The BetrayedRev. Philip Miller | June 27, 2021
Selected highlights from this sermon
From the betrayal and arrest of Jesus to His interrogation, the narrative leading up to the crucifixion gathers like a storm. In this message, Pastor Miller goes through the sequence of that storm.
Jesus offered Himself up for the disciples. He was arrested, that they might be let go. He was bound, that they might be free. He was condemned, that they might be pardoned. He was crucified, that they might live. This is a picture of the Gospel: “Take me. Let them go!”
Well, the board is set. The pieces are moving. The religious leaders have baited their snare. The traitor, Judas, is in their pocket and darkness shrouds their sinister plot. And we come to it at last. The gathering storm is about to break and Jesus steps out into the night.
Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in John, chapter 18 today, looking at verses 1 down to 27. If you’d like to use the Bible in the rack by your knees, you’ll find today’s reading on page 904. In today’s passage we will see John’s account of the betrayal, arrest, and preliminary interrogation of Jesus.
You’ll recall that out of the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament, John is writing the very latest. He’s writing at least some twenty to twenty-five years after the others are in circulation. So John is not supplying the story for us. That’s already been done. What he’s doing is supplementing the story. He’s sort of filling in the gaps, if you will.
This is especially relevant when we come now to this last night of Jesus because some of the moments in this evening are marked out for us by John in vivid, rich detail, and other things are surprisingly omitted and glossed over. And so to get our bearings, as we come to this passage and this night, this last night of Jesus, I want to look at this through three sets of lenses.
First, I want to use a wide-angle lens and I want to see the sequence of the storm, how all of these events are unfolding and how they fit together as we look at all the different Gospels. Then I want to look at—with kind of a normal lens, a standard lens. I want to look at John’s particular focus in this passage as we see the betrayal in the night. And then finally we’re going to zoom in. We’re going to get a telephoto lens and we’re going to zoom all the way in, and we’re going to see the heroism of Jesus up close and personal. Okay? So, from wide angle all the way down to focus: The Sequence of the Storm, Betrayal in the Night, and The Hero in the Shadows.
Would you bow your heads and pray with me as we open God’s Word together?
Heavenly Father, we ask now as we watch in almost— like slow motion, the events that we cannot stop. We know they must happen, these horrific moments in history, and it’s part of our story as well. But Father, we pray that we would see our place in this story, and that we would be drawn in worship, love and admiration and praise of our beloved Jesus. We look to Him. It is in His name that we pray, Amen. Amen.
So first, let’s look at The Sequence of the Storm. All four Gospels report on the event that we see today, the betrayal and arrest of Jesus. You will find this in Matthew 26, in Mark 14, in Luke 22 and here in John 18. If you need the exact verse range I couldn’t get it on the screen but you’ll find it printed in your bulletin, and so you can grab those as well for these and the passages that come down in the next sections here.
As John is supplementing this story, he omits some details that we’re accustomed to seeing in these events. So for example, John does not give us Jesus’ agony in prayer and His final surrender to the Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” He simply doesn’t have it here. He also omits a famous detail that we know from all the paintings, and that is Judas’ traitor’s kiss. But John does include some details that we only get here. We don’t get them anywhere else: for example, that Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
John is the one who identifies Peter as the one who wielded the sword in the garden. John also gives us the name of the guy whose ear got cut off as Malchus. It is John who reveals this preliminary interrogation by Annas. And it also John who gives us the particular dialog that took place between Pilate and Jesus when He is on trial there.
Now, following His betrayal and arrest, Jesus is going to face two different trials. One is a Jewish trial and one is a Roman trial. The Jews in the first century had a significant degree of political autonomy. They could govern themselves but Rome reserved the exclusive right to capital punishment, so even though it is the Jewish leaders that Jesus is most in trouble with, they are the ones who are most upset at Jesus. If He was to be executed, it will have to be a sentence that is carried out by Rome.
And so this leads us now, as John tells us in John 18, to the interrogation by Annas, the interrogation by Annas. This is a unique feature to the Gospel of John. He alone preserves this little bit, this interrogation. John calls Annas the high priest, which is more of an honorary title at this point. He was technically no longer high priest at this moment in time. He served as high priest from A.D. 6 down to 15, and per Jewish Law the high priest appointment was supposed to be a lifetime appointment. But the Roman Procurator, Valerius Gratus, had deposed him at the age of 36. Now fortunately for Annas, he had five sons and a son-in-law who served as high priest after him, and so at this point in time, Joseph Caiaphas was the high priest in Israel, although Annas continued to wield substantial authority from behind the scenes as the patriarch of the family. After Annas’s interrogation, Jesus will be sent to Caiaphas, his son-in-law for a trial before the Sanhedrin.
