When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 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. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” John 18:1-9
The men who came to arrest Jesus were most likely Temple guards and officers. If they had been Roman soldiers, Jesus would have been taken to Pilot rather than the High Priests. I am sure they were just following orders when they went to arrest Jesus. They had all heard of Jesus and some might have witnessed Jesus’ miracles nut that night they were on a mission. But it is interesting that when Jesus asks whom they seek and they tell Him Jesus of Nazareth their reaction when Jesus answers them that He was who they sought.
We do not know what Jesus looked like or what He sounded like. His appearance was most likely common an everyman look. Someone that in a crowd you might not notice. But when he spoke He spoke with authority. It was probably even more dramatic coming from an everyman. When Jesus said “I am he”, the soldiers fell back and then dropped to the ground. What was going through their minds? Here they are getting ready to arrest someone who spoke with the authority of God and at that moment I would think they would be very conflicted.
They were under orders to arrest Jesus and I am sure the scuttlebutt around the Temple was that Jesus was a threat to the Jews and the status quo. But once they confronted Jesus He has literally put the fear of God in them. At that point Jesus could have easily walked away and escaped. But Jesus had His own mission to complete and He was not going to let a scared bunch of soldiers delay the plan. So he asks again whom they seek and again identifies Himself as the one they are looking for. He also tells them to let the disciples go and they obeyed.
They would go on to arrest Jesus but they knew who He was. In fact it wasn’t that the Jewish authorities did not believe Jesus was from God and in fact the Messiah but they were more concerned with keeping their own power and station. They knew that if the Romans thought someone was claiming to be a king outside Roman authority that the Romans would come in and remove everyone on authority and replace them. In fact in about 40 years, Rome would destroy the Temple and disperse the Jews. For more on this check out this post on my friend Glenn’s blog Thomistic Bent, If Jesus Fulfilled Prophecy, Why Did The Jews Reject Him?.
Whom did they seek, they sought Jesus. Today people still are seeking and still they have problems with Jesus. Not because there is a lack of evidence as to who Jesus is but because they do not want to give up what they enjoy. It may be power, it may be a lifestyle but it is something they value more that God. They are willing to risk eternal happiness for a few years of pleasure here on earth. Sounds like a poor tradeoff to me.
Have a blessed day,