100. Jesus' Arrest (Luke 22:47-54)

Audio (20:55)
Gospel Parallels §240

James J. Tissot, 'The Healing of Malchus' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'The Healing of Malchus' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

"47  While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48  but Jesus asked him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?' 49  When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?' 50  And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51  But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And he touched the man's ear and healed him. 52  Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, 'Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53  Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour -- when darkness reigns.' 54  Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance." (Luke 22:47-54, NIV)

Location of the high priest's house
Location of Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. (larger map)

Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane is like a whirlpool encompassing all kinds of contrasting emotions and values -- loyalty and betrayal, courage and cowardice, power and weakness, determination and impulse, wounding and healing, conspiracy and committed love. They all whirl around this single event and provide unique insights to a thoughtful disciple.

Led by One of the Twelve (Luke 22:47a)

Jesus, who has spent hours in prayer, has just been speaking to his disciples, about preparing for the hour of temptation: "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation" (Luke 22:46). But now it is too late for them to pray and prepare. The hour of his crisis -- and theirs -- has arrived.

"While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them." (Luke 22:47a)

What a scandal would blaze in Friday's headlines: "Insider informant provides key to Jesus' arrest by temple troops in peaceful garden outside of Jerusalem late Thursday night."

The "insider informant," of course, is Judas Iscariot. We don't know why he turned away from Jesus -- hurt, resentment, pride, greed. (See more on his possible motives in the lesson on Luke 21:37-22:6 above.)

The scandalous part is his disloyalty -- "Judas, one of the Twelve." He has feigned loyalty and love towards Jesus, and operated as a trusted part of Jesus' ministry organization. But in secret he has been plotting to betray his Master for 30 pieces of silver. He eats at Jesus' table, partakes of the Last Supper, but then turns on Jesus, and leads his enemies to him in the dark of night.

The word "leading" is the Greek verb proerchomai, "to precede as leader/guide, go before."1062 It is in the imperfect tense, suggesting continuing action in the past. From the narrator's standpoint, you can hear him coming for some time before he arrives. He is not the leader in the sense of being in charge, but he is acting as a guide, and therefore is going in front of the soldiers. 

The Make-up of the Crowd

Of whom does the crowd consist? Luke indicates that it includes "chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders." (Luke 22:52)

Luke's term, "officers of the temple guard" (NIV) or "captains of the temple" (KJV) translates the Greek noun stratēgos, which means here, "commander responsible for the temple in Jerusalem."1063 He is not a Roman officer, for the Romans are not under the chief priest's authority.

The term "elders" (Greek presbyteros) refers to members of a group in the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Jerusalem.1064

Matthew characterizes the group as "a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people" (Matthew 26:47). Mark adds "teachers of the law" (NIV) or "scribes" (KJV) to the list of conspirators (Mark 14:43). John includes "a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees" (John 18:3). John's term "detachment of soldiers" (NIV) or "band of men" (KJV) is the Greek noun speira, a military technical term that refers to a "cohort" (the tenth part of a legion which normally had 600 men).1065 These were temple troops.

Day and night the temple was guarded by Levites to prevent, so far as possible, the unclean from entering. They also acted as the temple police. At night, guards were placed in 24 stations about the gates and courts, each guard consisting of 10 men. In all, 240 Levite guards were on duty every night, relieved each morning. The officers of the temple guard were in charge of these troops.1066 It is ironic that the soldiers who took Jesus into custody were normally charged with protecting the Holy Place from uncleanness.

Betrayed with a Kiss (Luke 22:47b-48)

Judas is drawing close, now, within the part of the olive grove where Jesus and his disciples are. The sleepy disciples are scrambling to their feet, totally unprepared. But Jesus, who has spent the evening preparing by prayer, is composed as Judas moves toward him.

"He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'" (Luke 22:47b-48)

The kiss is a sign of friendship, commonly offered between family members and close friends. Elisha says, "Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye and then I will come with you" (1 Kings 19:20; cf. Genesis 27:26). Laban wants to kiss his daughters and grandchildren good-bye (Genesis 31:28). As Absalom works to subvert his father David's kingship, he makes it a practice to welcome and kiss those who come to Jerusalem to seek the king's justice (2 Samuel 15:5). When Jesus comes to the house of Simon the Pharisee, he remarks on Simon's coldness towards him: "You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet" (Luke 7:45). Paul instructs recipients of his epistles to "greet one another with a holy kiss."1067

But Judas' kiss, though he feigns friendship and love, is false (see 2 Samuel 20:9-10). It is a pretext, a signal to the soldiers in the dark of the garden to show them whom they should arrest (Mark 14:44-45). Mark notes that Judas addresses Jesus as "Rabbi" -- which means "great one" -- as he kisses him. The kiss is the height of hypocrisy, an act of betrayal rather than love.

Jesus rebukes Judas for his duplicity: "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).

