Arrest – 14th Nissan Night

The arresting party most likely consisted of Temple police dispatched by Caiaphas, the high priest, and supported by a Roman cohort under its commanding officer. Cohort in ancient Rome was an organisational structure of soldiers, typically made up of six centuries of 80 men each (about 480 men).  In the classical period, cohorts formed the primary administrative structure of provincial Roman armies and were garrisoned in provincial bases or outposts. In Jerusalem they were garrisoned in the Antonia Fortress which was on the north-west corner of the Temple mount, stood 115 feet high, overlooked the Temple and had a secret passage to the Temple so soldiers could quickly dispel any “trouble” that might erupt in the huge gatherings of Jews there during the feasts. Cohorts had a standing military police force which was deployed to ensure order in the city or region.  They were also part of the Roman judiciary system, ensuring the enforcement of laws and ensuring a peaceful civil society.

Pontius Pilate had entered Jerusalem just a few days before, with much pomp and ceremony and legions of chariots, horses, and foot soldiers, dressed for battle and armed with swords and spears to remind the pilgrims that Rome ruled over them with unbeatable force. He would have been told of the other procession into Jerusalem with a man riding a donkey and the crowds of peasants and pilgrims welcoming Him like a king, and been relieved when that fizzled into nothing after He entered the Temple. His soldiers, looking down into the Temple from the Antonia Fortress, would have reported the commotion that same man made in the Temple the following day as He turned over the money changer’s tables and chased the animals out of the Temple courts. No doubt the question of how much of a threat did this man pose to civil order would have been in the discussions between Pilate and the chief priests shortly after his arrival. Roman governors relied heavily on their locally appointed leadership to help quell any unrest and collaborate in identifying and disposing of any threats to civil order. No doubt the need to dispose of this Man in a way that didn’t insight the multitude to riot was discussed – with the chief priests warning of what would ensue if Roman soldiers invaded the Temple to capture Him, rendering it ceremonially unclean and thereby ruining their Passover celebrations. A plot was formed to have Him arrested away from the Temple, and out of site of the crowd. Thus, Pilate put a cohort of soldiers at the chief priest’s disposal to ensure there was no civil disorder when the arrest was made at what would otherwise have been an inconvenient hour. Having the Temple police, rather than the Roman soldiers, lead this expedition and a Jewish trial find Him guilty before being handed over to Rome were all ways of minimizing the risk of a popular uprising among the people. The chief priests needed Rome to perform the execution, and Rome needed the chief priests to initiate the process so as to avoid inciting a riot. There wasn’t much time before the official Passover celebration, Pilate would be at their disposal to ensure this matter was dealt with expeditiously. A few of the soldiers likely went into the garden with the temple police, and the rest surrounded the garden to ensure no other groups could come to the aid of their target.

Yeshua had prepared Himself for this moment and stepped forward to meet His persecutors. His reply “I am” (“He” is added by the translators) is reminiscent of God’s response in Exodus 3:14: Say this to the people of Israel: “I am (ehyeh) has sent me to you.” So powerful was this declaration that the armed crowd drew back and fell to the ground. How easy it would have been to overcome them with divine power, but Yeshua had already surrendered Himself to the coming horrors. He allowed Himself to be bound and to be led away by the servants of the Sanhedrin; but He showed them, and us, that had He so willed, they would have been powerless against Him.

For now, Yeshua’s concern was simply to protect those with Him: let these go their way.” This was no small feat, as the fate of those who followed other Messianic figures during Pilate’s reign attests to. In 36 A.D. a group of Samaritans followed one whom they believed was Messiah, Dositheos, up their holy mountain, Mt. Gerizim, to dig for some sacred vessels which he said Moses had buried there and Pilate ordered some of his legionaries to Mount Gerizim, who preceded to massacre the Samaritans. So great was the carnage that Pilate was recalled to Rome and vanished from history. Peter’s impulsive action threatened inciting a similar massacre in response, but also gave Yeshua more opportunity to display both His love and power. Miraculously, none of Yeshua’s followers were captured or killed this night and the Word He had previously spoken (John 6:39) “Of those whom You have given Me, I lost not one” was amazingly fulfilled.

In the upper room Yeshua had said: “whoever has no sword ( μαχαιρα machaira) should sell his garment and buy one,” (Luke 22:36) and the disciples had found two swords there to take with them. The noun μαχαιρα (machaira) denotes a slaughter-knife, a large knife used for killing animals and cutting up flesh; a short sword or dagger mainly used for stabbing; (figuratively) an instrument for exacting retribution. “Machaira” is the word used in Matthew 10:34 when Yeshua said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (machaira)”; in Matthew 26:47 describing those who had come to arrest Yeshua: “a large crowd armed with swords (machaira) and clubs, sent from the chief priests“; and in Yeshua’s prophesy about the coming destruction of Jerusalem: “They will fall by the sword (machaira) and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.” The two machaira, Lord, look, here are two swords(Luke 22:38) may well have been what Peter and John had used to slaughter and cut up the lamb when preparing their Passover meal that night. Passover was the one festival each year where the heads of families, rather than the priests, slaughtered the required sacrifice. Now Peter was using his machaira in a vain attempt to slaughter the High Priest’s servant, but he was not the lamb of God who was to die to take away the sins of the world. How easy it is, after hearing what God is saying to us, to assume that would mean actions which He never intended.

