Late Thursday Night
[Based on Matthew 27:47-56; Luke 22:47-53; Mark 14:43-51; John 18:1-11]
A man came running breathless to the entrance of Fortress Antonia. The guards standing watch drew their weapons, but Mamercus quickly intervened. He knew who this was. He had been there when Judas came a few nights earlier and offered to betray his teacher and friend, Jesus of Nazareth.
Mamercus noted that Judas seemed very emotionally distraught this night. He also noted that it was a little odd for a Jewish man to be running around outside when most would be participating in the Passover Meal right about now.
“They are headed out of the city. Now is your chance to get him while he is away from the crowd! I can take you to them. But hurry, we’ve got to move fast.”
Mamercus sprang into action; plans had been made for how to proceed once Judas came to them. He would command a detachment of 20 soldiers. In a matter of minutes, they were joined by a number of mid-level priests and Pharisees, including a man named Malchus, who was Caiphas’ most trusted servant.
“Alert the High Priest. Tell him things are going according to plan. Hopefully, we’ll have Jesus in custody soon,” said Malchus to one of the other guards. “And let Governor Pilate know the Jesus threat will hopefully soon be resolved. And if I may say, not a moment too soon.”
“You are doing the right thing Judas. You and I both know that your teacher is stirring up trouble and must be stopped. I commend you for your action.”
“If it’s so right… Then why do I feel like I’m the dirtiest garbage in Gehenna right now?!”
“This should make you feel better.” Malchus handed Judas a purse. “Per our agreement, thirty coins of silver… and the knowledge that you are helping protect the peace of the city…”
“And the peace of Caesar,” added Mamercus.
“Ironic. Considering I feel no peace whatsoever at this moment. My friends think I am buying supplies for the Passover Meal or giving alms to the poor. They have no idea I am about to betray them all.”
Judas closed his eyes tightly for a moment, as if resigning himself to what he was about to do. “Look! Let’s just get on with this before I lose my nerve.”
“Fine with me. Just one more thing, though? How will we know which one to arrest?” Mamercus thought many Jews looked similar so, and he had only seen Jesus from a distance once a couple of days ago.
“I don’t know.” Judas thought for a second. “I’ll give him a kiss. It’s the way we often greet each other. But that way, you’ll know he’s the one you should arrest.”
“Sounds reasonable.” Mamercus replied.
As they headed away from the walls of city and out across the rugged Kidron Valley toward the Mount of Olives, Mamercus could tell this was really hard for Judas. There were several occasions where it appeared Judas was on the verge of tears. Mamercus couldn’t imagine ever betraying one of his superiors. For one thing, if anyone ever found out, he would pay with his life. But not just that; he had tremendous admiration and respect for his commanders. Judas must have felt the same way about Jesus, to have spent the last couple years of his life traveling with him, living alongside him, and learning from him. He wondered what had happened to make Judas come to the point where he was willing to betray Jesus? Was there really some disagreement between them as Caiaphas had suggested or maybe between Judas and some of the other disciples? I guess the reason really didn’t matter in the end. Mamercus had a job to accomplish and Judas was helping them with that.
Judas led them to a rather secluded olive grove. It was the kind of place that you probably wouldn’t find by accident, the kind of place where Jesus and his followers could have some privacy. But of course, Judas was an one of the “twelve”… he knew exactly where to go to find Jesus. The flickering torchlight was the only source of illumination, which made it all the more important that they had already arranged a signal to know which one to arrest.
“Greetings.” Despite years of training, Mamercus nearly jumped out of skin when he heard the voice in the darkness. He hadn’t seen the man approaching them in the darkness and now standing just on the edge of the grove. That was probably because he wasn’t using any light source, or at least none that was obvious, which seemed a bit odd to Mamercus. How could he see in total darkness? When they shined the light in his direction they saw an average looking man standing before them. “This is a bit far off the beat and path for a detachment of soldiers? If you came all this way out here from Jerusalem, you must be looking for someone.”
“Actually,” Mamercus said, regaining his composure, “We are looking for Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Well you have found him. I am he.”
At this point Jesus looked over and saw Judas. The two men’s eyes met and then Judas came forward, gave Jesus as kiss and said his voice trembling, “Rabbi! I’m so…”
Jesus didn’t let Judas finish. “So it comes to this… the Son of Man betrayed with a kiss.” Jesus sighed deeply. “I suppose this is how Scripture said it would be… Friends do what you came to do.” A couple of the soldiers started to move forward.
“Not so fast!” Just then several other men came rushing out of the secluded olive grove to where the soldiers were standing. They were carrying torches and wielding weapons. One of them shouted drawing out his sword. He caught Malchus off guard and landed a blow that chopped a piece of his ear.
“Peter! Put your sword away. No more of this nonsense! Don’t you understand after three years together? We don’t fight with those kinds of weapons?! I have to drink the cup that the Father has given me to drink. If we strike them down with our swords, we are no better than them.”
Jesus walked over to where Malchus was standing, blood pouring from the place where his ear had been cut. He stooped over and picked something up off the ground (Mamercus assumed it might be the piece of ear) and touched it to the side of Malchus’ head, and in an instant the bleeding stopped, and he seemed to be healed.”
Malchus stood in stunned amazement feeling where his injury had been. “Th… thank you Sir. Praise God!” Several of the local soldiers fell to their knees at this sight.
Jesus turned and addressed the priests and Pharisees. "Am I leading a rebellion, that you felt the need to come with swords and clubs? 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.”
“So be it,” said Mamercus, “Our orders are to place you under arrest. And that is what we’re here to do.”
The soldiers moved in and arrested Jesus and as before he put up little if any resistance. Meanwhile, his “loyal” followers, every single one of them, went running off into the night. One of them was so panicked that he lost the garment he was wearing and was last seen running naked through the olive grove. Mamercus also realized at that moment that Judas had disappeared during the chaos. Nearby they found some silver coins spilled on the ground.
“What a pathetic scene,” Mamercus thought to himself, “These are the ‘loyal’ followers of Jesus? Abandoning their leader at the first sign of trouble. What kind of loyalty is that?!” No Roman soldier would ever abandon his fellow-soldiers so easily. They would fight to the death, even if the odds were impossible.