Whom Do You Seek?
Topic: Sunday Morning Messages Passage: John 18:01–18:11
“WHOM DO YOU SEEK?”
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9 This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus). 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Having concluded His private ministry with His disciples and having entered into an intimate time of communication with His Father, Jesus’ face is now set like flint toward the cross. It is there He will bear the wrath of God poured upon Him. And it is there He will die as the required sacrifice for the sins of those who will repent and entrust themselves to Him.
There is a sense of foreboding that pervades chapters 18 and 19 of John’s Gospel. We have felt it building throughout our Lord’s extended time of instruction with His men, but the reality doesn’t hit us until we enter into the scene introduced to us in the paragraph we have just read. And this is only the beginning. Soon we will find ourselves enveloped in a climate of sin as dark as it can get.
In the introduction to his Gospel, John said with regard to Jesus’ earthly mission, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11). Throughout our journey in this book, we have seen outbursts of opposition toward Him that have cumulatively been building into outright hatred on the part of His opponents and their desire to be rid of Him. We have arrived at the eve of those evil desires being realized. In a display of sovereign irony, the Creator will soon die at the hands of those whom He created. And to add to that irony, He will do so voluntarily.
Injustice is an inevitable fact of life in a fallen world. Sooner or later, each of us will be misunderstood, misquoted, falsely accused, slandered, gossiped about, and maligned. And while it may be a common experience, that doesn’t make it any easier to endure. Like the God whose image we bear, we value both justice and mercy, meaning that we long for right to prevail over wrong. That is especially true when our well-being or the well being of those we love is at stake.
But we are not always the ones who are in the right. Sometimes we find ourselves as those upon whom justice deserves to be served. Jesus Christ was the only Person who lived His entire life without sin, and yet He was arrested, tried, convicted, and condemned to suffer a criminal’s punishment. His arrest was a betrayal, His trials a farce, His convictions illegal, and His punishment a travesty of justice. Yet throughout the ordeal, He remained the One in control. He maintained His calmness, He answered every question and charge with honesty, He spoke with truth and dignity, and He was committed to let the Father to vindicate Him at the proper time.
We see this being played out in verses 1 through 11 of chapter 18. When we compare John’s account of Jesus’ arrest with those written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we notice that he omits some details found their reports, while including others that they did not record. In order to get a full and complete picture of what transpired on that fateful night, one needs to read all four Gospels. This morning we will be focusing of what John has written, while including some things the Synoptic writers did include.
There are three movements in this paragraph. They are distinguished by the “time-markers”: “When” in verse 1, “Then” in verse 4, and “Then” in verse 10. Each section is further characterized by a different principle “actor”: Judas in verses 1 through 3, Jesus in verses 4 through 9, and Peter in verses 10-11. With that structure in mind, let’s begin by noting...
The consummation of Judas’ act of betrayal (John 18:1-3).
The deceptive ploy of Judas to hand Jesus over to His enemies had been building for weeks. John first alerted us to it at the end of chapter 6, where we were informed that Judas “was going to betray him.” When the evening began and Jesus had gathered his men around Him for the final time, Judas hypocritically remained with the others until—as if on cue—he slipped away into the night to carry out his diabolical deed. Now hours later he reappears.
Following the meal and time of instruction that He shared with the eleven and His prayer of intercession with the Father, we are told that “Jesus...went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered.” Verse 2 adds that it was a familiar place to the group, a place where they “often met.” The path would have taken them from an eastern gate in the city wall downward into and across the Kidron valley, and then slightly upward to the foot of the Mount of Olives. There lay the garden identified by both Matthew (26:36) and Mark (14:32) as “Gethsemane.”
Gardens play a prominent role in the history of humanity. When God created the first man He placed him in a garden known as “Eden” (cf. Genesis 2:18). It was there that Adam committed the first sin and was cast out of that garden. And now it was here in this garden—“Gethsemane”—that Jesus would enter the fray to recover what man had lost through Adam’s sin. Romans 5:19 tells us that “By the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
History will culminate in yet another garden. “The tree of life,” from which man was barred from eating in Genesis 3(:22-24), will be restored to believers in that eternal garden known as “Paradise” (cf. Revelation 2:7). It was for that restoration that Jesus would not shrink back from the predetermined plan of God. “The tree of life” could not be restored apart from the “tree” upon which would hang the One bearing the wrath of God.
John does not record for us Jesus’ agonizing prayers to the Father as He waited in the garden for those who were coming for Him. The other Gospel writers present those scenes with vivid detail. Each of them tells us that He pleaded for “the cup” to be “remove(d)” from Him (cf. Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42), while at the same time selflessly submitting Himself to the will of the Father.