The Sanhedrin trial is recorded for us in Matthew 26, in Mark 14, and Luke 22. The Sanhedrin was the ruling body who was in charge of Jewish internal affairs. It was traditionally made up of 70 elders, and was presided over by the high priest himself.
The charges that Jesus faces come down to basically two: The first charge is blasphemy. They claimed that Jesus has blasphemed against God because He has claimed that He and the Father are one. He claims to be God. The second charge is for false teaching, that is leading the people astray. So these are theological charges against Jesus. And Jesus’ guilt, you’ll notice in all of these passages, is a foregone conclusion.
The religious leaders have staged this trial under the cover of darkness. They have bought and paid for their witnesses and they will summarily condemn Jesus to death, but because they cannot authorize capital punishment, they have to send Him at dawn to the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. And then they see Pilate’s questioning. You’ll find this in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and here in John 18.
Pilate’s job was relatively straightforward. He was to keep the peace, and keep revenue coming into Rome. That was his job. So as a result, he was charged with squashing any rebellions that might occur, and they happened from time to time. So when the Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate, they modify their charges. It’s very interesting. Their issue with Jesus up until this point has been theological. Right? Blasphemy, false teaching, but now that they are before Pilate they shift the charges and they accuse Jesus of being an insurrectionist who was attempting to set Himself up as a Jewish King, as a rival in defiance of Rome. In other words, they accuse Him of treason against Caesar. And so it’s a political charge before Pilate.
Now what’s interesting is in all of the accounts that we read, Pilate seems to smell a rat. (chuckles) He doesn’t think these charges are merited, but he also realizes he has a political mess on his hands. He doesn’t want to condemn an innocent man on one hand, but on the other side he doesn’t want to offend the Jewish leaders so that will likely turn into a disturbance of the peace during a major high holiday, and Pilate doesn’t need this on his résumé. So Pilate does his best here to disentangle himself from this mess. And when he realizes that Jesus is from Galilee he thinks, “That might be my out,” because Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee is in town for the feast. He’s in Jerusalem. And so Pilate then sends Jesus to him because this is, you know, Herod’s jurisdiction, right?
So we have the interrogation by Herod, which is recorded in Luke 23. Luke is the only one who records this interrogation. This is Herod Antipas if you’ll recall. He’s the son of Herod the Great who is the Herod we meet in the infancy stories of Jesus who tries to kill Jesus then. Pilate attempts to toss this political hot potato into Herod’s lap, and Herod tosses it right back at Pilate.
And so then we get to Pilate’s verdict, which is recorded for us in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and also in John 18. All four of the Gospels record Pilate’s various attempts at avoiding the sentencing of Jesus, but how, in the end, he eventually caves to political pressure and authorizes Jesus’ crucifixion. So that brings us now to the cross.
So that’s the sequence of the storm that is breaking over Jesus’ life over these chapters. And it all begins with this betrayal in the night, the betrayal in the night. And let’s give our attention to John as he recounts the arrest of Jesus.
John 18:1: “When Jesus had spoken these words (referring back to His big high priestly prayer of chapter 17), 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.”
So Jesus and His disciples leave the Upper Room. They make their way through the city. They pass by the temple. They go through the Kidron Valley across the brook to the other side. Rising up on the other side there’s a garden called Gethsemane. And Jesus is a frequent visitor of this spot, and Judas has anticipated that they will head there after supper.
So Judas shows up with his band of soldiers. The word “band” here is a technical term. There were first a great host of battle-hardened Roman soldiers. They are joined by some officers, probably temple police who are under the authority of the chief priests and the Pharisees. So here they are. They show up heavily armed, ready to make quick work of this troublemaker. And we have to ask the question: Why this show of force? Why this big show of force? It’s just eleven guys plus Jesus, twelve guys in the garden. I mean what can they do? Well, it’s likely that the Jewish leaders are already posturing. They are already setting things up. They ask for a Roman detachment of soldiers in order to signal in advance what a threat to Rome this Jesus is.
