The betrayer makes certain he is backed by a formidable squad. Mark and Luke’s gospel says he comes with a “crowd,” Matthew says a “great crowd,” and here in John’s gospel it reads a “band of soldiers.” They approach carrying lanterns, torches, and weapons, including clubs and swords. Judas feels safe enough amongst this group to stride right up to Jesus with a customary kiss hello. As the torch and lantern light of the betrayer approach, Jesus speaks from the darkness, “Whom do you seek?” Someone in their group yells back, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Then Jesus replies, “I AM!” And the whole great crowd supporting the betrayer steps backward and falls to the ground. Here is the text.

So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:3-6)

Many English translations write Jesus’ response as “I am he,” but the Greek phrase, egō eimi, is usually translated “I am.” I’m not sure why “I am he” is often used here. Also, I don’t know if Jesus spoke those words in Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew. My personal hunch is that he said it in Hebrew and that he spoke the same name God used of himself to Moses at the burning bush (I AM). But that is personal speculation and not something the text reveals.

Whatever phrase Jesus spoke, that moment made the great crowd of soldiers back up and fall over. It was powerful, and for the betrayer and the soldiers, frightening. Jesus stood up to and confronted his accusers and his betrayer. This empowered Peter to begin to fight. Then, in the very next moment, Jesus no longer confronts them, instead, he goes right along with them, allowing the accusations and betrayal to commence. He had a greater purpose and a cup to bear. Jesus knows firsthand the pain of betrayal and he shows us that God can use that pain for kingdom work. There is a time and place to speak up and confront as well as a trust that believers can patiently wait for… even when being betrayed.

Pastor John Riley

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