The Arrest of Jesus

43 Then, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 His betrayer had arranged a signal with them, saying, “The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him and lead him away securely.” 45 He came and immediately went over to him and said, “Rabbi.” And he kissed him. 46 At this they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 One of the bystanders drew his sword, struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his ear. 48 Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs, to seize me? 49 Day after day I was with you teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me; but that the scriptures may be fulfilled.” 50 And they all left him and fled. 51 Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, 52 but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.

Passover was the one time in the year when the Roman governor came to Jerusalem. The ruling seat of provincial Roman rule was Cesaera Maritime on the cool Mediterranean coast. But Jerusalem was the place where sedition and revolution formed and fermented. The Roman political leaders as well as the Jewish religious leaders were well aware of these possibilities. Rome wanted peace. The Jewish leaders wanted to avoid another false messiah leading the people to ruin. Jesus of Nazareth would be problematic for both interest.

The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place in two days’ time. So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death. They said, “Not during the festival, for fear that there may be a riot among the people.” (14:1-2)

Judas provided the means for their arrest by knowing where Jesus could be found away from the witness of the people

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went off to the chief priests to hand him over to them. 11 When they heard him they were pleased and promised to pay him money. Then he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. (14:10-11)

Now that Jesus has made the decision to give himself up to his Father’s will (v. 36), the other pieces of the passion account quickly fall into place. The warrant for Jesus’ arrest had been issued by the Sanhedrin, implied by the comprehensive designation “the chief priests, the scribes and the elders.” That the Jewish authorities initiated the measures taken against Jesus is corroborated by the detail that he was taken directly to the house of the high priest (v.53). The leaders were accompanied by a crowd (v.43). Given the desire of secrecy and that the crowd was armed, these are not likely members of the general public. In addition to the Temple police, who were Levites, the Sanhedrin had at its disposal auxiliary police or servants of the court who were assigned the task of maintaining public order beyond the Temple precincts. They were authorized to make arrests, lead accused persons to the court, guard prisoners and carry out sentences imposed by the court. The arresting crowd in Gethsemane likely consisted of armed court attendants.

With all pieces in place, Judas begins the Passion with a kiss, the token of homage with which disciples customarily greeted their rabbi. Ironically, both the title “Rabbi” and the kiss declared Judas’ respect for Jesus, while his act of betrayal was anything but.. There is little interest in Judas in the account apart from the essential fact that Jesus was handed over to the Sanhedrin through his agency. He is not mentioned in Mark’s Gospel after this point

As Jesus was unarmed and offered no resistance, he was quickly apprehended. Some scholars speculate upon the grounds through which Jesus was arrested. Charges of blasphemy (2:7), violation of the Sabbath (2:24; 3:2–6), or the practice of magic and sorcery (3:22) had been previously levied – but gospel records none of these reasons.

Jesus’ remark, “…that the scriptures may be fulfilled” (v. 49), indicates that his arrest by a crowd is part of the divine plan, although Mark does not indicate which passage of Scripture he has in mind. Isaiah 53:12 describes the suffering servant as one who “was numbered with the transgressors.” Some interpreters take the reference to apply to the flight of the disciples (v. 50), which Jesus has already predicted by alluding to Scripture (Zech 13:7, cited in v. 27).  And indeed the disciples run away

Pheme Perkins [710] offers a cogent explanation into the last verses:

“The Gethsemane scene ends with the account of a young man who flees naked (vv. 51–52). This peculiar episode has generated many farfetched explanations, including the legend in an apocryphal fragment known as the Secret Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus raises a young man from the dead and is in the process of initiating him into the mysteries of the kingdom when he is arrested, or the view that the young man represents a “cameo” appearance of the author. Others have noted a parallel to Joseph’s flight from Potiphar’s wife, leaving his garments in her hand (Gen 39:12–13; later tradition presumed that he had fled naked). Since Mark has used the detail about the sword to illustrate the violence of the situation (v. 47), this episode probably continues that motif: The disciples have all fled, so when the young man attempts to follow Jesus, he is in danger of being dragged off by the mob, and he escapes only because he is wearing a linen toga-like garment, which comes off in their hands as he flees. His flight shows that the disciples are in grave danger as well”

Lane [527] adds that “Mark designates young men who are exceptionally strong and valiant, or faithful and wise. This observation invites attention to Amos 2:16, where the prophet describes a day of judgment so terrible that even those who are “stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day.” The arrest of Jesus invites the crushing judgment announced by Amos, and not even the valiant shall be able to withstand that day.

The scene concludes with Jesus being led away. The Passion begins


Mark 14:46 they laid hands on him: The body of men who seized him were authorized to do so by the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish court in the land. If a written warrant for the arrest was required by law (cf. Acts 9:2), it may be assumed that one had been prepared and was in the possession of the leader of the task force. In the Roman provinces, the enforcement of the civil code, and to a large degree criminal law, among the non-citizen classes was normally relegated to the local authorities. A provincial suspected of a crime could be arrested by the Sanhedrin in virtue of the autonomous police powers which this body possessed even under the procurators. [Lane 507]

Mark 14:47 cut off his ear: Mark records a single feeble attempt at resistance by an unnamed disciple who struck off the ear of the servant of the high priest with his sword. According to Jn. 18:10, the assailant was Peter, whose action seems to have been impulsive, and the servant he wounded bore the name Malchus.


  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 524-6
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 8:710
  • The New American Bible available on-line at


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