Commentary on Mark 14 (Jesus Arrested)

Late Thursday evening (around 10 or 11 pm), Jesus and the disciples travel back to the Mount of Olives to stay for the night. They choose a secluded place called Gethsemane where Jesus can pray. Mark Strauss, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book), writes:

The word Gethsemane comes from a Hebrew/Aramaic word (Gatz), meaning ‘oil press.’ Mark does not identify it as a garden (John 18:1) but simply as a ‘place’; four different locations on the Mount of Olives claim the honor of being the authentic site. Taylor contends that Gethsemane does not refer to an olive grove but to a spacious cave (about 55 feet long and 29-1/2 feet wide) within a cultivated enclosure, adjacent to the Church of All Nations, where olives were pressed for oil. The press would have been in operation in the fall and winter after the olive harvest but would have been idle and used only for storage in the spring. Such a locale, close to the city, would have made an excellent place to spend a chilly night that had others kindling fires for warmth (14:54). It would have been ‘warm, dry, and roomy, with a cistern inside for water.’

The full force of what is about to happen hits Jesus and he is overwhelmed with anguish. He asks Peter, James, and John to keep watch for him while he prays on his knees a short distance away. Three times Jesus returns to find his three closest friends asleep instead of keeping watch. The threefold sleeping corresponds to Peter’s threefold denial that will soon occur. Jesus’ repeated prayer to his Father is that God would take away the cup of suffering that is soon to occur, but only if that is what the Father wills. To the end, Jesus only wants what his Father wants.

Jesus uses the term Abba to refer to God the Father during his prayers. John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , explains the significance of this term:

’Abba’ was a common way young Jewish children addressed their fathers. It conveyed a sense of familial intimacy and familiarity. The Jews, however, did not use it as a personal address to God since such a familiar term was considered inappropriate in prayer. Thus Jesus’ use of Abba in addressing God was new and unique. He probably used it often in His prayers to express His intimate relationship with God as His Father. Abba here suggests that Jesus’ primary concern in drinking the cup of God’s judgment on sin necessarily disrupted this relationship (cf. Jesus’ words of address, Mark 15:34).

After Jesus finds his disciples asleep for the third time (approximately three hours have passed while he prayed), he realizes that the hour of suffering is finally at hand. Judas, the betrayer, arrives with a large crowd of Roman soldiers and temple guards to arrest Jesus (the temple guards and Roman soldiers are mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and John). In order to identify Jesus in the dark, Judas greets Jesus with a kiss and calls him “Rabbi.”

The soldiers immediately seize Jesus, but Peter swings his sword at a servant of the high priest, Malchus, and cuts off part of his ear (we know about Peter and Malchus from John 18). Jesus comments that he has been teaching in the temple courts for days, and they could have easily arrested him, but instead they’ve come with swords and clubs, as if he is a violent criminal. However, these actions by the Jewish authorities are fulfilling prophecy. Although Mark doesn’t indicate to which prophecies Jesus refers, scholars speculate that he could be referring to Isaiah 53:12 and Zechariah 13:7. When Jesus indicates that he will willingly go with the soldiers, all his disciples flee, exactly as Jesus predicted they would.

The soldiers take Jesus back into Jerusalem to the house of the high priest. Mark Strauss gives us more details about the high priest:

We learn from Acts 4:6 that the high priest was Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas (who held the office from A.D. 6 until he was deposed in A.D.15). Annas remained a kind of godfather controlling the reins of power with five sons holding the office of high priest. The clan of Annas is remembered in the Babylonian Talmud for its knavery: ‘Woe unto me because of the house of Hanin [Annas], woe unto me because of their whisperings.’ Josephus refers to the son of Annas, Ananas II (high priest in A.D. 62), as following the school of the Sadducees, who were ‘more heartless than any of the other Jews … when they sit in judgment.’

Pilate’s predecessor, Valerius Gratus, removed four high priests during his eleven-year tenure as governor. Caiaphas had to be an artful politician to have held office as high priest for eighteen years from A.D. 18 to 36, serving throughout Pilate’s tenure. The family tomb of Caiaphas has been discovered. The name of Joseph bar Caiaphas is inscribed in Aramaic (Yhwsp br Qp‘) on an elaborately decorated bone box containing the bones of a sixty-year-old man.

Jesus is taken to an upper room in the house where the high priest has hastily gathered several members of the Sanhedrin. The Jewish leaders listen to the testimony of several witnesses to prove that Jesus said or did something deserving of the death penalty, but the testimony is contradictory and inconclusive.

Exasperated, Caiaphas finally asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Caiaphas is asking Jesus if he claims to be the Messiah. Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After hearing his answer, the assembled council determines that Jesus deserves the death penalty.

Why does Jesus’ answer make him deserving of the death penalty, under Jewish law? James Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary , analyzes Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas:

’The Mighty One’ [or Power] is another substitute for Yahweh. The ‘right hand’ is the place of honor and reward in Oriental society. Jesus’ affirmation in the last part of the verse combines Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13. ‘You will see’ does not necessarily refer to physical sight. It could refer to realization. Jesus probably meant that his opponents would realize that he was the Son of Man in the apocalyptic sense, that he was God’s Son and would sit by his side, and that he would return for judgment.

Having thus made this claim, Brooks explains Caiaphas’ response to Jesus:

Some do not think that claiming to be the Messiah would have been considered blasphemy. This may well be so, but claiming to be the Son of God (in the most intimate sense), claiming to be the Son of Man (in the supernatural sense), claiming to sit at God’s right hand, predicting a return from heaven, and using the divine name ‘I am’ could and probably would have been considered blasphemy.

In addition, Jesus presents a clear and present threat to the Sanhedrin and the temple establishment. The Sanhedrin, no doubt, fear that Jesus will provoke resistance against the Roman occupiers and thus upset the stability that the Jewish aristocracy has achieved.

Meanwhile, Peter has followed Jesus to the house of Caiaphas to evidently listen to the proceedings surreptitiously. While standing in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, a servant girl accuses him of being one of Jesus’ followers, and he denies it. Again, the same girl accuses him and he denies it a second time. Other bystanders who are warming themselves outside of the house then join the servant girl in accusing Peter of being a follower of Jesus, and this time Peter swears oaths that he does not know who Jesus is. Suddenly the rooster crows and Peter realizes that he has denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. His response is to weep in sorrow for what he has done. We know that Peter repents of his apostasy because he becomes a great leader of the early Christian church.