Our study of the closing scenes of the life of our Lord begins at the point where He fell into the hands of the representatives of justice; and this took place at the gate of Gethsemane and at the midnight hour.
On the eastern side of Jerusalem, the ground slopes downwards to the bed of the Brook Kedron; and on the further side of the stream rises the Mount of Olives. The side of the hill was laid out in gardens or orchards belonging to the inhabitants of the city; and Gethsemane was one of these. There is no probability that the enclosure now pointed out to pilgrims at the foot of the hill is the actual spot, or that the six aged olive trees which it contains are those to the silent shadows of which the Saviour used to resort; but the scene cannot have been far away, and the piety which lingers with awe in the traditional site cannot be much mistaken.
The agony in Gethsemane was just over, when |lo,| as St. Matthew says, |Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude.| They had come down from the eastern gate of the city and were approaching the entrance to the garden. It was full moon, and the black mass was easily visible, moving along the dusty road.
The arrest of Christ was not made by two or three common officers of justice. The |great multitude| has to be taken literally, but not in the sense of a disorderly crowd. As it was at the instance of the ecclesiastical authorities that the apprehension took place, their servants -- the Levitical police of the temple -- were to the front. But, as Jesus had at least eleven resolute men with Him, and these might rouse incalculable numbers of His adherents on the way to the city, it had been considered judicious to ask from the Roman governor a division of soldiers, which, at the time of the Passover, was located in the fortress of Antonia, overlooking the temple, to intervene in any emergency. And some of the members of the Sanhedrim had even come themselves, so eager were they to see that the design should not miscarry. This composite force was armed with swords and staves -- the former weapon belonging perhaps to the Roman soldiers and the latter to the temple police -- and they carried lanterns and torches, probably because they expected to have to hunt for Jesus and His followers in the recesses of His retreat. Altogether it was a formidable body: they were determined to make assurance doubly sure.
The leader of them was Judas. Of the general character of this man, and the nature of his crime, enough will be said later; but here we must note that there were special aggravations in his mode of carrying out his purpose.
He profaned the Passover. The better day, says the proverb, the better deed. But, if a deed is evil, it is the worse if it is done on a sacred day. The Passover was the most sacred season of the entire year; and this very evening was the most sacred of the Passover week. It was as if a crime should in Scotland be committed by a member of the Church on the night of a Communion Sabbath, or in England on Christmas Day.
He invaded the sanctuary of his Master's devotions. Gethsemane was a favourite resort of Jesus; Judas had been there with Him, and he knew well for what purpose He frequented it. But the respect due to a place of prayer did not deter him; on the contrary, he took advantage of his Master's well-known habit.
But the crowning profanation, for which humanity will never forgive him, was the sign by which he had agreed to make his Master known to His enemies. It is probable that he came on in front, as if he did not belong to the band behind; and, hurrying towards Jesus, as if to apprise Him of His danger and condole with Him on so sad a misfortune as His apprehension, he flung himself on His neck, sobbing, |Master, Master!| and not only did he kiss Him, but he did so repeatedly or fervently: so the word signifies. As long as there is true, pure love in the world, this act will be hated and despised by everyone who has ever given or received this token of affection. It was a sin against the human heart and all its charities. But none can feel its horror as it must have been felt by Jesus. That night and the next day His face was marred in many ways: it was furrowed by the bloody sweat; it was bruised with blows; they spat upon it; it was rent with thorns: but nothing went so close to His heart as the profanation of this kiss. As another said, who had been similarly treated: |It was not an enemy that reproached me, then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me, then I would have hid myself from him; but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide and mine acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in company.| Before the kiss was given, Jesus still received him with the old name of Friend; but, after being stung with it, He could not keep back the annihilating question, |Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?|
The kiss was the sign of discipleship. In the East, students used to kiss their rabbis; and in all likelihood this custom prevailed between Christ and His disciples. When we become His disciples, we may be said to kiss Him; and every time we renew the pledge of our loyalty we may be said to repeat this act. We do so especially in the Lord's Supper. In our baptism He may be said to take us up in His arms and kiss us; in the other sacrament we obtain the opportunity of returning this mark of affection.
