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Jesus' arrest is full of pathos. The many persons involved reflect the full array of responses to Jesus. The event itself is told in three quick movements. First, the exchange with Judas provides its note of betrayal and hypocrisy. The arrest occurs as this "friend" draws near to give the teacher a customary kiss of greeting. Second comes the disciples' attempt to defend Jesus with the sword, an approach Jesus explicitly rejects. Third, Jesus rebukes his captors while he acts to heal the severed ear of one of his arresters. Jesus shows his love for his enemies to the end (see 6:27-35). Even at his arrest, he controls the flow of events. As the hour of the power of darkness comes (v. 53), Jesus faces it directly and in love.
Among the reactions to Jesus, Judas represents one in close proximity to Jesus who turns on him with vengeance. Jesus questions his attitude with a simple question, "Are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" Judas's abandonment of God's servant has led to an ironic act of betrayal. Sometimes the strongest enemies of Jesus are those who grow up in his shadow. The irony is not only obvious but tragic.
The disciples represent those in panic who try to take matters into their own hands. They fight to avoid the path of suffering God has laid out for his messenger and those who follow him. While one asks, "Lord, should we strike with our swords?" another one answers on his own, wielding the sword and cutting off the right ear of the high priest's servant. Sometimes disciples believe they must take matters into their own hands to defend Jesus. But here Jesus stops the attempt to defend him with violence. His path takes a different direction.
The healed servant pictures the opportunity that exists to experience God's grace. Here is a man who rejects Jesus and participates in the arrest leading to Jesus' death. Yet the avowed enemy is not beyond Jesus' healing touch. A severed ear can always be restored, if one will listen to him.
Those who arrest Jesus represent those who remain defiant against him. Despite his grace and gentleness, they react with hostility to the one who came to give them life. The question Jesus poses to them is, "Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?" This rendering in the NIV, though possible, may be too specific. The term Jesus uses means "robber" (lestes) and is also used of the thieves in the parable of the good Samaritan. So we need not assume Jesus is contrasting himself with a revolutionary.
The arrest is marked not only by hostility but also by cowardice and hypocrisy. They could have arrested him in the temple but chose not to lay hands on him in public. What they would not do openly among the public, they gladly do in a more private setting. Luke has already told us why: they fear the people. So they have worked behind the scenes to oppose Jesus. It is their hour. Sin loves to work in secret.
But behind them stands a more desperate character. The drama is not merely a human one. The power of darkness lies behind this human activity. The battle is of cosmic proportions, with the people on stage mere players in a larger game. The domain of evil is present. Jesus fights this battle not with weapons of war but with armaments of character (4:1-13; Eph 6:12-18; Col 1:12-14). Darkness must fall before a new day can come. It is a time when darkness reigns.