After Jesus met with His disciples for the meal we call the Last Supper, they crossed over the Brook Kidron, heading towards a garden on the Mount of Olives. Jesus prayed with His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane – or rather, Jesus prayed as they slept. Then they saw the torchlights from a large group of soldiers or temple police, led by Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ own disciple.
John 18:4-6 tell us what happened when these armed men came to the Garden of Gethsemane:
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
Notice the words of verse 4: Jesus, therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him. Judas hoped to catch Jesus by surprise, but this was impossible. Jesus’ entire life was prepared for this hour, and He was ready for it.
Jesus then took the lead, and boldly asked them: Whom are you seeking? Jesus said this for at least two reasons. He wanted any potential violence to be directed at Him and not at His disciples, so He wanted to identify Himself. Jesus also wanted Judas and the detachment of troops to announce their evil intention.
The armed men answered, saying they looked for Jesus of Nazareth – and Jesus simply replied, I am. Jesus answered them with this curious phrase, two words in both English and in the original language of the New Testament. It is curious because Jesus didn’t say I am He, but simply I am – the He was added by the translators and is not in the original text. With this Jesus consciously proclaimed that He was God, connecting His words to the many previous I am statements recorded in the Gospel of John, especially in John 8:58, when Jesus told an angry mob “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
Those armed men came on a secret mission under cover of darkness to arrest a man from the working classes, but when they came to the Garden of Gethsemane they found a bold, commanding Man who refused to run away. Jesus met them squarely and spoke to them as if He were God.
Verse 6 tells us that when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. When Jesus declared His divine identity (in the words I am), Judas and soldiers all fell back. There was such a display of divine presence, majesty, and power in those two words that the enemies of Jesus were powerless to stand against Him.
This reminds us that Jesus was completely in control of the situation. As a practical matter, Jesus did not have to go with this arresting army led by Judas. With God’s power expressed through His words alone, Jesus could have overpowered them and easily escaped.
Alexander Maclaren said of this: “Wherever in our Lord’s life any incident indicates more emphatically than usual the lowliness of His humiliation, there, by the side of it, you get something that indicates the majesty of His glory.” This was true throughout the life of Jesus:
- Jesus was born as a humble baby yet announced by angels.
- Jesus was laid in a manger yet signaled by a star.
- Jesus submitted to baptism as if He were a sinner, then heard the Divine voice of approval.
- Jesus slept when He was exhausted but awoke to calm the storm.
- Jesus wept at a grave, then called the dead to life.
- Jesus surrendered to arrest, then declared “I am” and knocked all the troops over with two words of self revelation.
- Jesus died on a cross, but in it He defeated sin, death, and Satan.
Notice what Jesus next said in John chapter 18 verses 7 and 8:
Then He asked them again, “Whom are you seeking?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I have told you that I am He. Therefore, if you seek Me, let these go their way.”
When the soldiers got up off the ground, Jesus asked them again whom they were looking for. Jesus didn’t want the soldiers to panic and injure the disciples. Jesus called their attention back to Himself and said, if you seek Me, let these go their way. Jesus willingly gave Himself up to protect His disciples. This was the same sacrificial love that would find its ultimate peak at the cross. We sense Jesus said these words with authority; when He said let these go their way, it was a command.
You could say that when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sacrificed Himself for the safety of His disciples. Jesus surrendered His life for theirs; He was taken so they could go free.
The sacrificial love of Jesus didn’t begin at the cross, it was all through His life. Remember that Jesus protects all who come to Him in trusting love, becoming His disciples. Receive the protecting love of Jesus today.