(John 18:1 ESV) 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.
The Garden of Gethsemane is on the Mount of Olives, to the east of Jerusalem. “Gethsemane” means “olive press,” that is, two stones used to press the oil out of olives.
The crushing weight of the round stone presses on the olives until they give up their oil. The olives, of course, are destroyed in the process, but this is the only way to produce the oil that’s needed.
Jesus doubtlessly felt very much like an olive in a press. He would soon be crushed.
(Isa 53:10 ESV) 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
John continues —
(John 18:2 ESV) 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples.
Although John records no earlier meetings there. It was well into the evening, and yet Judas assumed that’s where Jesus would go. Evidently, Jesus routinely spent time there in the evenings, perhaps as a preferred place to pray with his disciples.
(John 18:3 ESV) 3 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.
“Band of soldiers” translates a word usually translated “cohort,” that is, a group of Roman soldiers from the cohort stationed in Jerusalem. Clearly, Pilate had provided soldiers to assist the Jewish leaders in the arrest.
This does not mean that Pilate had prejudged Jesus. Rather, as an occupied nation, the Jews had a very limited right to bear arms. Evidently, they expected armed resistance.
Given that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead and had been hailed by the people as the Messiah, it’s easy to see how the Romans might assume someone with such power should be dealt with using overwhelming force — and that was very much the Roman philosophy.
Moreover, given the accusation that Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews, the Romans would have certainly seen him as someone to be put on trial. They had no interest in the Jewish blasphemy charges, but Rome wasn’t about to let someone else claim to be king.
(John 18:4-5 ESV) Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.
John is careful to show how Jesus is always in command throughout his arrest and trial. He takes the first step, not to resist arrest but to facilitate his arrest. He acts as a king should act.
(John 18:6-9 ESV) 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”
John doesn’t bother to explain how a word from Jesus can throw a Roman soldier to the ground. To him, it was obvious, I suppose. Jesus is God, and a word from the God of the Universe could terrify anyone. The thought, therefore, is that when he was being arrested, Jesus had the powers and presence of God himself — hence the “I am”! — so much so that a word from his lips could throw a small army into terror. And yet Jesus submitted.
However, Jesus did use his presence — the force of his personality — to compel the soldiers to arrest only Jesus and not his disciples.
Jesus’ giving himself up to rescue his disciples prefigures the cross itself, where Jesus again gives himself up to rescue his disciples.
(John 18:10 ESV) 10 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.)
Peter was one audacious disciple! Here he is, facing the Roman cohort — surely in full armor and carrying swords. The disciples had but two swords between them (Luke 22:38). Attack an official, and but for divine intervention, everyone would die. And yet Peter struck the official.
Perhaps he thought Jesus might call down fire from heaven or bring forth an army of angels. Maybe he just wanted to go down fighting. But there was no way Peter and the disciples could defeat these soldiers — absent a miracle. And if a miracle was forthcoming, God didn’t need Peter to cut off the servant’s ear. It was a foolish, impetuous act.
(John 18:11 ESV) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
This is hardly a pro-pacifism speech. Rather, Jesus is simply saying that Peter is standing in the way of God’s will: Jesus is supposed to be arrested.
“Drink the cup” is a significant phrase. The traditional Passover meal involves drinking four cups of wine, and closely read, the Gospels suggest that all four cups were a part of the Last Supper. However, the traditional Passover has a fifth cup, taken from Jeremiah –
(Jer 25:15-17) This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the Lord’s hand and made all the nations to whom he sent me drink it:
This is the cup of God’s wrath, also known as Elijah’s cup. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return shortly before the coming of the Messiah and day of God’s wrath against all wickedness.
(Mal 4:5) “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”
At this part of the Passover ceremony, the door is opened, and the head of household says, “Pour out your wrath on the world!”
In the traditional ceremony, this cup is filled but not drunk — not until the coming of Elijah. But Jesus drank the cup.
(Mat 26:39-42) Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” … 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against the nations.