It was at the end of those petitions that both Matthew (26:46) and Mark (14:42) relate that Jesus awakened those sleeping disciples whom He had asked to “watch and pray” with Him (cf. Matthew 26:41, Mark 14:38, Luke 22:46). The betrayer was now “at hand.” Because Judas had been to that garden many times with Jesus and the others, he knew the exact spot where Jesus could be found.
The sound of approaching footsteps would have been hard to conceal given, that verse 3 informs us, “Judas (had) procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees.” How large a “band of soldiers” is difficult to determine. The word that John uses (“σπειρα”) could indicate as many as six hundred, but it is hard to imagine that a cohort that large would have been dispatched to lay hold of a single individual. Estimates, therefore, vary; but it would have been large enough company to be imposing and able to fulfill its assigned task.
We are further told in verse 3 that they “went there with lanterns and torches.” Please don’t miss the irony of that statement. In the darkness of night they sought for “the light of the world” (cf. John 8:12) “with lanterns and torches”! If they thought artificial illumination was necessary to find and apprehended a frightened Jesus, they were quite mistaken. Instead, they found One quite willing to surrender Himself to them.
Both Matthew (26:48-49) and Mark (14:44-45) contain the detail of Judas’ willingness to betray Jesus into the hands of His captors by the “sign” of a kiss. While it is not included in John’s record, Proverbs 27:6 reminds us that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend. But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (NASV). I cite that passage to remind us that “deceit” was never more on display than on that fateful night.
But our Lord was neither fooled nor caught off guard...not for a single second. As we move into verses 4 through 9, we see...
The control by Jesus of His circumstances (John 18:4-9).
Jesus was not a hapless victim about to be apprehended and led away to slaughter. Nor was He a martyr committed to a religious cause. Earlier He had identified Himself as “the good shepherd (who) lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). But lest we forget, He also added, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18).
Jesus was fully aware of His circumstances, and He was also fully in control of them. Rather than recoiling in fear, we read in verse 4, “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’”
Perhaps you recall that He asked a similar question of those who would become His first disciples in chapter 1(:38). And maybe you are aware that Jesus will pose the same inquiry of someone else just a couple of days from now (cf. John 20:15). In both instances, the circumstances were far different from what we find on this night. Nevertheless, it is a question that He is still asking. And He is asking it of us all: “Whom do you seek?”
It is not as simple and clear a question as we might suppose. If we are tempted to think that it is, then consider what David wrote in Psalm 14(:2): “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there be any who understand, who seek after God.” The response is summed up by Paul in Romans 3:11 with five words: “No one seeks for God.”
Many churches today declare themselves to be “seeker-sensitive.” It is “catch-phrase” that appeals to those who find doctrine and discipleship to be too demanding for their spiritual palates. In reality, as David and Paul remind us, there is “No one (who) seeks for God.” Any inclination at all that we have toward the God of Scripture has to be initiated by and imparted to us by God Himself. It is “By grace (any of us) have been saved through faith. And this is not (our) own doing; it is the gift of God.”
To put it another way, the only true “Seeker” is God Himself, who sent His Son “to seek and to save the lost” (cf. Luke 19:10). And it was Jesus who explained to the woman at the well in John 4(:23) that “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, (now get this) for the father is seeking such people to worship him.”
“Whom do you seek?” Jesus asked those who had come for Him. In verse 5, “They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’” Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’” As we have seen elsewhere in John’s Gospel, our Lord’s response here does not include the pronoun “he.” It is the simple and yet profound, “I AM” (“εγω ειμι”), a not-so-veiled reference to the Divine name that originates in the Lord’s identifying Himself to Moses in Exodus 3(:14). Here again, Jesus is claiming to be God.
There are those who might counter by saying that such a straightforward interpretation is reading into the text. The evidence, however, suggests the contrary. For one thing, John’s point has been to argue for the Deity of Christ throughout this book. And as we shall soon see, the reaction of those who were there and heard Him speak these words would indicate something quite unexpected.
As if we might have forgotten about him, we are reminded at the end of verse 5 that “Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.” The word “betray” (“παραδιδωμι”) means literally “to give over.” Judas, formerly a trusted member of the disciples, was guilty of what John Piper has called “history’s most spectacular sin”—the sin of “handing over” the Son of God to death for a small sum of money...a mere pittance, actually.
What must have gone through the mind of Judas when Jesus identified Himself as the “I AM”? He had heard Jesus say it several times before, but had he ever felt its impact or understood its implication? It seems doubtful. Would he have been among those who “drew back and fell to the ground” on this evening, or he would have merely looked on as others stumbled all over themselves?
