1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, "Who is it you want?"
5 "Jesus of Nazareth," they replied.
"I am he," Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, "I am he," they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again he asked them, "Who is it you want?"
"Jesus of Nazareth," they said.
8 Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go." 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: "I have not lost one of those you gave me."
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
Whose side are you on? That was the question of the hour. The teachers of the school at which I taught had been debating for weeks and now had to decide and vote upon whether or not we would stay with a traditional schedule or go to a year-round schedule. That probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to some teachers it was more like a matter of life and death. Sides were taken and the whole thing got a bit heated and intense. I definitely had some feelings on the whole thing, but I had stayed quiet on the matter, preferring to listen to both sides and keep my opinion close to the vest. Now that the day had come, though, I had to finally take sides. It was going to be clear on whose side I stood.
John’s opening prologue told us that the light had come into the darkness. His vocation was to make clear that there was a new way available to mankind, a new life. As Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley and into the garden, the time had come. John wants us to be clear that sides must be taken and choices made. There is no turning back now. In forming this incredibly layered and beautiful tapestry, John has woven in strands from the very first time that humankind made a choice, the wrong choice at that. Now, for the first time since then, mankind truly has another option. John has masterfully created a bridge from one garden to the other.
Evil was afoot, the time had come. The choice had been made and he wanted to go to the place that was comfortable, the place he had met with them many times before. So, he went into the garden, where they had walked together, talked together and enjoyed each other’s company. Now sin and the serpent were about to separate them. Whose will were they going to follow. Their own will, encouraged on by the serpent every step of the way, or would they remain loyal and do God’s will. Here he was and here they were in the garden, deciding on whose side they would be.
So, what garden scene were we just describing? Is it the garden at Gethsemane of the garden of Eden? That’s part of John’s whole point. Everywhere we turn in this scene, the echoes are so loud that we can see the events of the garden of Eden almost as clearly as we can the garden where Jesus stands with his disciples, able to hear his betrayer coming, but quite unwilling to run away. No, the time has come. Decisions must be made, sides chosen.
Here in the garden where he had met many times with his disciples, the new Adam, the true Adam stood. Surrounding him is a detachment of soldiers and officials who have come with Judas, one of the false Adams. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had fallen prey to the whispers of the serpent. They had chosen to do their own will rather than God’s. They had robbed themselves of the image of God, the very thing that sets men apart from the rest of God’s creation. This collection of false Adams makes their way through the darkness that has enclosed the whole world with their futile attempts to bring light as pictured by the torches and lanterns. But here they stand before the true light of the world. What side are they going to take? Who is this man?
Before we look at the answer to that question we should note that from the opening verse of this Gospel, John has tipped his hand that this would be an account of new creation. The Word has become flesh and will right what Adam wronged so long ago. God was betrayed in the garden of Eden by Adam, who chose his own will over God’s. Now, God has taken Adam’s flesh and is about to be betrayed again. But this is a reversal of the original betrayal. This time God has taken the place of man and will take his rightful punishment. What John doesn’t describe here, but no doubt expects his readers to be familiar with is the intense prayer that the other Gospels tell us Jesus offered up in this very Garden. Where Adam and Eve failed to do God’s will in the garden, Jesus succeeded. He wrestled with his own will, but was eternally determined to do the Father’s will not that of his flesh.
So, we return to question of who this man really is. Jesus himself asks who they want, careful to draw attention to himself and away from his disciples. It is not yet their time, so the good shepherd will intentionally die for the sheep. He will not lose one of them. But who do they want? Who is he? Jesus of Nazareth, they don’t really know much more than that, but that’s who they want. Jesus’ response is utterly simple and yet pregnant with deeper meaning. "I am he", Jesus responds. His response is a simple answer to the question yet worded in such a way that John intends for us to see so much more. It is the sacred name of YHWH that enraged his opponents when he declared that "before Abraham was born, I Am" (Jn. 8:58 which is rooted in Ex. 3:14)). He is the the Bread of life (6:35, 41), the sustenance of the true Israel (the true Adam). He is the Light of the world (8:12, 9:5), the function and purpose of the true Israel. He is the Gate (10:7, 9), the entrance into the true Israel. He is the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14), the leadership, the servant and the model of the true Israel. He is the Resurrection and the Life (11:25), the hope of the true Israel. He is the Way, the Truth, and The Life (14:6), the existence of the true Israel. He is the True Vine (15:1), the embodiment of the true Israel. In short, he is, or to put it into his own words, "I Am."
The guards response is unwitting, yet John, no doubt, wants us to see that it is the proper response biblically when one stands face to face with the great "I Am" (Ezek. 1:28; 44:4; Dan. 2:46; 8:18; 10:9; Acts 9:4; 22:7; 26:14; Rev. 1:17; 19:10; 22:8), they fell to the ground. They have taken the side of the darkness, they have listened to the whispers of the serpent and his mouthpiece, Judas, and have fallen before the God of the universe, although they certainly didn’t realize that’s what they were doing and likely didn’t even fully know why they fell to the ground. They believe that they are in charge, but when standing before the power of God, they are exposed as truly powerless. They will do their work and think that they have won, but in reality, God is firmly in control.
Peter will have none of this. Poor Peter is doing his best without the guidance of the promised Holy Spirit, but at this point he still has in mind the things of Satan rather than God (Matt. 16:23; Mark 8:33). It’s not that Peter has chosen to side with Satan, quite the opposite, but he is still without the Spirit and unable to do God’s will. Jesus’ work in the garden is not yet complete, so Peter’s actions are a sad reminder of humans still stuck in the Edenic clutches of the fallen garden called Earth. Just as Cain killed Abel because of sin’s influence, so Peter strikes out at Malchus. But no, Jesus’ people will not behave like that. They are being called out of that existence. There will be no death on their hands, so Jesus takes note of this servant, a status that would have made him insignificant in the eyes of his society, and restores him to wholeness (a fact that John once again assumes that we already know from reading the other Gospels). Jesus commands Peter in no uncertain terms to put away his sword. This is not the way of the Kingdom. This is not the work that the Father has sent him to do. He will drink the cup the Father has given him. Bloodshed and violence are the way of mankind since the Fall in the garden of Eden. Man has been passing on evil ever since with no end in sight. But here, in this garden, in these events, with this man, it will finally come to an end. A different way will be opened. A new creation will inaugurated. The cup in the Old Testament was the cup of God’s wrath that those who opposed God would drink (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15-17; Ezek. 23:31-34; Hab. 2:16). The true Adam would be betrayed by the false Adam but would not pass that evil on as mankind had always done. He would take the full punishment and brunt of sin and God’s wrath upon himself. He would be crushed for our iniquities" (Isa. 53:5).
The sides have been drawn clearly now. Judas has ceased to lurk in the shadows and has openly aligned himself with the enemies of the light. This is the last that John mentions him, but John expects that we know his fate from here on out. Jesus, though, is brought before Annas, who was the high priest between 6 and 15 AD, and was still seen by many as the true high priest rather than his son-in-law Caiaphas, an appointee of Rome. Caiaphas, John reminds is the one who made the unwitting prophecy that one man should die for the people. This is how it will happen. The true high priest of the new creation and the world will be brought before the false high priest. The true Adam brought before another false Adam.
Take some time today, right now if you can, and go back over this passage. Read it through several times and meditate on each verse. Think about the situation and the setting, as well as the background imagery that John so clearly brings to the foreground. What do you see? What do you notice? What do pick up on that you’ve never caught before? Just take some time to enter into this scene and become part of it. When you do, you can’t help but stand in awe of the almighty God.