Cutting Off the Servant's Ear (Luke 22:49-51a)

"When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, should we strike with our swords?' And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!'" (Luke 22:49-51a)

By now the disciples are awake, but are not thinking very clearly. They call out, asking Jesus whether they should defend him with their swords, but don't wait for an answer before they begin swinging their blades. "Sword" (Greek machaira), here and in verse 52, refers to a relatively short sword or dagger.1068 The phrase, "our swords," is a clear reference back to verse 38 where the disciples exclaim, "See, Lord, here are two swords." The terms in verses 49 and 50 translated "strike, struck," or "smite, smote" indicate the Greek verb patassō, "to physically strike a blow, strike, hit."1069

The Apostle John supplies the name of the swordsman -- Peter -- as well as the slave whose ear was sliced off, Malchus (John 18:10). John (who was probably the "other disciple") "was known to the high priest" (John 18:15), and may have known his servant also. It could be, however, that Malchus was not just a menial slave. According to oriental usage, the term can be used of a king's officials or "ministers" as in Matthew 18:23, 26-27. He was probably the chief priest's official representative at the arrest, and therefore was close by Judas, charged with making sure that Jesus was taken.

Courage and cowardice are often close to each other -- as we see in Peter. Here in the Garden he is not a coward. He draws a sword and begins to whack away, oblivious to the fact that several hundred armed troops are present to see that Jesus' arrest takes place. You can call Peter stupid, a fool, and spiritually dense, perhaps. But you can't call him a coward. Not tonight. Not in the Garden.

But in his spiritual dullness, Peter doesn't perceive that Jesus' arrest and crucifixion is God's will to redeem mankind. So, instead, he seeks to thwart the arrest with his sword. Jesus rebukes him: "No more of this!" (Luke 22:51a). In John's Gospel we read, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11). Matthew adds, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).

But Peter is not only spiritually dull about Jesus' destiny that is being worked out in accordance with Scripture; he is also dull about which of the forces in the garden is in control. He sees an armed force of several hundred men appear out of the darkness, but they are not the overwhelming force. Matthew reports Jesus' words:

"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54)

Twelve legions comprise more than 12,000 troops -- of angels -- against a couple hundred temple guards. No contest. Jesus is clearly spiritually prepared and in charge. He is not taken against his will. He allows himself to be arrested in order to carry out the Father's will.

So often we see our problems looming so large that we can't see how much greater are God's resources to meet our need.

Jesus Heals the Wounded Man's Ear (Luke 22:51b)

"And he touched the man's ear and healed him." (Luke 22:51)

The word "touched" is Greek haptō, "to make close contact," often indicating to touch with the hand to offer a blessing or to heal.1070

You can't miss the contrast here. Peter strikes the servant with a sword to injure him, but Jesus touches with his hand to heal (Greek iaomai). Jesus is acting out his own teaching,

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (6:27-28)

Malchus is the servant of Jesus' arch enemy, the chief priest, acting on behalf of his master. But I wonder if Malchus is ever able to forget the sensation of Jesus' hand on the side of his bloody face. One minute he feels excruciating pain, the next, peace and wholeness. This emissary of the high priest must do his duty and take his healer into custody, but how can he ever be the same? Maybe that the reason John mentions his name is because later he becomes a disciple and is known to the Christian community. We just don't know.

Am I Leading a Rebellion? (Luke 22:52-53a)

"Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, 'Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me.'" (Luke 22:52-53a)

The phrase "leading a rebellion" (NIV) or "thief" (KJV) is the Greek noun lēstēs. Originally the term referred to a "robber, highwayman, bandit" as it does in 10:30, 36 and 19:46. But the term had been extended to include "revolutionary, insurrectionist, guerrilla," which is probably the usage here.1071 Jesus isn't a rebel whom they must arrest by stealth. He chides them for coming armed with swords and clubs to arrest a peaceful man who has made no attempt to hide from them.

When Darkness Reigns (Luke 22:53b)

"But this is your hour -- when darkness reigns." (Luke 22:53b)

The word translated "reigns" (NIV) or "power" (KJV) is the Greek noun exousia, which refers to the right to control or command, "authority, absolute power, warrant." But here, the authority of the chief priests to arrest Jesus is characterized as the reign or power of darkness, the power of the devil.

Jesus is making a play on words. He notes the irony of the situation. By day, he has been teaching openly in the very temple that these soldiers have been guarding, and yet they have not arrested him there in the full light of day. Rather, they wait for the cover of darkness of night to cloak their deeds, symbolizing the evil that motivates them.

Jesus Is Arrested (Luke 22:54a)

"Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest." (Luke 22:54a)

The term "seizing" (NIV) or "took" (KJV) is the Greek verb syllambanō, "take into custody, seize, grasp, apprehend, arrest someone."1072 Apparently there is also an attempt to arrest Jesus' followers, for one (traditionally thought of as Mark the Evangelist) is so frightened that he pulls away from their grasp, leaves his garment in their hands, and streaks naked into the night (Mark 14:51-52). Matthew records, "Then all the disciples deserted him and fled" (Matthew 26:56b).

