Christianity 201

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?