A brief overview for Sunday school teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 18:1-11 for Sunday, April 30, 2023, “I Am He.”
(A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:
INTRO: Whenever my wife Cheryl & I are watching a movie or tv show (we don’t watch very many these days; we do enjoy manky of the old 1940s & 50s movies; and some BBC mysteries) but when we watch a show we are always “on the lookout” for familiar actors we see, and we’ll say “I think that’s so-and-so from such-and-such program” and we’ll look it up to see.
SO I might open this week’s lesson by asking my group: “Do any of you have a favorite actor or actress from movies/tv?”
(A couple of my favorites are Ralph Bellamy from the old Cary Grant movies (and Cary Grant!) and I loved Alan Rickman, who played Colonel Brandon in Sense & Sensibility; some of you may know him as Snape from Harry Potter.) Most people probably have some favorite actor/tv personality; I’m looking forward to hearing who our class’s favorites are. We might learn something about our class members this week!
But after you’ve shared those, you can say: this morning we are going to look at four leading characters who are named in our story in John 18 today; each of them are very different, and we learn something important from each one:
We see something of the context here in 18:1 “When Jesus had spoken these words” — this is talking about the PRAYER that He just prayed in John 17, the “High Priestly Prayer” He prayed for His disciples (then and now!)
When He had finished praying, it says “He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples. Matthew 26:36 identifies this as the Garden of Gethsemane. John does not go into the detail of Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane here in this passage, but He focuses on the betrayal there that would lead Jesus to the cross — and we see several characters in this scene:
OUTLINE: “A Tale of 4 Men”
I might begin just by reading (or having someone read) this passage, and then ask: “What do we learn about each of the men named in this passage: Judas, Jesus, Peter, and Malchus?”
I. THE BETRAYAL/Judas
:2 says Judas knew that place (he had been there with Jesus before); :3 says he came there with the Roman cohort (a whole battalion of 600 men) with officers from the priests & the Pharisees.
??? What do we learn about Judas here???
(He was a betrayer.)
NOTICE: TWO TIMES it says “Judas also, who was betraying Him” (:2, and :5)
As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it has become popular for books and films to portray Judas as basically a “good guy” who was trying to “force Jesus’ hand” and get Him to show His power, by giving Him over to the Jews. But as we saw in John 12, he was NOT a “good guy.” It specifically says there in :6, “he was a thief,” and “used to pilfer what was put into” Jesus’ money box for the poor.
But Judas walked with Jesus for 3 years with the other disciples, saw and experienced everything they did — but he turned on Jesus, and betrayed Him.
Several of the Psalms in the Old Testament speak of betrayal, like — Psalm 55:12-14. David speask there about his enemies, and the anguish he is facing. But then he says in :12-14:
“For it is not an enemy who reproaches me,Then I could bear it;
Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me,
Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend; We who had sweet fellowship together. Walked in the house of God in the throng.”
— Psalm 41:9 says: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.”
So many of the Psalms are Messianic prophecies: foreshadowing Who Jesus would be, and what He would experience. This is one of those. Jesus lived out Psalm 55: Judas, who was not an “enemy,” but one of the Twelve Jesus picked; who was His “companion;” with whom He had fellowship and walked in the house of God, etc.
So Jesus knew betrayal. This is one of the many things He has in common with us. Hebrews says “He was tempted in all things as we are …”. And this is one of those things. Probably ALL of us have felt betrayed at one time or another — I’m not going to ask for any examples of that this morning; it’s hurtful for many of us — but I think we ALL know that feeling.
What we see here is that JESUS knew that feeling too. He has that in common with us. He knew what it was to have a friend who betrayed him.
II. The Master/Jesus
???“What do we learn about Jesus in this passage?”???
(Let them answer, but then I’d say that among other things:
A. We learn that Jesus is IN CHARGE!
:4 “Jesus KNOWING all the things that were coming upon Him.” Jesus was not “surprised” by this “ambush.” He KNEW exactly what He was walking into.
There was a tragic accident in our community this morning: a young man backed out of his driveway and hit a senior adult woman, known and loved in our town, and she ended up passing away. She and her husband were just out for a walk, when this tragedy befell them. It shocked our community and so many who knew her. From time to time, we get “ambushed” like that with things that, that just blindside us.
But the thing about Jesus is, He wasn’t “blindsided” by this. He KNEW. “Jesus knowing …”. He knew exactly what He was going into.
— He had said “The Son of Man has come to give His life a ransom for many.” We saw a couple of weeks ago how many times He said IN ADVANCE that He was going to be delivered over to die.
— He had said in John 13 that He was going to be betrayed by someone who was at the meal with Him.
— And here it says, “Jesus, knowing …”. It is one thing to be “blindsided” by something — but Jesus KNEW. He purposefully “stepped in front of the tragedy”, that was coming, in order to save us.
