THE GREEN MOUNT of Olives sits across aa narrow valley from the Temple Mount and the walled city of Jerusalem. In Jesus’ day, the olive grove known as Gethsemane would have provided a gret view of the city. In the evening, during Passover, torchlight probably dotted the vista. This was apparently a favorite prayer spot for Jesus, set between the city and his friends’ home in Bethany.
Jesus came to the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples after the Last Supper. As he often did, Jesus selected his three closest disciples, Peter, James and John, to accompany him away from the others. He then withdrew even from the three of them to pray privately. This was intense prayer, as he begged his father to try another plan. Yet he concluded, “Not what I want, but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). He repeated this prayer not once but twice, which indicates the tortured agony he endured, knowing what was soon to come to him.
Judas arrived with a retinue of the Temple guard. Matthew calls them a “large crowd with clubs and swords” (verse 47). If the disciples had been awake, they might have seen the torches snaking their way up the hillside. Even then, Jesus might have fled upward, over the mountain and into the desert, but that was not God’s plan.
A kiss from Judas identified Jesus as the man to be arrested. (It was night, and the soldiers probably hadn’t seen Jesus up close before.) Peter swung a sword and sliced off the ear of a servant named Malchus, but Jesus reprimanded Peter, saying, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (verse 52). Jesus then healed Malchus (John 18:10). In all the chaos, it seems the soldiers made a halfhearted attempt to arrest the disciples, who scattered. Mark tells of a young man (possibly Mark himself) who was nabbed but ran out of his clothes. The soldiers had their main quarry and apparently let the others go. Even the sword-wielding Peter got away.
Yet Jesus maintained calm. “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me” (Mark 14:48-49). Further bloodshed in the garden was avoided as they took Jesus to his trial.