Raymond E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah,
v.1, Act 1, scene 2 - #10. The Arrest of Jesus, Part One: The Initial Encounter, pp 240-263

(detailed summary)

The Arrest of Jesus, Part One: The Initial Encounter
(Mk 14: 43-46; Mt 26: 47-50; Lk 22: 47-48; Jn 18: 2-8a)


The description of the role of Judas before Gethsemane varies according to the Gospels. For Mark, Judas goes to the chief priests to make arrangements, but at the last supper he will never be clearly identified by Jesus as the one who is to betray him, and it is not known when he will leave the group to carry out his plan. Matthew adds a few details, such as the thirty pieces of silver to hand Jesus over and the fact that Judas knows that Jesus has guessed that it is he who will hand him over. Luke emphasizes Judas' motive: Satan entered him. John, offers a slightly different version, where Judas' gesture seems to be motivated by his relationship to the money and we get details about when Judas leaves the table to carry out his plan, after Jesus had given Peter and the beloved disciple indications about who was going to hand him over.

The group that came to arrest him is presented in different ways according to the Gospels. The only common point is that it is not a spontaneous group that came to lynch Jesus, because they received a mandate from the religious authorities. Luke specifies that this group includes Temple leaders and John a Roman cohort and Temple guards. Mark/Matthew names the weapons (swords, clubs) that they carry, John simply says that they are armed, Luke does not mention anything, except indirectly through a word of Jesus.

The way of presenting the role of Judas also differs. In Mark, followed by Matthew, Judas goes to Jesus by greeting him with the title of Rabbi (My Master), a reverential and usual way of greeting someone in the Jewish world, before kissing him warmly, as is also attested in the same milieu. Matthew precedes this greeting with the Greek way of greeting, "Hail (chaire)", which is familiar to his Greek audience. Luke shortens the scene, simply says that he approaches to kiss him, but without any details, so that it is not clear whether Judas really kissed him. John completely ignores this kiss, without anyone knowing why, and Judas remains in the background, completely passive.

Jesus' reaction also varies. For Mark, Jesus simply doesn't react. In Matthew, he calls Judas "friend", a term that only he uses and which has appeared in parables to refer to people who should have expressed gratitude to their master but did not. Luke, according to his habit, softens the angles and colors the too black figure of Judas, while Jesus calls him by name, like the last pole stretched out for him to repent. John constructs a totally different picture, in accordance with his theology on the sovereignty of Jesus, where the latter takes the initiative to challenge his captors by asking them what they are looking for, a theme that begins and ends his Gospel, and by identifying with the title known to designate God in the Old Testament, which brings his captors to the ground, as when the name of God is mentioned.

  1. Translation
  2. Comment
    1. Previous Portrayal of Judas in Each Gospel
    2. The Arrival of Judas (Mark 14: 43a.44a; Mathew 26: 47a.48a; Luke 22: 47a; John 18: 2)
    3. The Arresting Party (Mark 14: 43b; Matthew 26: 47b; [Luke 22: 52]; John 18: 3)
    4. Identification of Jesus by Judas' Kiss (Mark 14: 44b-45; Matthew 26:48b-49; Luke 22:47b)
    5. Jesus' Response to the Kiss (Matthew 26: 50a; Luke 22: 48)
    6. Jesus' Self-Identification ("I am") in John 18: 4-8a
    7. The Seizure of Jesus (Mark 14: 46; Matthew 26: 50b)

  1. Translation

    Words of Mark shared by the other evangelists are underlined. Parentheses [] indicate implied words that must be added for proper understanding. Words in blue indicate what is common to Matthew and Luke.