Peter wasn’t the only one who thought they must have brought the swords in order to strike in defense of their Master. Luke lets us know that the question: “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” came from the group of those with Yeshua, not only Peter. He was just the first to act.

The Lord’s rebuke was quick and sharp: “Put your sword back in its place! For all who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.  Or do you suppose that I cannot call on My Father, and at once He will place at My side twelve legions of angels?  How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Peter’s great act of courage was a futile, meager effort that did nothing but put them all in danger. In comparison, Yeshua could command twelve legions of angels to defend Him. John tells us that a Roman cohort (480 soldiers) had accompanied this crowd to ensure any resistance would be instantly squashed, but this was nothing compared with the twelve legions (a legion was ten cohorts – ie 4,800 warriors), so about 58,000 angels, who were ready to stand by Yeshua’s side.

Then, in an act which both expressed love for His enemies and provided protection for His talmidim, Yeshua reached out and miraculously healed the ear of the High Priest’s servant. All evidence of Peter’s violent act was gone, and the only way to charge him for it would be to admit what a wonderful miracle Yeshua had done, undermining their case against Him.

With Yeshua refusing their ‘help’ in attacking His captors there was nothing for His confused disciples to do but flee this heart-wrenching scene. The only one to bring peace and calm to that situation in the garden was tied up like a common criminal as He was arrested and led away. We can find it easier to fight for Christ than to die for Him.

Then Mark adds an intriguing detail: And a young man followed Him, with nothing but a sindon (linen cloth) about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked. An unnamed young man kept following Yeshua after all the apostles had fled. As Gethsemane was a walled garden with Roman soldiers likely stationed at the entrance, their fleeing was probably just to hidden places in the garden, from which they may have witnessed this strange event. Some of the most dedicated followers of Yeshua (e.g. the woman who anointed His head, this young man who kept following even after the apostles had fled) are left unnamed in the scriptures. This has led to much speculation by scholars and preachers over their identity, but maybe it’s not their identity that God wants us to focus on but their act of dedication. It doesn’t take an important, big named person, known to everyone, to do something of significance for Jesus.

The sindon (σινδόνα) was of fine linen cloth, which was made in Sindh, Pakistan and in Ἰνδός India. Such fabric was often used for fine garments, and to wrap dead bodies. Indeed, Yeshua‘s lifeless body would be wrapped in such after his crucifixion. This young man was probably wearing it wrapped around his waist to cover his nakedness. Mark describes the young man in question as a νεανίσκος neaniskos, meaning he was in the prime of his life, perhaps 15 to 25 years old, so the same age as Yeshua’s talmidim. Mark also tells us that this young man συνηκολούθει “was followingYeshua, the term implied following as a talmid. But this young man, eager to keep following Yeshua even after others fail Him, was seized by those who had come to arrest Yeshua and in His desperate escape also falls into shame as he flees naked, having left behind his sindon in his captor’s hand. Like Peter, this unnamed youth’s act of courage is quickly stripped away and replaced with shame. Mark displays this naked runaway as symbolic of the total abandonment of Yeshua by all.

This fleeing nakedness, mentioned twice, points to the shamefulness of the disciples’ abandonment. There is only one other instance of “sindon” in Mark’s Gospel, it is in reference to the burial shroud of Yeshua (15:46). There, as with the story of our naked runaway, “sindon” occurs twice. Likewise, the word for “young man”, neaniskos, is only used twice in Mark’s gospel – here and after Yeshua‘s resurrection when the women saw a neaniskos clothed in a robe of brilliant white “leukēn“, just as Yeshua’s garment had been during His transfiguration. In utterly shameful circumstances, the disciple is stripped of the “sindon” he wore, and following an equally degrading crucifixion, a “sindon” becomes Yeshua’s burial shroud. Symbolically, Yeshua gets the garment of shame from the neaniskos and in exchange, the “brilliant white” garment Yeshua wore at his transfiguration now covers a neaniskos who makes the announcement at the empty tomb (16:5). This literary device symbolises the runaway neaniskos’ garment of shame in Mark 14 becoming Yeshua’s in Mark 15; and Yeshua’s garment of glory in Mark 9 becoming the neaniskos’ in Mark 16. Thus, Mark illustrates the shame of our failures being exchanged for the brilliance of Yeshua’s glory.

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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* Why did Jesus rebuke Peter?
* How did Peter end up acting contrary to what Jesus wanted him to do?
* Comment on the statement: “it easier to fight for Christ than to die for Him.”
* What’s the link to Pakistan or India?
* How did the exchange of our sin and shame for Christ’s righteousness and glory begin?