Verse 4: “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.” (chuckles)
So these soldiers are dispatched to subdue a dangerous insurrectionist. They’re going to take down Jesus by force, and they’re prepped for a conflict, right? The adrenaline is pumping. They’re on high alert. They’re expecting an ambush from the bushes, from the shadows, and up walks this friendly and helpful guy.
“Hey, can I help you? Do you need directions? Who are you looking for?” (chuckles)
“Get out of here. There’s a dangerous criminal on the loose. There’s a rebel in the bushes. You know, Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I am he.”
And in shocked panic they wheel around, reel back, bump into each other, trip over themselves, and fall to the ground.
Now, at one level, this is quite ironic, isn’t it? Here we have battle-hardened soldiers who accidentally let Jesus slip into their ranks, and when He finally identifies Himself they fall all over themselves, right?
But I think there’s something more than sloppy soldiering going on here. What you can’t tell in English is that the phrase, “I am he,” in Greek is “ego eimi,” I AM. I AM. Now it is fair to translate it “I am he,” but it can also be simply translated, “I AM.” And I would argue that, given John’s theological attention to “ego eimi” throughout the book of John as a reference to the divine name of God, revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14 “I AM WHO I AM,” that it should be properly translated here, “I AM.”
Remember in John, chapter 8, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” and they picked up stones to stone him because they knew what He meant, that He was claiming to be God. That’s the same phrase here, “ego eimi.” And I think the reason the soldiers stumble and fall is that Jesus is flexing just a little bit. (chuckles) He’s just flexing, just a little. He’s showing just a hint of His true nature. He’s revealing just an ounce of His true power. He’s giving just a glimpse of His true glory.
“I AM. I am the one you are seeking, and I AM who I AM.” And they tremble and quake in the presence of Almighty God. He flexes, and they fall, you see. Jesus shows just enough strength to show His disciples and us that He is in full command of this situation. Not enough to overpower His opponents, but just enough that we know that everything that happens next is 100 percent voluntary.
Verse 7: “So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am...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.’”
And just like that, friends, Jesus voluntarily surrenders Himself. There is no fight. There’s no flight. There’s no flinching. And Jesus gives himself up, and in doing so He ensures His disciples’ safety. “I’m the one you want.” He says, “Let them go.”
Now normally you’d arrest all the followers wouldn’t you? You don’t arrest just one criminal. You get the whole gang. You get them all, right? You arrest them all. But there’s something in Jesus’ peaceful surrender which wins their trust and protects His followers, just as He promised. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, remember, who lays down His life for the sheep in order that none of them might be lost.
But Peter, (Chuckles) I love Peter. So oblivious to what Jesus intends, springs into action. Look at this. Verse 10: “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, (Of course, he had a sword. Who brings a sword? Peter brings a sword.) then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear (The servant’s name was Malchus). So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword in its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”
So Peter (I love this guy), he’s got a “concealed carry,” right? He’s concealed carried his dagger here, and despite being desperately outnumbered, he decides he’s going to go down with a fight, you know, down in a blaze of glory. And he has one shot, right? With a whole entourage you get one shot, one blow. You get the surprise attack, and he swings quickly, right? He swings either for the throat or for the head. He misses both, and hits this guy’s ear, right?
Malchus screams. The soldiers charge in. The bloody ear is flying through the air, and in all the chaos, Jesus takes command of the situation. “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
“Peter, this is not the hour to pour out judgment on these people. This is the hour when judgment is poured in, into my cup, into the cup the Father gave me and I must drink it to the dregs.”
This is the cup of God’s wrath, of His judgment. If you were to look up in Psalm 60:3, or Psalm 75:8, or Isaiah 51:17, or verse 22 of Isaiah 51, or Jeremiah 25:15, and a few other places in the Old Testament, you will see the cup as connected with the wrath and judgment of God.
“Peter, put your sword away. I have to drink this cup. My Father gave it to me, and I will drink it to the dregs.”
Now Luke tells us that Jesus miraculously heals Malchus’ ear right then and there. He puts it right back on. It’s quite a day for Malchus, right? But nonetheless, they arrest Jesus.
Verse 12: “So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.” Notice, friends, Jesus is not subdued. He voluntarily gives Himself up. No fight, just surrender. And in doing this, He protects His disciples.
Now listen to the interrogation. Verse 13: “First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.”
