43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45 And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 46 And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47 But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48 And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
This passage is familiar to most of us and the events here are recorded in all four gospels, each adding to our understanding with interesting details that fill out the narrative. Each account records Judas’ betrayal, each records Peter’s assault, and each records Jesus’ obedience and submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.
There are two interesting notes in Mark’s account of Jesus’ arrest. The first is the repeated use of the word seize. It’s clear from the description of the “crowd” (armed with swords and clubs, verse 43), that there is a wicked determination on the part of the religious leaders to deal finally deal with Jesus. All their hatred and murderous intent against Jesus is finally boiling over as they have come to seize Jesus.
The second interesting note is that only Jesus and Judas are identified by name. Peter is spared identification as the one who strikes the servant of the high priest (John’s Gospel identifies Peter as the one who did this- verse 47), the crowd is nameless, and the streaker is anonymous as well—although many scholars speculate that this is Mark himself, the writer of the Gospel of Mark.
But this anonymous streaker fits very well with the writing of Mark’s Gospel in that we’re invited to place ourselves in this streaker’s shoes (so to speak) and ask ourselves under what circumstances we too might abandon Jesus. After all, if all the disciples fled, what would make us any different?
What’s interesting to me is to consider the people that are around Jesus as this account unfolds.
First, there are the disciples. Remember that just a few moments before Jesus chastised them for not being able to stay awake, to watch and pray, and at the end of this passage, we read about their failure as they all abandon Jesus. Remember how just a few verses before they all boasted that they would follow Jesus, never denying Him, even if that meant their own death (verse 31)?
Then there is Peter. Peter acts with violence when the crowd comes to arrest Jesus, but Jesus tells Peter to stop, that the scriptures are to be fulfilled (Matthew 26.54, Mark 49).
And what about that crowd? Notice that they come heavily armed and in the dark of night. They are treating Jesus as if He is revolutionary with followers that will cause a fight; that’s why they come at night and are armed as they are giving little opportunity for a fight or for the people to be stirred up.
And Judas. Don’t forget about Judas. He betrays Jesus with a kiss. But that’s not what grabs my attention with Judas. In Matthew’s account, Jesus responds to Judas and calls him “friend”. It’s difficult to translate what Jesus says to Judas (Luke’s Gospel turns it into a question) and there are some different ways to understand what Jesus says to him. I tend to side with the translation where Jesus is posing a gentle question to Judas, “Friend. Do you really want to go through with this?”
But here’s the thing that catches my attention as N.T. Wright mentions, “Friendship for Jesus, does not stop with betrayal, even though it is now tinged with deep sadness.”
As we soak it all in and keeping with Mark’s style of writing, I think we’re left with an invitation to consider who we might be in this scene around Jesus; are we more like the disciples, Peter, the armed crowd, the streaker, or perhaps we’re like Judas.
I think if we’re honest with ourselves we can see our reflection in each group or person’s actions in abandonment, defensiveness, fear, and betrayal.
But, and this is important, remember that Jesus is being faithful and obedient, submitting to the will of His Heavenly Father and fulfilling the Scriptures. This means that there is, and always will be, hope because of all that Jesus is about to do in what follows. Jesus is the one who came to serve, not be served, and give his life as a ransom for many. He will drink the cup. He will suffer and die for all of us sinners including those who abandon, those who are defensive, those who are filled with fear, and even for those who betray the very ones they greet with a kiss.
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers!