Judas, the betrayer, knew this place, because Jesus had often gone there with his disciples. The leading priests and Pharisees had given Judas a contingent of Roman soldiers and Temple guards to accompany him. Now with blazing torches, lanterns, and weapons, they arrived at the olive grove.
Jesus fully realized all that was going to happen to him, so he stepped forward to meet them. “Who are you looking for?” he asked.
“Jesus the Nazarene,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.) As Jesus said “I am he,” they all drew back and fell to the ground! Once more he asked them,“Who are you looking for?”
And again they replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said. “And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” He did this to fulfill his own statement: “I did not lose a single one of those you have given me.”
John 18:2-9 NLT
Judas had lived with the Lord Jesus for perhaps three years, and had listened to Him teach; yet he knew very little about Him. The traitor actually brought a company of temple guards, armed with swords and clubs! (Matt. 26:55) Just think of the privileges Judas despised and the opportunities he wasted!
The word band in John 18:3 (KJV) could be translated “cohort.” A Roman cohort was a tenth of a legion, and that would be 600 men! It is not likely that Judas brought that many to the Garden, but apparently a full cohort was made available to him had he needed it.
Did he not realize that the Lamb of God would meekly submit and that there would be no need to battle?
But Jesus shocked both Judas and the arresting officers by boldly presenting Himself to them. He had nothing to fear and nothing to hide; He would willingly lay down His life for His sheep. Furthermore, by surrendering to the officers, Jesus helped to protect His disciples. He kept them safe not only spiritually (John 17:11-12) but also physically.
Why did the arresting soldiers draw back and fall to the ground when Jesus told them, “I am He”?
The Jews present would be struck by His, “I AM”, statement, and an affirmation of Deity. The Romans, who were in the majority, would be struck by His bearing, for it was obvious that He was in command. It was an emotionally charged situation, and we do not know what Judas had told them about Jesus to help prepare them for this confrontation. The Jewish leaders had tried to have Jesus arrested before and always without success. The band was prepared for conflict, and when they met with surrender and calm, they were overwhelmed.
Perhaps it was a manifestation of divine power, or an exhibition of the majesty of Jesus Christ. “When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall“ (Ps. 27:2).
Judas’ kiss, which was given repeatedly to the Lord, was certainly one of the basest acts of treachery recorded anywhere in sacred or secular history. In that day, a kiss was a sign of affection and devotion. Members of the family kissed each other in meeting and in parting, but Judas was not a member of God’s family. Disciples greeted a rabbi by kissing him; it was a sign of devotion and obedience. But Judas was not truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, though he belonged to the disciple band. In the Garden, Judas stood with the enemy, not with Jesus’ friends!
When people today pretend to know and love the Lord, they are committing the sin of Judas. It is bad enough to betray Christ, but to do it with a kiss, a sign of affection, is the basest treachery of all. It was born in the pit of hell.