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Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus (Mark 14:43-52)

Analysis and Commentary

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Judas Kisses, Betrays Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

Judas Kisses, Betrays Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane

    43 And immediately, while he yet spake, cometh Judas, one of the twelve, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44 And he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely.
    45 And as soon as he was come, he goeth straightway to him, and saith, Master, master; and kissed him. 46 And they laid their hands on him, and took him. 47 And one of them that stood by drew a sword, and smote a servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear.
    48 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? 49 I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled. 50 And they all forsook him, and fled.
    51 And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him: 52 And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked.

Jesus is Arrested

With his betrayal and arrest, Jesus’ active ministry is over. Jesus’ passion technically began with the mental anguish he experienced in Gethsemane, but the physical torture he is about to experience at the hands of Roman authorities constitutes the “passion” most people may have in mind when they hear the word.

Jesus is betrayed, as readers expect, by Judas — there are no surprise plot twists here. Why does Judas identify Jesus to the authorities by a kiss? It’s implausible that they didn’t know what he looked like because they have been plotting against him for some time. Even if no one who was familiar with Jesus could attend the arrest, all Judas had to do was say “That guy, the one with the blue trim on his robe.”

Although it makes no literal sense, there is a literary reason for including this action: such a kiss is normally a sign of intimacy and friendship, betraying Jesus with a kiss heightens the evilness of Judas’ action. It follows in line with Jesus’ earlier emphasis to his disciples that the one who would betray him was breaking bread with them.

Who are the people that arrive to arrest Jesus? Other gospel accounts describe the group in a way that makes them appear to be an official arresting party (Temple police in Luke 22:52, Roman soldiers in John 18:3). Here, they seem more like a disorganized mob. Jesus’ criticism that they would come and take him like a common criminal, even though he was available for arrest every day at the Temple, strengthens this impression.

This comment from Jesus about being at the Temple so much implies that he has been around longer than Mark has described — a possible result of Mark’s using contradictory traditions in his narrative. The insistence that he is not a common criminal and should not be arrested like one may have been inserted to placate Roman authorities who would not have looked kindly upon a religious group following an executed criminal suspected of insurrection.

Who cut off the ear of a Temple scribe, and why? Other gospels identify the assailant as Peter and even name the victim; here, it’s simply an isolated act of violence that receives no further comment. Why was Peter armed? Jesus is depicted by Mark as preaching a message of peace, not armed insurrection. One could imagine Peter with a knife, but a sword was a more serious weapon to carry around.

In the end, all of Jesus' followers abandon him and flee. Are these meant to just be his twelve apostles or were there others? Sometimes the text suggests the latter, but sometimes not. At any rate, all is occurring as God has planned and Jesus appears to accept this — we are back once again with the confident Jesus rather than the despairing Jesus we encountered earlier in Gethsemane.

Who is the young man who flees naked from the scene? He’s the only one specifically identified among those who flee so he can’t be inconsequential. This has troubled scholars for centuries. Some argue that he was an early initiate still wearing baptismal clothing. Some have speculated that the young man was Mark himself, though the gospel text argues against his having been a Jew in Palestine.

More recently, some have argued that this could point to a homosexual relationship, one possibly involving Jesus. It is curious that this person would appear in this scene with nothing else to do but run away in the nude — Mark’s narrative is carefully constructed to fulfill theological and political needs and there isn’t a lot of frivolous detail wasting space.

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