    Mc 14Mt 26Lc 22Jn 18
    43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, there arrives Judas, one of the Twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and wooden clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.47 And while he was still speaking, behold Judas, one of the Twelve, came, and with him a numerous crowd with swords and wooden clubs, from the chief priests and elders of the people.47 While he was still speaking, behold a crowd; and the man named Judas, one of the Twelve, was coming in front of them;2 But Judas too, the one who was giving him over, knew this place because many times Jesus had come there together with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having taken the cohort and, from the chief priests and the Pharisees, attendants, comes there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
    44 The one who was giving him over had given them a signal, saying, “Whomever I shall kiss, he is [the one]. Seize him and lead him away securely.”48 But the one who was giving him over gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I shall kiss, he is [the one]. Seize him.”
    45 And having come, immediately having come up to him, he says, “Rabbi”, and he kissed him warmly.49 And immediately having come up to Jesus, he said, “Hail, Rabbi”, and he kissed him warmly.and he came near Jesus to kiss him.
    46 But they laid hands on him and seize him.50 But Jesus said to him, “Friend, that’s what you are here for.” Then, having come up, they laid hands on Jesus and seized him.48 But Jesus said to him, “Judas, with a kiss do you give over the Son of Man?”4 So Jesus, having known all the things to come upon him, came out and says to them, "Whom are you seeking?" 5 They answered him, “Jesus the Nazorean”. He says to them, “I am [he]”. Now standing there with them was also Judas, the one who was giving him over. 6 So as Jesus said to them, “I am [he]”, they went backward and fell to the ground. 7 So again he asked them, “Whom are you seeking?” But they said, “Jesus the Nazorean”. 8a Jesus answered, “I told you that I am [he]”.

  2. Comment

    1. Previous Portrayal of Judas in Each Gospel

      1. Mark

        1. In 14:1-2 he tells us that the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to kill Jesus by stealth to avoid the reaction of the crowd. Later (14:10-11) he introduces us to Judas going to the chief priests to give Jesus over, without the reader knowing whether Judas is aware of the intentions of the religious authorities and the motive for his action. At the Last Supper (14:18-21) the name of Judas is never mentioned, even though Jesus announces that one of them will betray him, the one who dips his hand in the same dish with him. So the reader could easily imagine that Judas accompanied the other disciples to Gethsemane and be surprised to see him arrive with an armed band. And since Mark does not mention that this is a usual place for Jesus, the reader might also wonder how Judas knew this place.

        2. Nevertheless, these gaps in Mark's account should not be overemphasized. For his readers will easily have filled these gaps with their imagination, especially since there must have been a number of popular accounts of Judas as we see in Matthew.

      2. Matthew

        He adds a number of details to the story he receives from Mark. First of all, the elders of the people are added to the chief priests (26:3-5), and together they discuss it in the aulē (court, palace), where Jesus will be brought before Caiaphas, and where Peter will deny him. Then Matthew adds that Judas was given thirty pieces of silver for his act. Finally, at the Last Supper (26:21-25), Jesus will explicitly answer Judas, "You said so," when Judas asks him if he is the one who will betray him, so that not only does Jesus know the traitor, but the traitor knows that Jesus knows. We are here before Matthew's Christology.

      3. Luke

        He follows Mark closely in the plot (22: 2) of the chief priests and scribes against Jesus. But he eliminates the interlude of the scene of Jesus' anointing by a woman and moves on to an adapted version of Judas' approach to the chief priests; he mentions the money (without specifying the amount) and the motive for his action: Satan has entered into him. For the Last Supper (22:21-23) he follows Mark, but in a more concise way.

      4. John

        1. The comparison of John with the Synoptics is complicated by the fact that the parallel scenes are scattered over a few chapters. Let us take the scene of Jesus' anointing by a woman between the conspiracy of the chief priests two days before the Passover and Judas' offer of his services just before the Passover in Mark and Matthew, but which takes place in John six days before the Passover. Moreover, for John we know the identity of the one who protests against this waste of the expensive perfume, Judas, and his motive: his relationship to money, which is made clear by his habit of stealing the contents of the common purse.