Probably Judas, being ahead of the band he was leading, went somewhat into the shadows of the garden to reach Jesus; and no doubt it was expected that Jesus would try to get away. But, instead of doing so, He shook Himself free from Judas and, coming forward at once into the moonlight, demanded, |Whom seek ye?|
At this they were so startled that they reeled back and, stepping one on another, fell to the ground.
Similar incidents are related of famous men. The Roman Marius, for instance, was in prison at Minturnae when Sylla sent orders that he should be put to death. A Gaulish slave was sent to dispatch him; but, at the sight of the man who had shaken the world, and who cried out, |Fellow, darest thou to slay Caius Marius?| the soldier threw down his weapon and fled.
There are many indications scattered through the Gospels that, especially in moments of high emotion, there was something extraordinarily subduing in the aspect and voice of Christ. On the occasion, for example, when He cleared the temple, the hardened profaners of the place, though numerous and powerful, fled in terror before Him. And the striking notice of Him as He was going up to Jerusalem for the last time will be remembered: |Jesus went before them, and they were amazed; and, as they followed, they were afraid.|
On this occasion the emotion of Gethsemane was upon Him -- the rapt sense of victory and of a mind steeled to go through with its purpose -- and perhaps there remained on His face some traces of the Agony, which scared the onlookers. It is not necessary to suppose that there was anything preternatural, though part of the terror of His captors may have been the dread lest He should destroy them by a miracle. Evidently Judas was afraid of something of this kind when he said, |Take Him and lead Him away safely.|
The truth is, they were caught, instead of catching Him. It was a mean, treacherous errand they were on. They were employing a traitor as their guide. They expected to come upon Christ, perhaps when He was asleep, in silence and by stealth; or, if He were awake, they thought that they would have to pursue Him into a lurking-place, where they would find Him trembling and at bay. They were to surprise Him, but, when He came forth fearless, rapt and interrogative, He surprised them, and compelled them to take an altogether unexpected attitude. He brought all above board and put them to shame.
How ridiculous now looked their cumbrous preparations -- all these soldiers, the swords and staves, the torches and lanterns, now burning pale in the clear moonlight. Jesus made them feel it. He made them feel what manner of spirit they were of, and how utterly they had mistaken His views and spirit. |Whom seek ye?| He asked them again, to compel them to see that they were not taking Him, but that He was giving Himself up. He was completely master of the situation. Singling out the Sanhedrists, who probably at that moment would rather have kept in the background, He demanded, pointing to their excessive preparations, |Be ye come out as against a thief, with swords and staves? When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against Me.| He, a solitary man, though He knew how many were against Him, had not been afraid: He taught daily in the temple -- in the most public place, at the most public hour. But they, numerous and powerful as they were, yet were afraid, and so they had chosen the midnight hour for their nefarious purpose. |This is your hour,| He said, |and the power of darkness.| This midnight hour is your hour, because ye are sons of night, and the power ye wield against Me is the power of darkness.
So spake the Lion of the tribe of Judah! So will He speak on that day when all His enemies shall be put under His feet. |Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.|
We cannot recall to mind too often that it was the victory in the Garden that accounted for this triumph outside the gate. The irresistible dignity and strength here displayed were gained by watching and prayer.
This, however, is made still more impressively clear by the fate of those who did not watch and pray. On them everything came as a blinding and bewildering surprise. They were aroused out of profound slumber, and came stumbling forward hardly yet awake. When hands were laid on Jesus, one of the disciples cried, |Shall we smite with the sword?| And, without waiting for an answer, he struck. But what a ridiculous blow! How like a man half-awake! Instead of the head, he only smote the ear. This blow would have been dearly paid for had not Jesus, with perfect presence of mind, interposed between Peter and the swords which were being drawn to cut him down. |Suffer ye thus far,| He said, keeping the soldiers back; and, touching the ear, He healed it, and saved His poor disciple.
