Summary: Jesus has come to give his life as a ransom for many (10:45). Man needs to be saved from himself, from his deceitful heart, his bent to do evil.
What is worse – to be told that you will fail or to watch your failure played out just as it was told? And what is more difficult for the condemned prisoner – waiting for the hours to tick by or the moment of execution finally arriving? Not very good choices either way, and both Jesus and his disciples had to face them. The tension has been building until we now reach the moment in which all that has been prophesied is now to be played out. Now comes Jesus’ arrest.
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.
Let’s see if we can’t construct the events taking place behind the scene of Jesus’ time with his disciples. We know that Judas some days earlier made a deal with the religious leaders to turn Jesus over to them. As verse 11 notes, he watched for an opportunity to hand him over. Jesus outwitted him in keeping the location of the passover supper a secret. Nevertheless, he looked for his opportunity. Sometime during the supper he slipped away, apparently before Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper (based upon John’s record). No doubt arrangements had been made for him to alert his co-conspirators when the time was opportune.
Mark mentions from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. There had grown up within the leadership of the religious establishment a group that hated Jesus and saw in him a great danger to their interests and to that of the nation. John records an insightful scene in his gospel.
47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life (John 11:47-53).
This passage brings out a number of insights into this group who has sent out this arrest party. First, they were not renegades or mavericks. They were the leadership of the nation. Understand that the religious leaders were the civil leaders as well. John mentions the Sanhedrin. This was the highest governing body allowed by the Romans to handle Jewish civil and religious customs. Caiaphas is the high priest who by his position was the chief of the Sanhedrin. The leaders understood the danger that Jesus posed. If he becomes too popular, the crowd will make him as a king, which will bring down the military force of Rome. Many of the leaders held a personal grudge, no doubt, against Jesus, but even those not so antagonistic recognize the danger that he carries. Caiaphas recognizes the solution. Jesus must die – nothing personal! – to preserve the nation.
Not all the Sanhedrin understood his implications, but a certain number did and they conspired together for Jesus’ downfall. Timing was everything, and Judas solved that problem for them. He would find the right time away from the crowds to make the arrest.
We don’t know how large this “crowd” was – large enough to handle any resistance that eleven disciples might make, but not so large as to attract a lot of attention. They would mostly have been the guards of the Sanhedrin.
44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. 46 The men seized Jesus and arrested him. 47 Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
Note the title now hung on Judas, “the betrayer.” Probably what is so galling to Mark is the signal that Judas had prearranged with his guard – a kiss. Two things could go wrong: Jesus and the disciples be alerted too soon and fight or run, or the arrest party mistakenly go after the wrong guy in the dark, again giving Jesus time to make his escape. On the other side of the Mount of Olives begins the Judean wilderness. Escape would be quite possible.