        2. At the last supper, John mentions Judas twice. At the very beginning (13:2) we learn that the devil has already put in Judas' heart the intention to give him over. On this point he is very close to Luke (22: 3) who also mentions Satan who enters Judas before the meal. Later, during the meal (13:18-30), the account of the prediction of Judas' betrayal is much longer as Jesus identifies the traitor in the eyes of Peter and the beloved disciple by giving Judas a bite to eat. After this bite, John mentions that Satan entered him and Jesus tells him to do quickly what he had to do. This scene ends with the disciples questioning the departure.

        3. So John fills in some of Mark's gaps, especially his departure at the meal. But he himself introduces one here: How can Judas get a cohort so suddenly without prior arrangement with the chief priests?

    2. The Arrival of Judas (Mark 14: 43a.44a; Mathew 26: 47a.48a; Luke 22: 47a; John 18: 2)

      1. For John, Jesus does not speak a word in this garden beyond the Kidron, and it seems that it is only used as a meeting place after Jesus told Judas to hurry up and do what he had to do. On the other hand, in the synoptic accounts, even though Jesus announced Judas' betrayal, there is a very artistic touch of surprise with his arrival accompanied by armed people.

      2. In Matthew, there is a nice progression in the verbs used to speak of the hour and the man who is going to betray him: Behold the hour has come near (45), behold, there has come near the one who gives me over (46), Judas came (47). Moreover, he introduces the word idou (behold) which appears for the third time in this scene from Gethsemane to emphasize the beginning of the announced hour. It is more chaotic in Mark who expresses the fulfillment of the prediction with his fetish word: immediately (euthys). In Luke, the emphasis is rather on the disciples whom Jesus had asked to pray not to enter into trial (22: 46) and who now see a crowd arriving, preceded by Judas: the great trial has just begun.

      3. Why is Judas called "one of the Twelve" or "the one who betrayed him", as if calling him Judas was not enough? Some biblical scholars have hypothesized that the Gospel narrative was first formed by beginning with the passion narrative, and therefore this character had to be introduced, as we see in Luke with the expression "the man named Judas" (22:47); later, with the expansion of the Gospel narratives, this name would have remained with him. As appealing as this hypothesis may seem, it is more likely that this title of Judas was already fixed long ago by tradition and reflected the distress of Christians at the fact that Jesus was betrayed by one of those he chose.

    3. The Arresting Party (Mark 14: 43b; Matthew 26: 47b; [Luke 22: 52]; John 18: 3)

      1. Mark's portrayal

        1. Matthew closely follows the portrait of Mark. This crowd that comes to Jesus is not a spontaneous gathering that came to lynch him, because it was commissioned by the religious authorities (there arrives... from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders"). In fact, it happened that the Sanhedrin sometimes recruited from among the population people responsible for the order who were given weapons.

        2. What weapons are we talking about here? There is the machaira, translated as sword, which is a military or paramilitary weapon placed in a scabbard. Then there is xylos, which is translated as a club, which refers more to something that was grabbed in a hurry.

        3. Mark/Matthew gives no indication that there could have been permanent guards in Gethsemane, even though guards will be present in the court of the high priest during the trial.

      2. Luke's portrayal

        1. When he introduces the crowd that's coming, Luke doesn't mention any weapons. Later, in the mouth of Jesus, their weapons will be mentioned when he rebukes the chief priests, captains and elders for coming to him as if he were a bandit. Only Luke speaks here about the captains of the guards (stratēgoi) (from the Temple) who were supposed to keep order. But this provides us with a scene where the presence of weapons makes perfect sense.

        2. Luke's account of the crowd with the Temple guards bridges the gap between Mark/Matthew's where there is a crowd and John's where there is no crowd, but guards who play a policing role.

      3. John's portrayal

        1. Judas arrives with a cohort (speira), so 600 people. Note that he does not command it, but only plays the role of guide. Some biblical scholars have debated the fact of a Roman intervention, and the presence of so many soldiers, considering all this to be improbable. It is possible that we are here before the confused memory of the tradition that remembered the presence of a cohort in Pilate's praetorium.