So they take Jesus to Annas, the former high priest, and the father-in-law of the current high priest, Caiaphas. John reminds us that this whole plot is Caiaphas’ idea, right? Remember in John 11:50 he had said, “Don’t you know anything? It is better that one man dies for the people than that the nation should perish?” And Annas is the one now, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who will question Jesus first. They have to wake everybody up. It’s the middle of the night. They have to have a quorum for their big meeting in secret in the middle of the night, right? So as they gather the emergency meeting and get everyone together, Annas will do the preliminary interrogation.
Verse 15: “Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in.”
So Peter, according to the other Gospels, fled the garden and went at the arrest of Jesus. But now he is surreptitiously following Jesus, along with another anonymous disciple. Now, because John, our author, keeps his identity consistently quiet in the Gospel of John (He calls himself “the beloved disciple,” “the other disciple,” “the disciple Jesus loved”) many scholars surmise that this is, in fact, John, our author who is mentioned here anonymously.
Now, assuming this is John, apparently he had connections, at least enough to gain entry into the high priest’s courtyard without being seriously questioned. And apparently he has enough clout to go get Peter as well, but as Peter is coming in, into the courtyard, the servant girl questions him. Verse 17: “The servant girl at the door said to Peter, ‘You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’” This is denial number one.
Verse 18: “Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.”
Meanwhile Jesus is being questioned by Annas. So the camera pans to Jesus.
“The high priest (verse 19) then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.’”
Now Jesus’ response functions at two different levels. At one level He’s simply saying, “I’ve got nothing to hide here. Everything I’ve said and done is a matter of public record. I’m not one thing in public and another thing in private. There’s no secret agenda to my life. It’s all above-board. It’s all in the open.”
But the second level of His response here is He’s actually calling their bluff. If all the high priest really wanted to know was what Jesus taught, he could have got that information anywhere. He could have asked around. He could have easily discerned that from any other source. The fact that Jesus is bound and hauled in by an armed guard in the middle of the night means they’ve already decided His guilt. This is not just a simple inquiry. They’ve accused Him of having a secret agenda, of conversations behind closed doors. But it is they. They are the ones with the secret plot and the clandestine meetings. And so, you see, Jesus calls them out, on what they’re doing, which explains the harsh retaliation.
Verse 22: “When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’” And apparently Jesus touched a sore spot here, and so they resort to physical violence and abuse.
Verse 23, “Jesus answered him, ‘If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?’”
“If what I’ve said was wrong, press formal charges.” (You see?) “But if I’ve spoken the truth, why the abuse?” See, Jesus doesn’t take retaliation into His own hands, does He? But neither does He take this lying down. What He’s asking for here is a fair trial. “I want formal charges. I want bona fide witnesses. I want an above-board process.” But they will give Him none of that. They’ve already decided His guilt. His death is a foregone conclusion. Everything is planned out to the letter.
Verse 24: “Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” And with that, the camera pans back to the fire and to our friend, Peter for the betrayal.
Verse 25: “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, ‘You also are not one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’” That’s denial number two.
Verse 26: “One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ And Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.” Denial number three.
At once the rooster crowed, and it dawns on Peter and on us: Jesus predicted this would happen.
Remember John 13:37 and 38? “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’”
It’s remarkable, isn’t it? Jesus isn’t even on the scene anymore. He’s been hauled off into the shadows and in the darkness to Caiaphas. But once the rooster crows, He’s the only one that we can think of because He’s the hero in the shadows, you see. He’s the hero in the shadows.
In many ways, Peter attempted to be the hero of this story, didn’t he? When Peter said, “I will lay down my life for you,” he meant it. And in the garden when he wielded his sword, I’m sure he thought, “This is my moment, my moment to prove myself to Jesus.” But Peter’s confidence was sorely misplaced, friends. He trusted in himself. He trusted in his own strength. He trusted in his own commitment. Peter thought salvation would come as he stood side-by-side with Jesus in battle. He didn’t understand yet the way of Jesus, did he? He didn’t understand that salvation would come, not through conquest, but through surrender. The glory would come through shame, that life would come through death, that salvation would come not by the sword, but by the cup.
In some strange irony, friends, Peter had the courage to wield the sword when there was an entourage of Roman soldiers right in front of him, but he faltered in front of a servant girl. See the bold, frontal attack, he was ready for that. It was when he had let his guard down that he fell. And in doing so, Peter joins the ranks of a long line of human beings who know what it is like to have great intentions and to fall flat on our faces. Peter’s professed intentions fall terribly flat, friends, don’t they?
