Loving enemies and living sacrificially – John 18:10-11
Peter’s zeal for the Lord in striking out with his sword was commendable but lacked wisdom and was not in the will of God. Acts of unwise zeal are more likely to come from the young but are not exclusively their domain. They arise more as a result of spiritual immaturity than youthfulness and spiritual immaturity frequently exists in older people who have become static in their learning. Peter was going through a very rapid learning period that continued into the apostolic period recorded in Acts. This however did not stop Jesus from giving Peter a great deal of responsibility for the early church or indeed prevent him contributing very significantly to the New Testament. Jesus treated Peter with firmness and gentleness as he corrected him and undid the harm he had done. As we look back over our Christian life we may now view some of our zealous acts as unwise or indiscrete. They are however not beyond redemption.
Peter struck out with what was probably a Roman style short sword aimed at the head probably with the intention of killing the high priest’s slave. Either due to a poor aim or evasive action he succeeded in only cutting off his ear. John records the slave’s name, Malchus. v10 At the time of writing this would have been a checkable fact. Jesus heals him immediately (Luke 22:51) even though he was about to be led off to his own death. Jesus was demonstrating his own teaching of loving your enemies. In the same way we too should be people who, “are loving those around us, praying for them, knowing their names, and treating the opponents of the gospel as people made in the image of God.” (Josh Moody, John 13-21 For You.)
In everyday life in most western countries that means loving the enemies of the gospel and praying for them. It means not demeaning them, attacking them or vilifying them and certainly not engaging in physical violence. The “state” has the authority and power under God to take legal action against criminals and pursue just war in certain circumstances. (Romans 13:4) Christians either individually or as the collective church are to represent Jesus through love even to our enemies. Jesus has set the ultimate example of this form of sacrificial life.
It was Jesus who took the initiative when the arresting party arrived. ‘ Who is it you want?’ he questioned. He knew the answer of course but it gave them the opportunity to recognize him for who he was. It showed what was in their hearts and it gave them the chance even at the latest of hours to repent from their actions.Their response was derogatory, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ v5 Nazareth the despised north country outpost. Temple officials and Pharisees had already argued that nothing good came out of Nazareth. For them he didn’t have the breeding, the class or regional accent, their words were a major put down intended to diminish him. Those who oppose Christ to this day frequently use the tactics of scorn, when we experience such things we can know it was Jesus’ experience as well.
Jesus responded with ‘I am he,’ v5 the words frequently used in John to indicate the divine name of Yahweh. (8:58) The impact of Jesus’ words caused the party to draw back and fall to the ground, such was his divine presence and power. He gave them a second chance to recognize who he was by asking them, ‘Who is it you want?’ v7 They repeated, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ There was no doubt they already knew who he was as Judas was standing with them. Mathew tells us Judas had gone up to kiss Jesus as a prearranged signal. Mathew 26:48 Jesus was ultimately in control of events. He turned his attention to the protection of his disciples by saying, ‘If you are looking for me, then let these men go.’ v8 In doing this Jesus was keeping an earlier promise, ‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day’ John 6:39 John here is giving the words of Jesus the status of Scripture. It is also a promise all Christians can claim for themselves and should give them confidence even in the most difficult of trials. When the Temple officials, priests and soldiers arrested Jesus they had already had two chances to recognize him for who he was and therefore assumed responsibility for their own actions. Sadly, eventually we will run out of chances to recognize Jesus as the Son of God even when along the way we have been confronted by his awesome presence. It may be that some who were in the arresting party would later turn to Jesus and believe. Perhaps the centurion at the cross was one of those. Peer pressure may cause some to reject Jesus even when they know they have been in the presence of God. The peer pressure of being in an arresting party must have been immense. However, as a society we do not accept peer pressure as an excuse for criminal action as we saw in the trials of guards at the Nazi concentration camps.
No doubt the priests and Pharisees thought themselves clever in thinking their plans were a secret and a surprise for Jesus and his disciples. But Jesus already knew of Judas’ betrayal and bribe. During his last meal he warned his disciples of his betrayal and even identified Judas as the betrayer as he gave a piece of bread to him. John 13:26 The other disciples were slow to understand, especially the immediacy of his warning. One can imagine John piecing together the events afterwards. How often that is true in our own discipleship journey, only as we looked back have we understood the wisdom of God in our lives. Following their meal and Jesus’ teaching and prayer for himself and his disciples Jesus followed well known footpaths to himself and his disciples across the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem into the Garden of Gethsemane. v1 It was familiar territory to Judas as well and he led the soldiers and officials to seize Jesus. A Roman cohort was normally 600 men although not all were necessarily present. They supported the temple officials probably because arresting someone as popular as Jesus might have incited a mob. The torches they held were resinous wood fastened together and the lamps were terracotta holders into which household lamps could have been inserted. There must have been a sense of triumphalism in the arrest party. For them the plan was coming together. They were well equipped to be sure Jesus could not escape. Jesus had no intention of escaping he was deliberately stepping into their trap. Such was his love for his Father and those he came to save. This was his destiny since the beginning of creation. Jesus did not run from his betrayal or arrest. He did not rally his supporters in his defence. Because his motivation was compassion and love for sinners he took the eternal perspective. His eye was on obedience to the Father and the many who would become children of God through his sacrifice. ‘In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.’ Ephesians1:5-6 There are strong echoes of Joseph’s words to his brothers when he forgave them and provided for them and their families. ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done the saving of many lives.’ Genesis 50:20
One of the pleasures of reading John’s gospel is the inclusion of small details from his personal observation. His first-hand evidence is enhanced by what seems to be insignificant information but which adds first hand authenticity and gives the reader a sense of being there themselves. In this way John differs from writers such as Luke who got his information from interviewing first hand witnesses but was not present himself. This is living history from a personal perspective it feels at times like reading a witness statement or a private diary. The different approaches adopted by the gospel writers are important indicators as to their reliability in an age when their historical reliability may be questioned. They are simply not written in the way their contemporary writers would write either an invented story or a fable. They are rooted in the detail of the life and times that demonstrate familiarity with everyday life and places that are frequently verifiable through archaeology. John’s account of Jesus’ arrest is as if he were simply recounting events to friends, including small asides that help fill out the picture.