“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. (verses 52-56)
The night is dark. Black. I imagine the mob sent by the chief priests are brandishing torches, as well as swords and clubs, so shards of light and elongated shadows are swirling. The disciples are terrified. The armed crowd is surging.
Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. Men move in swiftly for the arrest, seizing Jesus. One bold disciple (John tells us it’s Peter) wields a sword and lops off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants. Presumably there are shrieks of pain, plus more swirling chaos. Luke pauses to tell us that Jesus touched the severed ear and healed it, but Matthew doesn’t bother. Instead, he lets us hear the voice of Jesus rising above the disarray.
The words momentarily speak calm into the storm, as Jesus speaks to two separate groups, first to his own followers, then secondly to his attackers. To both he highlights the foolishness of swords and violence. To both he emphasizes the necessity of Scripture’s fulfilment.
To his own disciples (with Peter clearly in the spotlight) Jesus says, “Put your sword away!” If you draw the sword, he says, you will also die by the sword. It’s a futile effort. Especially given the fact it’s entirely unnecessary, for Jesus says that at any moment he could call on his heavenly Father who would at once send more than twelve legions of angels. Since a Roman legion was made up of 6,000 soldiers, this would be a considerable army, more than enough to compensate for the single sword that Peter is impetuously swinging. As one commentator puts it, not only would there be a legion to fully defend Jesus, but also one apiece for each of the Twelve (minus Judas) – entirely adequate!
But he doesn’t do it. Why? Because the Scriptures must be fulfilled. From eternity past, it has been the will of the Triune God that Jesus would go to the cross. So he presses forward, submitting to the Father’s will.
He speaks, then, to the surging mob who are fully armed with swords and clubs. He points out the foolish irony. They have been sent by the chief priests and elders, upholders of justice and righteousness, who cowardly refused to apprehend him while he taught peacefully in the Temple courts, but who have now sent these men to violently arrest him under cover of darkness.
Yet once again, Jesus stays the course. All is happening so that Scripture might be fulfilled. The way of the cross has all along been in the heart of God.
In the midst of such chaos in the darkness, Jesus himself presses forward in peace.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour, live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling, all I do and say. Amen.
Reflect: That night in the Garden was full of darkness, chaos, betrayal, violent disruption, confusion, hostility. Can you currently identify with any of it? If so, put it in Jesus’ hands, trusting him as he trusted his Father. Or, pray for someone else you know who may be experiencing some of this now.
Photo by Ranger Zang: https://www.pexels.com/.../people-carrying-torches-at.../