We return to John’s gospel today and begin to study John’s account of the most momentous events in all of history. Of course, we refer to the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
John 18:1–2 sets the scene of our Lord’s arrest—in a garden where Jesus frequently met with the disciples. Matthew 26:30 informs us that this garden was located on the Mount of Olives. It was probably an olive grove surrounded by walls, and some commentators suggest that it was owned by a wealthy benefactor who allowed Jesus and His disciples to use it when they were in Jerusalem. That would explain why Judas knew where it was (John 18:2).
Not long after Jesus and the disciples came into the garden, Judas arrived with a “band of soldiers” and “some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees” (v. 3). The soldiers were part of the Roman military, and they would have been stationed in Jerusalem during the Passover celebrations because of the potential for unrest. As a whole, the Jews did not take kindly to the Roman Empire’s occupation of their land, and during a pilgrimage feast such as Passover, it was not unusual for riots to break out or for messianic claimants to call for revolt against Rome. Because of this, it would have been no trouble for the Jewish authorities to get the Romans to lend a company of soldiers to help them arrest Jesus.
One commentator notes that, technically speaking, Jesus was not arrested, for He was in control of the situation despite all appearances. John’s record highlights Jesus’ control. Jesus knew what was about to happen, and He stepped forward before the authorities could ask for Him to reveal Himself (vv. 4–5). Effectively, He handed Himself over to the Romans and to the Jews. They did not seize Him, for He came to lay down His life for His people, and He did so willingly, without sacrificing His sovereignty over the events associated with the crucifixion (10:17–18). As Augustine of Hippo comments in a sermon on today’s passage, “Had [Jesus] never permitted them to apprehend Him, they would certainly not have done what they came to do.”
Jesus allowed the Romans and Jews to arrest Him as long as they left the other disciples alone, and John says this fulfills Jesus’ words that none of His true disciples would be lost (18:6–9; see 17:12). That night, Jesus protected His disciples from physical capture and from falling away from the faith finally when they saw Him arrested.