I don’t know about you, but I know exactly how that feels. The people I profess to love the most deeply, I end up hurting the most. I believe in the beauty of truth, but I find it far too easy to shade the truth whenever I’m under pressure. I value the goodness of sacrificial living, but I end up spending too much of my life on myself. In other words, there’s a gap. There’s a gap in my life, a gap between who I think I am, and who I turn out to be. We all have that gap. Some of us see it. Some of us don’t, but it’s there.
And it is on this night that Peter comes face-to-face with the gap. He couldn’t run. He couldn’t hide. He couldn’t deny it anymore. The other Gospels tell us he went out into the night and he wept bitterly.
See, Peter thought he’d be the hero of his own story. He thought he’d be the one to stand up for Jesus. But he had a gap. It turns out Peter needed a hero to rescue him. It turns out Peter needed someone to stand up for him. It turns out Peter needed someone to stand in the gap for him. And although Peter’s professed intentions fall terribly flat, friends, Jesus’ understated courage heroically prevails. Jesus’ understated courage heroically prevails.
Friends, Jesus is the hero of this story. In every moment He exhibits unimaginable courage, doesn’t He? He identifies Himself. He turns Himself in. Verse 4 tells us that He knew everything that was going to happen, the slapping, the slander, the whipping, the mocking, the thorns, the nails, the cross, the agony, the death. Knowing all of it, He walks right up to the posse and turns Himself in. And He’s in total command of the situation.
Remember He told Judas, “What you are about to do, go do it quickly.” He identifies Himself to the soldiers. When they fall down, He doesn’t run for cover. When Peter attacked, Jesus talks him down off the ledge. Under interrogation, friends, Jesus is exposing their guilt. He’s so courageous, He’s so poised, He’s so unflappable.
He’s the hero of the story. And what does the hero do? With all of His power, all of His authority, all of His courage, what does He do? At every point, Jesus protects His disciples. Have you ever wondered why Jesus stood alone at His trial, why there were no witnesses called to defend Him? Peter and John were right there. Jesus knows they’re right there. Luke tells us Jesus made eye contact with Peter. Jesus never called him to the stand as witnesses in His defense. Why? He was protecting them.
When Peter drew his sword, Jesus intervened. Do you realize if Jesus hadn’t intervened what would have happened to Peter? They would have cut his throat in the night, wouldn’t they? The soldiers would have mowed him down. You don’t pull a sword on Roman guards, but Jesus stood in the gap for Peter.
At His arrest, remember Jesus said, “If you seek me, let them go. You seek me. Let them go.” This phrase, “Let them go,” has a wide semantic range. It could mean, “Let them go free,” but it can also mean “Let them be forgiven. Let them be pardoned. Let them be acquitted.”
Don’t you see? Jesus offers Himself for them. He is arrested that they might go free. He is bound, that they might be liberated. He is condemned that they might be pardoned. He is crucified that they might live. And don’t you see? It’s a picture, it’s a picture of the Gospel. “Take Mm; let them go!”
“Take me; let them go!”
Friends, Jesus faced the darkness alone that we might go free. Jesus faced the darkness alone that we might go free. Friends, when Jesus gave Himself up to protect His disciples, it was a beautiful picture of the cross and all that Jesus is about.
Friends, on the cross Jesus died in our place and for our sake. He bore all of our sin and shame in His body on the cross. He stood in the gap to cover our gaps. He drank the cup of judgment to the dregs for us to the bitter end. And He rose again to give us life, that we might be free, that we might be covered by His perfect righteous, that we might reconciled to the Father, that we might be children of God now and forever.
Friends, this is the Gospel. “Take me; let them go.” “Take me; let them go.” In the end, there’s only one hero of this story. In the end, there’s only one person with no gaps who sees the gaps and looks us in the eyes, we who ought to be left alone in darkness, weeping bitterly in the night, but who instead stood in the gap for us, who died in the dark, and drank the bitter cup to the dregs, and said, “Take me; let them go.”
Friends, this is your Jesus. This is the Gospel.
Would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Father, we get Peter. Great intentions, lousy follow-through. We too have walked out into the darkness and wept bitterly in the nights. Who would have ever thought that in that moment of utter failure, that Jesus would step up, that He would face the storm, that He would die in the dark, that He would drink the bitter cup of sorrow for us?
Father, we thank you that this is not just good news when we come to you. This is good news for every moment of our lives, because our failures are not just past. They’re present, and there are failures in our future, but Jesus has seen them all, and in love He has given Himself for us. “Take me; let them go free.” We trust in His saving work.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. Amen.