        2. In the group that came to arrest him, there are also guards (hypēretēs) sent by the chief priests and Pharisees. This is the last mention of the Pharisees and their action during the trial may have been exercised through the Sanhedrin. But for the Johannine community, the Pharisees were their main enemies and the evangelist intends to juxtapose the enemies of the time of Jesus and those of the time of the community.

        3. The group that came to arrest him arrives with lanterns, torches and weapons. The type of weapon is not mentioned, except further on, when Peter draws his sword (machaira) to cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. The presence of the lanterns and torches seems logical, since the scene takes place at night. But it also has a theological value, since Judas has entered the kingdom of night, and since he did not recognize the light of the world, he must use a lantern or a torch.

        4. One could ask the question: Is this scene of Jesus' arrest in John historical, theological or both? The group that arrests him includes Roman and Jewish troops. The Roman presence is problematic because, on the one hand, the Roman troops were very few in number and, on the other hand, it is difficult to see them intervening and then handing over the prisoner to the Jewish religious authorities. But it must be recognized that a Roman intervention is not impossible, as we see in this account where a cohort commander intervenes to protect Paul from the crowd of Jews who want to lynch him (Acts 21:27-36). Moreover, why would John have invented a story that presupposed Pilate's intervention to send a cohort, when he presents us with a rather sympathetic portrait of Pilate seeking to release him? In short, no definitive conclusion can be reached on this question, even if we must admit that John's Christology intends to affirm Jesus' authority over both the Romans and the Jews.

        5. Let us conclude with the role of Judas. Nothing is known about how he could have conspired with the religious authorities to arrest Jesus; his decision to hand Jesus over seems to appear suddenly during the meal. His role seems to be limited to two things: 1) to indicate the time and place; 2) to identify him among the group of disciples. One might be surprised that Jesus needs to be identified, as he seems so popular. But let's remember that, according to Mark, Jesus does not seem to have taught much in the Temple, and this is the first time that a hostile crowd is mentioned; so there would be no reason for the readers to think this crowd knows him (See appendix V). Add to this the fact that it is dark, so it makes sense to distinguish Jesus from his disciples.

    4. Identification of Jesus by Judas' Kiss (Mark 14: 44b-45; Matthew 26:48b-49; Luke 22:47b)

      1. "Seize him and lead him away securely (asphalōs)". One wanted to give various interpretations to asphalōs which means: assuredly, with certainty, and whose name asphaleia (security) sometimes appears coupled with peace (see 1 Thess 5:3). Some biblical scholars see this as the beginning of Judas' repentance, who would then say: take good care of him; this interpretation would be supported by the fact that he embraces him warmly (kataphilein). But the soundest interpretation is to take asphalōs as meaning: make sure he does not escape from you, as we see in Acts 16:23 (they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely (asphalōs)). Matthew did not retain this sentence of Mark, because it comes too early in the scene.

      2. Judas says: "Rabbi". The Hebrew word rab means "the great" and rabbi: my great, and therefore my master. This title has already been used in the disciples' relationship with Jesus (Mark 9:15; 11:21). It is a normal formula of respect when addressing someone. But in Matthew, Jesus had already asked his disciples not to call himself Rabbi (23:8), and so the use of this title here betrays the fact that Judas no longer belongs to the group of disciples.

      3. In Matthew, Rabbi is preceded by "Hail (chaire)". Chaire is the customary form of greeting among the Greeks, as today's "Hello" in English. Since Matthew's audience spoke Greek, he saw here a perfectly normal greeting from Judas. But one cannot help but notice the irony of the expression in this context, since the word chaire literally means: rejoice!

