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The Kiss of Betrayal

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Mark 14:43–45; Luke 22:47–48; John 18:2–6

No human plans or preparations can alter God’s plan or limit His power. When Jesus is confronted by Judas and a large band of soldiers who have come to arrest Him, He does not resist but demonstrates to all He is all-powerful and in complete control.


As the prayer meeting between Jesus and His Father concludes there in the garden of Gethsemane, Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Jesus wakes up His three sleeping disciples and announces, “The hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand” (26:45-46). With that rather stunning announcement, John chapter 18 gives us the details of what happens next.

The first character to enter the garden is Judas—we already know he is now possessed by Satan himself. Verse 2 tells us that Judas knew this garden well, because “Jesus often met there with his disciples.”

We also know that Judas has already sold his soul, as it were, for thirty coins of silver. He was not about to follow someone who would not overthrow Rome; if there was no kingdom and crown in Judas’s near future, he wasn’t interested. Of course, the tragedy is that Judas would be wearing that crown today in heaven, awaiting the coming kingdom, had he believed in Jesus.

Frankly, Judas is a hard man for me to understand. How could he reach the point of betraying the Lamb of God? He had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, eaten with Jesus, and slept on the same hillsides and in the same borrowed homes with Jesus. He had followed Him for years, marveling as the Lord’s miracles unfolded. The lame walked, the blind saw, the dead were raised. How do you sell Him out for thirty pieces of silver? The truth is, beloved, the mystery of darkness has been hard at work; the archenemy of Jesus, Satan himself, has successfully blinded the eyes of Judas. One author wrote of Judas that he saw the miracles of Jesus but never accepted the mission of Jesus.[1]

Verse 3 has always struck me as somewhat comical:

So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.

They are acting as if they can bind the Creator of the universe! They are armed to the teeth. And they are evidently expecting, and prepared for, several possible scenarios here.

First, they are prepared for deception. No doubt that is why the plan was for Judas to identify Jesus with a kiss. They expected one of the other disciples to step forward and say, “I’m Jesus. Take me!”

So as this mob enters the garden, Mark’s Gospel records that Judas goes up to Jesus and says, “Rabbi!” And then, “he kissed him” (14:45). The word here for “kiss” is the Greek word kataphileō. It is a word of affection that indicates a hug and perhaps more than one kiss on the check—or a kiss on both cheeks.

This was common during these days—and, in fact, in many countries to this day. It signified affection, which makes Judas’s act all the more despicable.

Imagine, beloved, the unseen, spiritual drama taking place here: Judas, indwelt by Satan, is kissing the cheek of the Savior—the serpent is embracing the Son. The hot breath of that old dragon is upon the cheek of the Deliverer! And do not mistake it for one moment—Jesus knows it!

Still, there is no angry response from Jesus. I would have said, “Judas, you’re making me sick; get away from me!” But in Matthew 26:50, Jesus addresses him kindly, saying, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

Can you imagine that? “Friend, do what you came to do.”

Betrayal is always a terrible thing, but when it comes with a kiss—that is, when it comes from a loved one, a supposed friend or relative—it is especially heartbreaking. But Jesus is modeling for us a godly response to betrayers.

Earlier, in Matthew 5, the Lord had preached, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (verse 44). Now here in Matthew 26, the Lord is practicing what He has been preaching.

Second, the mob was not only expecting deception; they were also expecting some form of cowardice. Again, John 18:3 says they come “with lanterns and torches.” But the Passover moon would have been full and bright; verse 18 tells us the night was cold and therefore more than likely cloudless and clear. There was enough light to clearly see their way into the garden on this moonlit night. A torch or two for the leaders would have been sufficient.

So why all the torches and lanterns among them? One reason—they expected Jesus to hide. They thought they might have to search among the trees and in the hillside nooks and crannies to find Jesus. They will need every lantern possible to peer up into the olive trees and behind every rock! But instead of hiding, verse 4 says that Jesus steps forward and identifies Himself as the man they are seeking!

I believe they were expecting one more thing here as they entered the garden; they were expecting resistance! Verse 3 tells us that Judas came with a “band of soldiers.” The Greek term indicates a Roman cohort, which would normally consist of six hundred armed Roman soldiers. There are also officers from the chief priests and Sanhedrin, who had their own private police force to keep the peace and carry out judicial orders.

So, there are literally hundreds of soldiers, armed to the teeth, to arrest an unarmed carpenter! Why? Let me tell you, they knew He was no ordinary man. They had seen His miracles and demonstrations of power. So, they are prepared—they think—for a little supernatural resistance.

John’s Gospel records what happens next:

Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (verses 4-6)

You need to understand that the Lord is doing more than simply confirming that He is Jesus.

He actually announces His deity. He responds with the expression found often in John’s Gospel—ego eimi—simply, “I am.” Jesus is declaring His eternal deity!

When the name of God was revealed for the first time to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, Moses asked God what He should tell the people when they asked the name of the one who sent him. And God responded, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” In other words, my name is “I am.”

Several times throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has used this expression, thus identifying Himself with the God of Israel (6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5). Now, Jesus again claims the name of almighty God—“I am.”

Verse 6 records, “When Jesus said to them, ‘I am [he]’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” What Jesus does is give one little puff of divine power and knocks them over. It is as if Jesus pulls back the curtain on His deity for one brief second, and they all do what everyone will do in the presence of God—fall down before Him.

They have not come to arrest Him. He has arrived to arrest them. He will let them get back up on their feet and tie His hands, and He will act as if they have power over Him. But He is willingly, actively leading the way.

Beloved, in a very real sense, Jesus is not going to be murdered; He is going to be sacrificed. He is going to willingly lay down His life as the final Passover Lamb, who came to earth to die for your sins and mine.

[1] Max Lucado, On the Anvil (Tyndale House 1985, 2008), 26.

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