Surely it was even with a smile that Jesus said to Peter, |Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.| Inside the scabbard, not outside, was the sword's place; it was out of place in this cause; and those who wield the sword without just reason, and without receiving the orders of competent authority, are themselves liable to give life for life.
But it was with the high-strung eloquence with which He had spoken to His enemies that Jesus further showed Peter how inconsistent was his act. It was inconsistent with his Master's dignity; |For,| said He, |if I ask My Father, He would presently give Me more than twelve legions of angels;| and what against such a force were this miscellaneous band, numbering at the most the tenth part of a legion of men? It was inconsistent with Scripture: |How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?| It was inconsistent with His own purpose and His Father's will: |The cup which My Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?|
Poor Peter! On this occasion he was thoroughly like himself. There was a kind of rightness and nobleness in what he did; but it was in the wrong place. If he had only been as prompt inside Gethsemane to do what he was bidden as outside it to do what he was not bidden! How much better if he could have drawn the spiritual sword and cut on the ear which was to be betrayed by a maid-servant's taunt! Peter's conduct on this occasion, as often on other occasions, showed how poor a guide enthusiasm is when it is not informed with the mind and spirit of Christ.
Perhaps it was by the recollection of how deeply he had vowed to stick by Christ, even if he should have to die with Him, that Peter was pricked on to do something. The others, however, had said the same thing. Did they remember it now? It is to be feared, not: the apparition of mortal danger drove everything out of their minds but the instinct of self-preservation. Sometimes, in cases of severe illness, especially of mental disease, the curious effect may be observed -- that a face into which years of culture have slowly wrought the stamp of refinement and dignity entirely loses this, and reverts to the original peasant type. So the fright of their Master's arrest, coming so suddenly on the prayerless and unprepared disciples, undid, for the time, what their years of intercourse with Him had effected; and they sank back into Galilean fishermen again. This was really what they were from the arrest to the resurrection.
Here again their conduct is in absolute contrast with their Master's. As a mother-bird, when her brood is assailed, goes forward to meet the enemy, or as a good shepherd stands forth between his flock and danger, so Jesus, when His captors drew nigh, threw Himself between them and His followers. It was partly with this in view that He went so boldly out and concentrated attention on Himself by the challenge, |Whom seek ye?| When they replied, |Jesus of Nazareth,| He said, |I am He: if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way.| And the fright into which they were thrown made them forget His followers in their anxiety to secure Himself.
This was as He intended. St. John, in narrating it, makes the curious remark, that this was done that the saying might be fulfilled which He spake, |Of them which Thou gavest Me have I lost none.| This saying occurs in His great intercessory prayer, offered at the first Communion table; but in its original place it evidently means that He had lost none of them in a spiritual sense, whereas here it seems to have only the sense of losing any of them by the swords of the soldiers or by the cross, if they had been arrested with Him. But a deep hint underlies this surface meaning. St. John suggests that, if any of them had been taken along with Him, the likelihood is that they would have been unequal to the crisis: they would have denied Him, and so, in the sadder sense, would have been lost.
Jesus, knowing too well that this was the state of the case, made for them a way of escape, and |they all forsook Him and fled.| It was perhaps as well, for they might have done worse. Yet what an anticlimax to the asseveration which everyone of them had made that very evening, |If I should die with Thee, I will not deny Thee in any wise!| I have sometimes thought what an honour it would have been to Christianity, what a golden leaf in the history of human nature, had one or two of them -- say, the brothers James and John -- been strong enough to go with Him to prison and to death. We should, indeed, have missed St. John's writings in that case -- his Revelation, Gospel and Epistles. But what a revelation that would have been, what a gospel, what a living epistle!
It was not, however, to be. Jesus had to go unaccompanied: |I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me.| So they |bound Him and led Him away.|
Speira=cohors, tenth part of legion. See Ramsay, R.A., 381.
katephilesen. It is used of the woman who was a sinner, when she kissed the feet of the Saviour.
Other instances in Sueskind, Passionsschule, in loc.
See fuller details in Imago Christi, last chapter.