I have come to the arrest of Jesus in my Lenten reading of David Seccombe’s The King of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus went to a particular olive grove to spend the night. Judas knew where that was. The authorities wanted to find Jesus without the crowds around him at night when most of the folks attending Passover were sleeping. Judas provided the police the valuable service of giving them Jesus in exactly the situation they needed. David Seccombe thinks that, if things had gone according to plan, Jesus would have already been on the cross by the time people began to wake up.
The Gospel of Mark reports a night trial. This was irregular. Trials at night or on feast days were banned in the Mishnah. Also the regular order would have been for the carrying out of a sentence to be held over for a day. However, Seccombe believes the jist of the Talmud report that Jesus already had been under a death sentence of six weeks. So the authorities might not have felt any need to follow the rules that applied to the determination of guilt or innocence. These proceedings would have been for the purpose of bringing about and justifying an execution that already was set.
The night trial has been questioned. But if the late-night arrest and the narrative about Peter’s denials are true, then the night trial is part of that scenario. Peter’s denials have historical credibility. You can’t imagine the early church making up a story that made its first leader look that bad.
I will deal with the trials or interrogations later. Now I am just showing why the police came for Jesus late at night.
According to the three synoptic gospels the police who came were temple police. But according to John some troops from the Roman cohort came for Jesus with them (John 18:3). The Romans were already involved. Seccombe once again thinks John knew the true situation. This is one reason for Seccombe’s idea that the plan was to get the execution started quietly and at night.
The authorities feared rioting or even revolutionary violence once their move against Jesus became known. They wanted to present Jerusalem with the death of Jesus as an accomplished fact. (If I remember correctly, this is what Paula Fredericksen believes actually happened. The story of the public execution of Jesus, for her, is a drama developed by the church.)
So armed police and military units came upon Jesus in the night. Jesus suppressed the impulse of the disciples to resist. The story says that Peter raised his sword. But Jesus ordered him to put it away. In that olive garden Jesus had come to the firm decision to do his Father’s will, to drink the cup that he called his blood.
Seccombe notes that we have little to tell us anything about the motivation of Judas. At Bethany a woman had anointed Jesus with expensive oil and Judas had complained that the money could have been spent on the poor. John says that Judas did not really care about the poor but had been misappropriating the common funds (money provided by Jesus’ women followers according the Luke 8:3). The fact that Judas took the priest’s silver points to greed.
However, there are reasons to think the motive might have been more complicated. Judas tried to return the silver. He took his own life in the aftermath of it all. So, even though it looks like he should have known exactly what would result from his actions, the crucifixion dismayed him.
Seccombe doesn’t go into theories that Judas was trying to force Jesus hand or make his arrest a catalyst for revolution. He just calls Judas the “disillusioned disciple” and thinks the sharp exchange with Jesus over the anointing oil in Bethany was some kind of turning point.