      4. The gesture of Judas is to kiss Jesus. How should this gesture be interpreted historically? The kiss as a gesture of greeting is well attested in the Bible ("Joab asked Amasa, 'Are you all right, brother?'. And with his right hand he took hold of Amasa's beard and kissed him", 2 Samuel 20:9; see also Esau kissing Jacob in Genesis 33:4). Luke 15:20 tells us about a father who tenderly embraces his son. According to Paul, Christians used to greet each other with a holy kiss (Romans 16:16). But would Judas really have kissed Jesus in Gethsemane? Some have objected to the fact that Judas and Jesus had seen each other at the Last Supper, so it was too early to greet each other again. This ignores the frequency with which people greet each other in some cultures. But a more serious argument is the total ignorance of a kiss in John even though he has a similar scene. In short, there is no way to support the historical value of the scene as well as to deny it.

    5. Jesus' Response to the Kiss (Matthew 26: 50a; Luke 22: 48)

      1. Matthew

        1. Unlike Mark who leaves Judas' gesture unanswered, Matthew feels the need to assure his reader that Jesus is in control. Thus, Jesus challenges Judas by calling him: Friend (hetairos). There is something ironic about this term which is often used to address people we do not know personally. It is found only in Matthew throughout the New Testament, and only in two other passages: 20:13 (the master of the vineyard calling one of the protesters who is indignant to receive the same salary as the last hired man) and 22:12 (the king calling one of the guests who is not in the wedding dress). In both cases there is a form of irony, because "friend" is addressed to someone who should have expressed gratitude to his master, and did not.

        2. Even though hetairos is infrequent in the Old Testament, there are a few passages that provide a background. First there are 2 Samuel 15 which also occurs on the Mount of Olives, when David must flee from Absalon. Hushai is called David's "companion" or "friend" (v. 37; see also 16:17). The fact that Judas is called"friend" by "David's son" emphasizes the irony. There is also Sirach 37:2 ("Isn't it sorrow (lypē) until death, when a companion (hetairos) and a friend (philos) become enemies?"). Already Matthew had mentioned (26: 38) that Jesus was "very sorrowful unto death". This is the horror in front of a companion who has become an enemy.

        3. There has been much discussion about the meaning of "eph' ho parei" which we have translated as : "that's what you are here for". The detailed analysis is referred to in the appendix IIIC. Suffice it to say for the moment that the expression is probably a way for Jesus to indicate that he knows what Judas is about to do, for it is usually used to greet friends by saying, "Rejoice! that's what you are here for.

        4. Then (tote), having come up, they laid hands on Jesus and seized him". This "then" gives the impression that once Jesus has finished speaking, he can now be arrested; he is in control. The whole thing is perfectly choreographed: Judas comes and kisses him, then the crowd comes and arrests him.

      2. Luke

        1. "But Jesus said to him, 'Judas, with a kiss do you give over the Son of Man?'". Mark had already used the expression "Son of Man" in Jesus' third prayer in Gethsemane. But since Luke had abbreviated this scene to a single prayer, he takes up this word of Jesus here. This allows him to echo Jesus' predictions rather about the passion of the Son of Man (9:44; 18:31-33; 22:22).

        2. It will have been noticed that Luke removed the mention of Mark concerning Judas and the agreed signal. Furthermore, he only says that Judas approached Jesus to kiss him (philein), avoiding Mark's words: warmly kissing (kataphilein). We can even wonder if Judas really kissed Jesus, as Luke remains silent on a lot of details. We recognize here Luke's modest style which tends to soften the angles and to color the scenes that are too black. This is how Judas remains backward in his Gospel where he was mentioned only twice before (in the list of the Twelve in 6: 16 and at the last supper to say that Satan entered into him). But here in our scene Jesus calls him by name, a fact that is unique in all the Gospels: Luke tries to soften the image of Judas, a human person, who is implicitly called to repentance for the last time (Luke will return to Judas in Acts 1:16,25).

    6. Jesus' Self-Identification ("I am") in John 18: 4-8a

      1. The scene in John is so different from the synopses that it is difficult to find a certain connection. The kiss of Judas is missing, and it is not known whether John simply ignored this tradition or whether he deliberately eliminated it to avoid tarnishing the sovereignty of Jesus, whose destiny would have been determined by human initiative. It is probably in the name of this last principle that Judas is inactive: he comes there with the cohort and the guards, but does absolutely nothing. The only action comes from Jesus' initiative to address all these people who come. The synoptics speak of the sovereignty of Jesus, but never as comprehensively as John.

