The Great I AM: With the Mob

The Great I AM: With the Mob

The Great I AM: With the Mob.

“Stepping forward, Jesus asked them, ‘Who are you looking for?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. Jesus replied, ‘I AM He.’ And the moment Jesus spoke those words, the mob fell backward to the ground!” (John 18:5-6).

a. I AM, again. In the gospel of John, Jesus repeatedly appropriated the Name of Yahweh, I Am Who I Am. By declaring to be I AM, Jesus is claiming to be co-equal with the God of the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 3:14), the Blessed One of biblical history, the Name that is so holy it cannot be pronounced aloud. Jesus doesn’t shy away from scandal when it comes to claiming divinity. Listeners reacted in many different ways. They would walk away shaking their heads in disbelief; they would believe Him and take His word for it; they would ask for proof; they would exclaim that He was impudent, outrageous to the point of blasphemy. Nonetheless, Jesus boldly continued declaring that He was akin to the Great I AM. St. John once again quotes Jesus as He said I AM, this time in chapter 18, in the Garden, prior to His arrest. His I AM blares out as He faces off with a mob that was ready to apply force if necessary.

“The Pharisees and the leading priests had given Judas a large detachment of Roman soldiers and Temple police to seize Jesus. Judas guided them to the Garden, all of them carrying torches and lanterns and armed with swords and spears. Jesus, knowing full well what was about to happen, went out to the Garden entrance to meet them. Stepping forward, He asked, ‘Who are you looking for?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. He replied, ‘I AM He.’ And the moment Jesus spoke those words, the mob fell backward to the ground!” (John 18:3-6).

b. Before the Arrest of Jesus. Thursday night was the beginning of the Passion of Christ. The following occurred, in order, before His arrest: The Passover meal with the disciples, what came to be known as the Last Supper; Judas departs the Supper to meet with religious authorities; Jesus predicts Peter’s denial; the prayer and agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane; an angel is sent to strengthen and encourage Jesus at His lowest in the Garden; while still at the foot of the Mount of Olives, a mob arrives, with Judas in the lead, to arrest Jesus. The disciples were falling asleep earlier in the Garden. They now seem fullhy awake.

c. The Mob. This was not your ordinary little group of enforcers. Various versions describe this group in different ways: a contingent; a detachment; a multitude; a cohort; a mob; a huge group. Scholars estimate that there was anywhere between 200-600 men in this mob. They were all carrying torches and weapons, with swords, clubs, spears, whatever they could get their hands on. Judas, the official accuser, was in the front, along with Temple priests, elders, Roman soldiers and Temple police. The religious authorities had issued a warrant for Jesus’ arrest. They were to seize Jesus, arrest Him, and bring Him to the religious court for trial. The Temple leaders didn’t want to arrest Jesus in the Temple, even though He taught there every day, for fear of inciting a riot. Jesus was quite popular in the general public.

d. The Power of I AM. A dramatic scene is developing. Jesus is surprised at the numbers of people involved and their weaponry. “What am I, some dangerous revolutionary?” He asked them. Jesus asked the mob who they were looking for, knowing that He was the target. They said they were looking for Jesus the Nazarene. Without hesitation, Jesus confidently blurted out, “I AM He!” There was so much spiritual power and authority that accompanied those words that the whole multitude fell backwards, flat on the ground. His claim to be deity, the Great I AM, was scandalous, but also filled with overwhelming divine energy. Jesus simply overpowered the mob with His spiritual presence. They literally couldn’t seize Him. Instead, He allowed Himself to be taken. He submitted. He gave them permission to take Him to His death. As Jesus told them to their face, “This is your moment, when the power of darkness reigns.”

e. Judas. The official accuser paid by the Temple authorities, Judas had a pre-arranged signal with the soldiers… He would give a kiss of greeting to the guilty party, to this man who was to be arrested. So that’s what he did. Judas greeted Jesus warmly with “Rabbi, Rabbi!” Jesus, gracious to the end, responded with, “My beloved friend.” Jesus followed that up with, “Is this why you have come to me? Are you really going to betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” With His poignant response, Jesus brings us back to the prophecy of Psalm 41:9, “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.‘” And Psalm 55:12-13 as well, “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me, who has exalted himself against me; then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, my companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, and walked to the house of God in the throng.” Jesus can personally identify with us when we are betrayed… He knows first-hand what betrayal feels like.

f. Disciples. Still standing with Jesus in the face of the mob, the disciples were alarmed at what was happening. Several hundred men with  weapons in the dead of night, looking to arrest Jesus! They asked Jesus if they should defend Him somehow, even with swords.

g. Peter. True to his personality, Peter decides to take matters into his own hands. He picks up his sword, which was probably more like a dagger. Fortunately for Malchus, Peter has bad aim. He is not much of a soldier. As opposed to head or neck, Peter struck Malchus’ ear and severed it from his head.

h. The Healing. Jesus forcefully told Peter  “No more of this!” and touched the man’s ear and healed him. That’s right. Miraculously, the ear grew back. Jesus re-created the ear of Malchus, and he was healed, right there in the middle of the mob. For those able to witness this miracle, Jesus confirmed his earlier I AM statement with this healing. Malchus was a member of the mob sent to arrest and seize Jesus, the servant of the enemy high priest. And Jesus healed him! Jesus’ words to Peter at this point are memorable… “Put away your sword! Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword. All those who embrace violence will die by violence.” Malchus, the healed Temple official, is never mentioned again.

i. Disciples. At this point, most of the parallel accounts of this scene have the disciples deserting Jesus and running away. John recorded a more sympathetic view of the disciples. Jesus is facing up to the mob, and He says to them, “I am the one you want. Let these others go.” All the disciples then fled the scene, seemingly with Jesus’ permission.