It is difficult knowing or even imagining what must have taken place in response to Jesus’ statement. There was clearly a stunned reaction on the part of those who had come to arrest Him. It brings to mind other theophanies in both Testaments...revelations of God which led men to drop to their knees or to fall on their faces (cf. Ezekiel 1:28, 44:4; Daniel 2:46, 8:18, 1:9; Acts 9:4; Revelation 1:17, 1:10, 22:8, et al). Whenever God makes an unanticipated appearance—such as here in the Person of His Son—the weakness and defenselessness of sinful humanity become apparent. Even the prophet Isaiah (6:5) cried out from his vision of God, “Woe is me! For I am lost!” Let us not for a minute presume that Jesus’ self-revelation did not shake the ground these men stood on.
So, again He asks those who had come for Him in verse 7, “Whom do you seek?” And once again they answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.” That was the only title by which these men knew Him. To them He was simply a name on an “arrest warrant.” Most among the “band of soldiers” likely had little-to-no idea what “crime” He had committed. They were merely following their orders. They had anticipated having to track Him down. But instead here He stood, openly admitting, “I have told you that I am he.” Any other man would have attempted to conceal His identity. But Jesus also had His orders...and His were from a much higher Authority. Without pause, He had responded, “I AM.” “I am the One you seek.”
Even at this pivotal moment, His concern was for His men. A brief time earlier He had prayed for their protection...that they be kept in the Father’s “name,” kept from “the evil one,” and sanctified in “the truth” (cf. John 17:9-19). Now here He implores those who were about to seize Him, saying, “I am (the One you are looking for). So, if you seek me, let these men go.” To which John, the writer, adds in verse 9, “This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’”
What is noteworthy about this parenthetical insertion is that it is introduced by a formula that is used several times in John’s Gospel to preface a quote from the Old Testament Scriptures (cf. John 12:38, 13:18, 15:25, 17:12, 19:24 and 36). By employing it here, John seems to be giving Jesus’ words equal weight with the rest of the Scriptures. Later on in this chapter—in verse 32—we find the same formula again. So, let’s be clear: when Jesus Christ speaks, it is the very Word of God.
Verses 8 and 9, then, are a fulfillment of John 17:12. There Jesus prayed to the Father, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” It was a necessary part of the Divine plan that Jesus protect and preserve these eleven men. As we have noted before, the spread of the Gospel for which Jesus was about to die would be invested in their hands.
Although Judas had “played the part,” never Had He truly been Jesus’ disciple. Experience loudly testifies that keeping company with believers does not make one a believer.
But Peter was a true disciple. His problem was that not even he had been able to understand the Divine necessity of the events playing out before His eyes. He had vowed to stand with Jesus to the point of laying down his own life (cf. John 13:37). The moment had now arrived to make good on that promise. His rashness, however, nearly overthrew the entire mission. In verses 10 and 11, we read of...
The correction of Peter for his impulsive act (John 18:10-11).
“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus). So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”
To say that Peter’s action was impulsive would be an understatement. On that evening he may have gotten an “A” for courage, but he would have received a failing mark for discernment. His act revealed that he had neither understood nor agreed with Jesus’ insistence upon the necessity of His going to the cross.
With thoughtful insight, John Calvin writes,
It was exceedingly thoughtless in Peter to try to prove his faith by the sword, while he could not do so (a short time later) by his tongue. When he is called to make confession, he denies; but now unbidden by his Master he raises a riot. Warned by such a striking example, let us learn to moderate our zeal. And as the wantonness of our flesh ever itches to dare more than God commands, let us learn that our zeal will turn out badly whenever we dare to undertake anything beyond God’s Word.
The Savior had gone to great lengths to prepare His disciples for His death. Shortly after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He had said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” To which John adds the comment, “He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die” (cf. John 12:32-33). In chapters 13 through 16 He had provided lengthy instructions from them to apply once He had departed from them. And if they had listened in on His prayer in chapter 17, they would have heard Him longing to return to the glory that had been His from “before the world existed.” His death was inevitable...and it was also essential.
Peter’s intentions may have been noble, but they lay far outside the will of God. More than that, his impetuous act was a denial of the work to which Jesus had just consecrated Himself (cf. John 17:19).
In verse 10, we read that “having a sword, (Peter) drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.” We are then parenthetically told that “The servant’s name was Malchus.” The detail with which John reports this incident is striking.
The “sword” (“μακαιρα”) referred to would actually have been more akin to a knife used in hand-to-hand fighting. It would have been carried in a sheath and attached to a belt worn around the waist.
We are told that the servant’s name was “Malchus.” We know nothing about this man except that he served the high priest. Even though each of the Synoptic writers record this incident, John is the only one who mentions him by name. Why Peter chose him to strike can only be assumed. Perhaps Malchus had recognized Peter as one of Jesus’ disciples and was in the process of pointing Him out to the others. Peter then would have reacted and drawn his weapon. His aim would likely have been for the throat, but he missed his target and sliced off his victim’s right ear,
Immediately, Jesus sternly rebukes His disciple in verse 11. “Put your sword into its sheath,” He tells him. “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has give me?” Luke (22:51) alone records the fact that Jesus “touched (the ear of Malchus) and healed him.” This would have been the last of Jesus’ miracles before being taken away to face the cross. Another ironic twist to this story.