Loyalty and Betrayal

These few verses have many themes, but I'm selecting one for further comment -- loyalty. Jesus expects his followers to be loyal. Any duplicity or act to undermine the leader is an act of rebellion, an act of betrayal of trust and friendship.

I have spent my entire life in the church, much of that as a senior pastor, and have talked to many of my pastor colleagues. We have seen the ugliness of followers rebelling against and undermining leaders, while speaking sweetly to their face. We have felt the pain and disappointment of betrayal of our own trusted church leaders. As for me, in the process I have second-guessed my own leadership -- and learned from my own mistakes. But, I keep coming back to the fact that even the Perfect Leader is not immune to betrayal.

Some of you who read this are pastors. Jesus knows he will be betrayed and denied, but continues to draw his disciples close to him. In the end, one loses hope, but one returns and is restored. Pastors, betrayal is part of the devil's attack upon you to defeat you and cause you to lose hope and faith, to become paranoid and cynical, and leave your post as a shepherd to God's people. Jesus endured betrayal. So can you. So must you.

Some of you who read this are lay persons who are called to "obey your leaders and submit to their authority" (Hebrews 13:17). Submission to authority can be a stumbling block. If we haven't learned to submit to our earthly mothers and fathers, it is difficult to submit to others in authority -- including God. That streak of rebellion against authority that began with the serpent in the Garden of Eden, continues on in fallen men and women. Rebellion against Jesus' authority is one component of Judas' betrayal.

Of course, parents and pastors are very human, and each of them has blind sides and failings. You can choose to pick at your leaders as the complaining Israelites picked at Moses. Or you can choose to hold up their arms when the battle gets tough, as did Hur and Aaron for Moses (Exodus 17:12). There are times when you must speak clearly to your pastors things they may not want to hear. That is not betrayal, but friendship and loyalty. Let your yes be yes and your no, no. But you must never become part of a secret conspiracy against the shepherd that God has placed over you, pretending to be a supporter, but secretly drawing away followers after yourself (Acts 20:28-31). If you have been part of such a plot, repent of it and ask God's forgiveness. We disciples must have nothing to do with the sin of Judas, if we want God to bless our lives and ministries. Jesus calls his disciples to be loyal to him and to one another.

Lessons for Disciples

There are a surprising number of discipleship lessons in this short passage about Jesus' arrest:

  1. The pain of disloyalty and feigned friendship.
  2. The dangers of spiritual unpreparedness when facing crisis.
  3. Misguided courage by disciples who do not discern the will of God in a situation.
  4. Blindness to the power of God when the power of darkness seems so strong.
  5. The discipline of possessing great power but exercising restraint to obtain the greater goal.
  6. The appropriateness of rebuke for sin.
  7. The power of loving one's enemies and healing them, even in the face of betrayal and violence.

We disciples have a high calling. We have seen Jesus' in his hour of crisis, and he shows us where we must grow to attain the full stature of our Master. Grant it, Lord. 


Father, as I meditate on this passage I can recall times in my own life when crisis struck and I was unprepared spiritually. I flailed about in my own strength, only to make matters worse. I can also identify with Jesus' pain at the betrayal of one close to him. Help me to forgive and not let bitterness capture a foothold in my soul. I ask you for those who are tempted to betray their brothers and sisters, their leaders. I pray for those who have been party to such a conspiracy of darkness. Help them to grow as true disciples. I have a long ways to grow, too, Lord. I ask you to continue your patient work of grace in my life. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"Jesus asked him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'" (Luke 22:48)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. Why is Judas' kiss so hideous? (Luke 22:47-48) Have you been the victim of such a betrayal by those who are outwardly sweet? Have you ever been party to such a betrayal?
  2. Why is loyalty so important a quality in disciples? In leaders?
  3. The disciples begin to defend Jesus with their swords (Luke 22:49-50). In what way is this courageous? In what way is this foolish? How does their sword defense display their spiritual dullness?
  4. Why does Jesus heal the severed ear of his enemy? (Luke 22:51) How is this a rebuke to his disciples? How do you think it affects his enemies?
  5. Jesus intends double meanings when he uses the word "darkness" in 22:53. What are the two meanings?
  6. What are pastors and leaders to learn from Judas' betrayal of Jesus? What are followers to learn?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[1062] Proerchomai, BDAG 868-869.

[1063] Stratēgos, BDAG 948.

[1064] Presbyteros, BDAG 862.

[1065] Speira, BDAG 936.

[1066] Edersheim, Temple, pp. 147-148.

[1067] Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; "kiss of love," 1 Peter 5:14.

[1068] Machaira, BDAG 622.

[1069] Patassō, BDAG 786.

[1070] Haptō, BDAG 126.

[1071] Lēstēs, BDAG 594.

[1072] Syllambanō, BDAG 955.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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