      2. "Jesus says to them, 'Whom are you seeking? (tina zēteite)'". The question reminds us of the beginning of the Gospel when Jesus turns to Andrew and another disciple who were following him: "What are you seeking?" (1: 38). This word from the sapiential literature is one of the threads of the Gospel. People are sometimes looking for him because he can give life, but more often and ironically, people are looking for him to kill him (for example: 5: 18; 7:; 8: 37.40; etc.). This word will be found, in the form of an inclusion, at the end of the Gospel, when the risen Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: "Woman, ... Whom are you seeking?"

      3. "Jesus the Nazorean". John uses it both in a geographical sense (it was a common name at the time) and in a theological sense, evoking the sign on the cross (Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews), when Jesus is raised from the earth.

      4. "I am [he](egō eimi)". In Greek, this is a correct expression to say: it is me. But throughout his Gospel, John uses it to express Jesus' divine claims: "Before Abraham existed, I Am" (8:58). The hymn to the Philippians claims that God gave Jesus after his death a Name that is above all names (2:9), for John this happens before his death.

      5. "they went backward and fell to the ground (apēlthon eis ta opisō kai epesan chamai)". There is a biblical background to this scene: "Then my enemies will turn back (eis ta opisō) on the day I call" (Ps 56:10); "When the wicked come against me to devour my flesh, they are my enemies, my adversaries, who stumble and fall (epesan)" (Ps 27:2). The gesture of falling to the ground is provoked by the mention of the divine name, as we see in the book of Daniel: "Then king Nebuchadnezzar fell face down to the ground and bowed down before Daniel. He commanded that he should be offered an oblation and sacrifice of sweet odor". (2: 46). It is in this sense that John wants us to understand this scene in which Jesus has just said his divine name: I am.

      6. "Now standing there with them was also Judas". Many biblical scholars have questioned this sudden mention of Judas, which seems to interrupt the story, and have interpreted it as an editorial addition. But, this sentence has a theological role. It is important that Jesus be presented as the victor over all the forces of evil. Let us recall that John presented Judas as the son of perdition (17:12), a kind of antichrist, the instrument of the Prince of this world (14:30). Also, it is important to specify that all the hostile forces were dominated, Roman, Jewish and the Prince of this world.

      7. What about the historicity of this scene? A number of parallels can be found between John and the Synoptics:
        • The expression "I am" exists in the Synoptics (see Mt 14:27.33; Mk 14:62), even if never in the absolute form as in John
        • There is the gesture of prostrating and throwing oneself to the ground, by Jesus in the Synoptics, and by the group that came to arrest him in John.
        But the parallels end there. Even if the Roman presence could be historical, it is difficult to see this scene of people falling backwards as anything other than a parable of John to support his theological vision.

    7. The Seizure of Jesus (Mark 14: 46; Matthew 26: 50b)

      1. "But they laid hands on him (epebalon tas cheiras)". The expression to lay hands on someone has parallels in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament: "And the angel said, 'Do not lay hands (epibalēs tēn cheira) on the child: do nothing to him" (Genesis 22:12; see also 2 Samuel 18:12). It is a physical seizure of the person for a hostile purpose.

      2. In Mark as in Matthew, from that moment on and for the rest of the scene in Gethsemane, Jesus is physically restrained by his captors. But Matthew was careful to correct an inconsistency in Mark by moving Judas' request at the end of the Gethsemane scene: "seized him"; indeed, he will not be taken away at once, for the dialogue is still going on. In Matthew, Jesus speaks at greater length and more freely to his disciples.

      3. In Luke and John, Jesus will not be physically seized before the end of the scene on the Mount of Olives, so that the dialogue between the protagonists continues uninterrupted.

Next chapter: The Arrest of Jesus, Part Two: Accompanying Incidents

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