Peter Misselbrook's Blog
May 29 2013 - John 18:1-27 – I am he

Of all the Gospel writers, John is the only one who records the extraordinary effect Jesus words had on those coming to arrest him. Judas was leading a crowd of soldiers and temple guards to the place where he knew they would find Jesus. They were equipped with torches and lanterns and were well armed. They must have made an intimidating sight. But Jesus is not intimidated. Rather, when he sees them approaching, he deliberately steps forward to meet them and asks whom they are seeking. When they reply, "Jesus of Nazareth", Jesus tells them, "I am he" (John 18:5). At these words, John records, "they drew back and fell to the ground".

What an extraordinary situation. A crowd of armed men who have come prepared to arrest Jesus step back and fall to the ground at his words. John leaves us in no doubt as to who is in charge here. Jesus was not taken captive by this army; he delivered himself into their hands. They bound him and led him away. But it was not the ropes that kept him captive – he could have snapped them more easily than Samson snapped the seven fresh thongs; it was his determination to complete for our sake the work the Father had sent him to do. He commanded Peter, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (18:11).

So they led him away to face their mock trial and a cruel death.

What was it about Jesus’ words that made those come to arrest him draw back and fall to the ground? At the end of Jesus’ high priestly prayer, recorded just a few verses previously, Jesus says of his disciples, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known” (17:26). Jesus reveals the character of God and, if I may put it this way, the meaning of his name. The Jews would not utter the name by which God revealed himself to Moses, the name ‘Yahweh’; they thought it too holy to take upon their lips. The name means something like “I am” or “I will be what I will be”. This is God’s covenant name, by which he binds himself to his people, yet it’s an enigmatic name; what does it mean? Jesus declares that he has made it known.

And here in the garden as soldiers come to seize him, Jesus makes it known. He declares that he is “I am”. He is the one in whom God himself has come to redeem his people. This extraordinary assertion causes the crowd to fall back in fear – and maybe in horror. Yet Jesus hands himself over to them. Here is the supreme revelation of God’s character; he is the God who gives himself for the redemption of his people. This is the meaning of his covenant name for this is how he takes a people to be his own and binds them to himself with bonds that no one can break.

In the midst of the turmoil and conflict of our lives, the risen Christ still asks the disarming question, "Whom do you seek?" And in response to our confused replies he tells us, "I am he." His words still have power to stop us in our tracks and drive us to our knees, for Jesus Christ is Lord.

Whom do you seek?

Lord, there are things here which I cannot fully understand; “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” Lord Jesus, I worship you. Help me to appreciate more fully the greatness of your love for me that I may love you in return. Keep me from denying you. Help me rather to declare to others the wonders of your redeeming love that they also may seek you and find in you eternal life.

Peter Misselbrook