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§ 281. The Arrest of Christ.—Peter’s Haste, and its Reproof.—The Power of Darkness.

Judas approached with a band of armed servitors of the Sanhedrim and a part of a Roman cohort from the garrison, the latter as a guard against a disturbance from the sympathy of the people. Probably the traitor alone knew who was to be apprehended;763763   We may the more expect differences in the four accounts here, from the state of mind in which the disciples must necessarily have been. Discrepancies, even if irreconcilable in points of detail, do not impeach the veracity of the essential features of a narrative; but in this case they are not so irreconcilable as has been supposed. According to John, whom we have followed, Judas and the band remained outside, and Jesus went out and gave himself up: the other Evangelists report that Judas gave the signal by a kiss. But as John’s account gives no reason at all for Judas’s coming, and as it could not have been to show the way to the garden, we must suppose it was impelled by pure hatred, or by a desire to see the end of the matter (this would suit the view that he did not betray Jesus with hostile intent, and expected a miracle), or that he came to point out the person to be seized, and this leads us directly to the statement of the other Gospels. The sign agreed upon may have been omitted, or given at the wrong moment, in the confusion of his mind. produced by a bad conscience and a reverence that he could not get rid of; so that the different accounts may entirely harmonize. In any case, John’s statement is the more simple, and we rely upon it. as there was good 409reason (supposed, at least) for secrecy in the procedure. Jesus did not wait for Judas and the band to enter the garden. With majestic calmness he went to meet them, and asked, “Whom seek ye?” His sudden appearance in calm majesty, associated with the impressions of his life and the authority of his name as, at least, a prophet, so deeply affected a part of the band (not the Roman soldiers764764   Had these cared at all about the matter, they would not have served as instruments of the Jewish authorities.) that they recoiled and fell on the ground before him. In their perplexity they then prepared to seize the disciples, perhaps because they made show of defending their Master. The rash Peter hastily gave way to impulse;. without waiting to know the Master’s will, he made use of the sword. Christ sharply rebuked his precipitancy: “All that take the sword (uncalled, as here, in resistance to authority that is to be respected as the ordinance of God) shall perish by the sword (as a judgment for rebellion against the order of God; a warning against the use of force to defend his cause against the state); thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve765765   Instead of the Twelve Apostles, who made show of defending him. legions of angels? (This he could only have done had the Divine will been so.) The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?766766   John, xviii. 11, referring to the prayer in the garden. The preceding words, omitted by John, are strongly characteristic of the Spirit of Christ. (not the human choice, but the higher necessity, must prevail.)”

Turning then to the band, he said to them, more than once, “I am he whom ye seek; let these go their way.” And this saying—supported by that authority which had so impressed them that they would not have ventured to lay hands on him had he not given himself up—this saying caused them to let the disciples go, and to take no vengeance on Peter, exasperated as they were by his resistance.767767   It is mentioned by all the Evangelists that Peter cut off the ear of the high-priest’s servant. It cannot but appear surprising that this arbitrary act produced no more serious consequences to the rash Apostle. The healing of the ear, mentioned by Luke, might serve as an explanation; but John says nothing about it. His narrative, however, explains all in the way given by us in the text; and its veracity, therefore, is confirmed by comparison with the other Gospels.


When the person of Jesus was secured, he said, further, “Are ye come out, as against a thief, with armed bands, to take me? When I was daily with you in the Temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me; but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”768768   Christ was always fain to point from the sensible to the spiritual; and as the time chosen to execute the work of darkness here gave occasion for such a connexion, we join the two together. During his public teaching none ventured to assail him. The power of darkness shuns the light of day. The Sanhedrim found the night the fitting time to execute their schemes; the policy that springs from darkness, and serves it, must not show itself in open day. Perhaps the words also allude to the brief duration of the power of evil.769769   In any event, this passage refers to the futile attempts before made to secure the arrest of Christ of which John informs us; it belongs, also, to that class of passages which can only be clearly understood in the light of John’s representation of the history (cf. p. 222 294). John, xviii., 20, is certainly not so similar to the above passage as to justify the inference, which some have drawn, that the one is but a variation of the other. True, in Luke, xxii., 52, the words are addressed to the chief priests, &c., which could not be literally true; but we explain this on the ground that they were addressed through the instruments to the real captors, the Sanhedrim; and not on the ground of an interchange with John, xviii., 20.

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