Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, (John 18:12)
1. Jesus and His disciples go to the Garden of Gethsemane.
2. Judas, soldiers, and officials of the priests and Pharisees arrest Jesus.
3. Jesus stands trial before Annas and Caiaphas.
4. Peter denies Jesus.
5. Jesus stands trial before Pilate.
6. The crowd chooses Barabbas to be released.
These verses begin John’s account of Christ’s sufferings and crucifixion. We now enter on the closing scene of our Lord’s ministry and pass at once from His intercession to His sacrifice. We will find that, like the other Gospel-writers, the beloved disciple enters fully into the story of the cross. But we shall also find, if we read carefully, that he mentions several interesting points in the story, which Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for some wise reasons, have passed over.
We should notice, first, in these verses, the exceeding hardness of heart to which a backsliding professor may attain. We are told that Judas, one of the twelve Apostles, became guide to those who captured Jesus. We are told that he used his knowledge of the place of our Lord’s regular gathering with His disciples, in order to bring His deadly enemies upon Him; and we are told that when the band of men and officers approached his Master, in order to take Him prisoner, Judas “stood with them.” Yet this was a man who for three years had been a constant companion of Christ, had seen His miracles, had heard His sermons, had enjoyed the benefit of His private instruction, had professed himself a believer, had even worked and preached in Christ’s name! “Lord,” we may well say, “what is man?” From the highest degree of privilege down to the lowest depth of sin, there is but a succession of steps. Privileges misused seem to paralyze the conscience. The same fire that melts wax, will harden clay.
Let us beware of resting our hopes of salvation on religious knowledge, however great; or religious advantages, however many. We may know all doctrinal truth and be able to teach others, and yet prove rotten at heart, and go down to the pit with Judas. We may bask in the full sunshine of spiritual privileges, and hear the best of Christian teaching, and yet bear no fruit to God’s glory, and be found withered branches of the vine, only fit to be burned. “Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Above all, let us beware of cherishing within our hearts any secret besetting sin, such as love of money or love of the world. One faulty link in a chain-cable may cause a shipwreck. One little leak may sink a ship. One allowed and unmortified sin may ruin a professing Christian. Let him that is tempted to be a careless man in his religious life, consider these things, and take care. Let him remember Judas Iscariot. His history is meant to be a lesson.
We should notice, secondly, in these verses, the entire voluntariness of Christ’s sufferings. We are told that the first time that our Lord said to the soldiers, “I am He, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” A secret invisible power, no doubt, accompanied the words. In no other way can we account for a band of hardy Roman soldiers falling prostrate before a single unarmed man. The same miraculous influence which tied the priests and Pharisees powerless at the triumphant entry into Jerusalem—which stopped all opposition when the temple was purged of buyers and sellers—that same mysterious influence was present now. A real miracle was wrought, though few had eyes to see it. At the moment when our Lord seemed weak, He showed that He was strong.
Let us carefully remember that our blessed Lord suffered and died of His own free will. He did not die because He could not help it; He did not suffer because He could not escape. All the soldiers of Pilate’s army could not have taken Him, if He had not been willing to be taken. They could not have hurt a hair of His head, if He had not given them permission. But here, as in all His earthly ministry, Jesus was a willing sufferer. He had set His heart on accomplishing our redemption. He loved us, and gave Himself for us, cheerfully, willingly, gladly, in order to make atonement for our sins. It was “the joy set before Him” which made Him endure the cross, and despise the shame, and yield Himself up without reluctance into the bands of His enemies. Let this thought abide in our hearts and refresh our souls. We have a Savior who was far more willing to save us than we are willing to be saved. If we are not saved, the fault is all our own. Christ is just as willing to receive and pardon, as He was willing to be taken prisoner, to bleed, and to die.
We should notice, thirdly, in these verses, our Lord’s tender care for His disciples’ safety. Even at this critical moment, when His own unspeakable sufferings were about to begin, He did not forget the little band of believers who stood around Him. He remembered their weakness. He knew how little fit they were to go into the fiery furnace of the high priest’s palace, and Pilate’s judgment-hall. He mercifully makes for them a way of escape. “If you seek Me, let these go their way.” It seems most probable that here also a miraculous influence accompanied His words. At any rate, not a hair of the disciples’ heads was touched. While the Shepherd was taken, the sheep were allowed to flee away unharmed.
We need not hesitate to see in this incident an instructive type of all our Savior’s dealings with His people even at this day. He will not allow them “to be tempted above that which they are able to bear.” He will hold the winds and storms in His hands, and not allow believers, however sifted and buffeted, to be utterly destroyed. He watches tenderly over every one of His children, and, like a wise physician, measures out the right quantity of their trials with unerring skill. “They shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of His hand” (John 10:28). Forever let us lean our souls on this precious truth. In the darkest hour the eye of the Lord Jesus is upon us, and our final safety is sure.
We should notice, lastly, in these verses, our Lord’s perfect submission to his Father’s will. Once, in another place, we find Him saying, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me—nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Again, in another place, we find Him saying, “If this cup may not pass away from Me except I drink it, Your will be done.” Here, however, we find even a higher pitch of cheerful acquiescence—“The cup that My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Matthew 26:39-42; John 18:11).
Let us see in this blessed frame of mind, a pattern for all who profess and call themselves Christians. Far as we may come short of the Master’s standard, let this be the mark at which we continually aim. Determination to have our own way, and do only what we like, is one great source of unhappiness in the world. The habit of laying all our matters before God in prayer, and asking Him to choose our portion, is one chief secret of peace. He is the truly wise man who has learned to say at every stage of his journey, “Give me what You will, place me where You will, do with me as You will; but not my will, but Yours be done.” This is the man who has the mind of Christ. By self-will Adam and Eve fell and brought sin and misery into the world. Entire submission of will to the will of God is the best preparation for that heaven where God will be all.
1. What are the themes of chapters 1-18?
2. What warning do we learn from the example of Judas?
3. How does Jesus Christ show His compassion and care for His disciples in this passage?
4. How did Jesus Christ demonstrate His obedience to the Father’s will?
1. Why is knowledge of the Bible not by itself sufficient? What does it mean to “rest on our religious privileges” and not have saving faith?
2. Read Hebrews 3:13. How do we avoid a growing hardness of heart?