Night of Betrayal

Jesus had predicted his death and the manner in which he would die. Hearing his words I think his followers either did not believe him or were not paying attention. Had they paid attention they may have challenged him, as they had done in the past, or maybe encouraged him to not travel to Jerusalem. I don’t know. (Maybe, that’s what I would have done.)

They had seen him walk away from a mob in his own home town, people he knew who wanted him dead. His followers knew the religious leaders wanted him dead. So far, no one had succeeded. But this time Jesus’ prediction was different. Like many people his followers had selective hearing, acknowledging only what they wanted to hear not what was said. He was going up to Jerusalem to die, then be raised from the dead and they followed because they wanted to be with him not because they recognized the danger.

Outside of Jerusalem, on one of the many hills, was a place called the Mount of Olives. Jesus went there to pray whenever he was in Jerusalem. He spent many nights there with his followers. This night was like any other night. One follower was missing and would come later. In the middle of the night, when all normal people are sleeping, Jesus tells his followers to “pray that you may not enter into temptation” [Luke 22:40 ESV]. They are to stay awake and pray. This is a minor impossibility. Praying in the middle of the night usually causes eyes to close, breathing to slow and deep sleep. They fell asleep. This is what normal people do under normal circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t sleep. He was in distress, anticipating what would soon happen. No one knowing they are imminently facing death by torture will sleep. They cannot. Every moment is agonizing, every breath labored. Every prayer pleads for mercy. Jesus prayed. He asked God “if you are willing, remove this cup from me” [Luke 22:42]. But he knew something no one else knew. He knew why. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” [Luke 22:42 ESV].

Coming to his sleeping followers he wakes them. Luke tells us they were sleeping because of “sorrow” [Luke 22:45 ESV]. The word used may mean “grief” but may also mean simply “heaviness.” They were asleep because their eyes were heavy with sleep and may have been grieved because he woke them. I don’t know. I know they were asleep, which is a normal night time activity for those who are tired. When he wakes them he tells them again to pray they not fall into temptation. In both instances I believe the implication of his words are for them to pass the test of discipline they are facing at his command. Stay awake and talk to God and listen to Him. He will do something and your lack of discipline will cause you to miss what He will do.

It isn’t until Judas, the missing follower, arrives with a mob they come fully awake. Why would there be a crowd of priests and elders and temple guards and servants in the middle of the night carrying torches and clubs and swords. Fear wakes them where Jesus’ command could not. One of them, Peter, reacting to the danger, defended his master. Drawing a sword he swung, trying to cut off the head of one of the men in the mob. According to the writer of John, one of the followers of Jesus knew him, a man named Malchus, described as the servant of the high priest. Malchus probably did not have a sword. If he were a true guard he would have easily parried Peter’s wild swing. All indications are he had no sword but was there with his master, the high priest. Peter, a fisherman who knew how to swing a net wasn’t trained to swing a sword. All he accomplished was to sever Malchus’ right ear. He missed. His action was normal for a man who believed he and the one he loved was in danger.

Luke, the writer of the document called the Gospel of Luke, a trained physician and a trained observer, gives information the other documents, Matthew, Mark and John, do not. It is important to know Luke was not there. He was not an eyewitness. It would be years before he heard the stories. He was an investigator and found those who were there and asked questions. He interviewed eyewitnesses. He “having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account” [Luke 1:3 ESV] about what had happened. There is nothing extraordinary about his story of the night before Jesus’ murder, except for one thing. When Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest Jesus healed the man’s ear. Jesus touched one who was charged with beginning his day of torture, injured by a sword meant to defend him and healed the man.

This is the action of a remarkable man. By the following nightfall Jesus knew he would be dead. Within days Jesus knew he would be alive again. He knew these things. Since Jesus was raised why would we think his healing an injured ear impossible? All who were there saw what he did. They witnessed his action.

Here are the words of an extraordinary man. “Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, ‘Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness'” [Luke 22:52-53 ESV].

We have eyewitness accounts of what happened. We have no evidence suggesting the man whose ear was severed and healed by Jesus kept the experience to himself. He probably told people what happened. How could he not tell what happened? His name was Malchus. One of Jesus’ followers knew the man. Even though he was the servant of the high priest, who wanted Jesus dead, he could not deny what Jesus had done for him. Nothing that happened that night is contested. There is too much evidence seen by too many people who were there.

In the same way we can be confident of the history of the arrest of Jesus on the Mount of Olives we can believe the truth of his resurrection.


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