jesus confronted the soldier and asked if he had said anything illegal. If this was going to be a credible trial, get the witnesses.
Jesus knew he had no hope of justice. He was condemned before he was tried. He had to be eliminated, so that their lifestyle was not to be threatened. Who cares whether the Galilean preacher receives justice?
A simple web search gives much information on the Sanhedrin. It was an established court based in Jerusalem with strict guidelines on how to function. Most probably a trial like this should not have been conducted in the night. The nightly trial, executed by Annas and Caiaphas was a strategy to exclude the members who sympathized with the teachings of Jesus, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.
Jesus was condemned and sent to Pilate on his own words. No witnesses could be found and the concocted witnesses could not agree – a flagrant injustice by the highest law of Judaism.
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is asked to openly confess that He is the Son of God:
“If You are the Christ, tell us.”
But He said to them, “If I tell you, you will by no means believe.
And if I also ask you, you will by no means answer Me or let Me go.
Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.” Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?”
So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
And they said, “What further testimony do we need? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth.”
In the court of Pilate, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus, accusing him of claiming to be the King of the Jews. Such a claim would be considered as subversive since it would challenge the authority of the Romans.
In all four Gospels the denial of Peter is described within the narrative of the nightly trial. We will leave that for next time.