Some have speculated that the reason Malchus is mentioned by name is because he later would become a follower of Jesus. There is no record of that, however. Regardless, one would think that he would have never forgotten how his ear had been instantaneously healed. And we can hope—given the events that would transpire over the ensuing days—that he did indeed come to faith. Or like so many others, perhaps he was initially amazed at the grace of God but then went on his way without his life ever being altered. How tragic that would have been.
But this story isn’t about Malchus. It’s about Jesus. It always was, always is, and forever will be about Jesus. The question He asks at the end of verse 11 is more of an assertion reminding us that every movement in this dramatic scene has been written in advance by God’s sovereign hand. “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
The “cup” of which He speaks is the “cup” of suffering. It is the “cup” that Jesus prayed would “pass from” Him in Matthew 26:39 and Luke 22:42. It is “the cup” ordained by God and from which His disciples would one day drink (cf. Matthew 20:22-23). The Scriptures are replete with references to that “cup” being filled with God’s “wrath” (cf. Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-17, 49:12; Revelation 14:10, 16:19; et al).
Sin always incurs the just wrath of God. On the cross Jesus bore that wrath for those who would trust in Him. In addition to the brutal physical suffering that Jesus would endure, He would also suffer the agony of bearing the terrifying judgment of God that we all deserve. In an act of Divine justice, that wrath was poured out on Him as a substitute sacrifice for sinners and in payment for their sin. By His death, Christ Jesus propitiated—or satisfied—God’s wrath so that He is now free to act on behalf of believing sinners.
Do not miss the fact that “the cup” was “given” to Jesus is from the Father. And as verse 11 indicates, He has willingly received it and is now ready to drink it to its final dregs (cf. Psalm 75:8).
This story of our Lord’s passion is neither myth nor legend. It is grounded in biblical prophecy and founded in historical fulfillment. In the truest sense, Jesus was not “caught” or apprehended by those who had come to seize Him and haul Him away. His heart had already been captured by the will of the Father and by the love for those for whom He would give His life.
As we stand in witness of these events which transpired nearly two thousand years ago, let us not allow any temporal or spatial distances to “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (cf. Romans 8:39). Heaven-sent, Jesus arrived on a “rescue mission” in order “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10) by calling sinners to repentance and to receive the grace of God through His finished work.
This, the power of the cross
Son of God, slain for us
What a love! What a cost!
We stand forgiven at the cross.
There are three very clear observations that can be drawn from the passage we have looked at:
- • In the first place, those who oppose Jesus do not in any way thwart the plans and purposes of God. The Lord remains sovereign over all human affairs, even when they appear to threaten the spread of the Gospel. If you reject or neglect Christ, you need to know that your opposition in no way short-circuits His providential and triumphal march through history.
- • Secondly, true disciples who fail Jesus are still under His protective care and serve His redemptive purposes. While Peter was loyal and committed to defending Jesus against what appeared to be hopeless odds, He did so at cross-purposes with the plan of God. May you and I also be reminded that zeal apart from spiritual knowledge never achieves the plan of God.
- • And third, let us never forget that Jesus is Lord over every situation and circumstance, including offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sin. Though our daily trials, temptations, and afflictions are real and abundant, they pale in comparison to what Jesus endured in order to purchase our release from sin’s bondage and penalty. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus is able to “save to the uttermost” those who are His (cf. Hebrews 7:25). As has been rightly said, Jesus is either “Lord of all” or He is not “Lord at all.”
“Open theism” is the belief that “there is no such thing as logically unqualified omniscience.” One of its principle spokespersons, John Sanders, has written, “Although Scripture attests that the incarnation was planned from the creation of the world, this is not so with the cross. The path of the cross comes about only through God’s interaction with humans in history. Until this moment in history other routes were, perhaps open.”
Not only is John Sanders and other “open theists” wrong, such words are blasphemous and worthy of “anathema” (cf. Galatians 1:8-9). They strip God of His sovereignty and place Christ as a helpless victim in the scene we have looked at today. They make the cross an afterthought or a reaction on the part of a weak Deity. Is that the kind of Savior you seek?
Perhaps we relate to Peter—and maybe, even in a sense, to Judas—more than we care to realize. We may not overtly betray Jesus and we may not fully deny Him, but do we find ourselves at times pursuing a “savior” better suited to our desires and interests? There is only One who is qualified to be the Savior. In spite of sinners who oppose Him and disciples who fail Him, Jesus remains the Lord over every circumstance, including His own death. Because that is so, He is Lord over every circumstance of your life and mine as well. At all times we can trust Him because He remains in sovereign control.
And He asks each of us today, “Whom do you seek?”