THAT’S THE GOSPEL: and I’d share the Gospel here: how we had sinned — we can’t judge Judas too harshly; we’ve all disobeyed and betrayed God, just like He did; but somehow in His great mercy He still loved us, and Jesus came to take the judgment that was deservedly coming on us. And He did it purposefully. “Jesus KNOWING.”
B. Then secondly, we see Jesus’ POWER.
In :4 Jesus asks the group who came against Him, “Whom do you seek,” and when He said “I AM He,” Verse 6 says “they drew back and fell to the ground.” The word “fell” to the ground is the same (pipto) as is used in Matthew 2, when the Magi fell to the ground to worship the child Jesus. They were “cast back,” by Jesus saying, “I AM He”
??? What do you think this shows us about Jesus???
(It shows us His POWER. He was LETTING them take Him. Jesus was no “helpless victim” here; He was purposefully allowing them to take Him. It’s like we’re going to see next week in John 19:11, where Jesus told Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me unless it was given to you from above.” Pilate was not in charge; the Jews were not in charge; the soldiers were not in charge; Judas was not in charge; JESUS WAS IN CHARGE. He had all power. Just His WORD “I AM” sent them hurtling backwards; but He allowed them to take Him, so that He could die for us. “Amazing love …”.
C. We see Jesus’ CARE.
He had asked them in :4, “Whom do you seek”? And then He sent them hurtling back. So He asks them again, :7, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus the Nazarene,” and :8 says He told them: “I told you that I am He; so if you seek Me, let these go their way.” What does this show? It shows His concern for His followers. They didn’t need to be taken; they didn’t need to die. — John 13: 1 says, “Having loved His own who were in the world; He loved them to the end.”
— Verse 9 says this was “to fulfill the word which He spoke, ‘Of those whom You have given Me, I lost not one.’”
But it’s just yet another example of the LOVE and care that Jesus has for us.
??? What do we learn about Peter in this passage???
:10 “Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave’s name was Malchus.”
That’s “typical Simon Peter,” isn’t it? Rashly jump into something; here pulling out his sword to fight the group coming to get Jesus
THEN notice in :11 Jesus’ response to Peter: “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
This is actually a huge point here: Jesus says to Peter: “Put the sword into the sheath.” Jesus does NOT want His followers to do His work, or to try to advance His Kingdom with “the sword.”
There are political and religious groups who DO believe in spreading their influence by “the sword,” through military means.
For example, Islam spread all over the Middle East, much of Africa, and into Europe under the banner of “Islam or the sword”: you convert to Islam, or we will kill you. This is still happening in places in Africa today. You deny Christ and follow Islam, or we will put you to death.
But that is NOT how we spread Christianity. Those who do are NOT following the teachings of Jesus.
In 1519 the Hernando Cortez landed in Mexico to take the country for Spain. “‘As Christians,’ Cortes told his men in the midst of battle against the Aztec, ‘we were obliged to make war against the enemies of our faith.’ This was militant Christianity in the literal sense.” (Tony Horwitz, A Voyage Long and Strange, p. 118)
Cortez and his men were like Peter here in John 18. They THOUGHT they were doing God’s will by taking up the sword, but Jesus told Peter — and us — THAT’S NOT HOW WE ARE TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL!
??? Why do you think we are not to spread the Gospel by force???
(— For one, the Gospel is salvation by FAITH. You can’t “force” someone to believe. You may conquer their country, but you can’t really force them to believe. Military conquest does not create saving faith. Only the word of God does that in a heart.
— ALSO: it is against God’s love for people to harm/kill them. He LOVES people. Jesus said in Luke 9:56, “The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”
— ALSO: it harms US when we hurt other people. Jesus said those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Proverbs says the violence of the wicked will come back on them. When you hurt someone else, you end up hurting yourself.
For all these reasons and more, Jesus says, “put the sword into the sheath.”
My old seminary professor J.W. MacGorman, once said:
“Radical Christianity is not being willling to KILL for your faith. Radical Christianity is being willing to DIE for your faith.”
We don’t spread the gospel by killing, threatening, or harming other people. We spread the gospel by being so committed to it that we are willing to die for our faith in Jesus. When we are so committed, like Jim Eliot and his friends who flew to South America to share the gospel with a remote tribe there, who killed them — when we are so committed like that that we will go to dangerous places and be willing to die for our faith, THAT is when the Gospel spreads.
But Jesus told Peter, and He is telling us today: “Put the sword into the sheath.” We don’t spread the Gospel “with the sword,” by force. We spread the Gospel by sharing His word, and letting the Holy Spirit touch their heart by faith.
IV: MALCHUS the slave
??? What do we learn about Malchus here???
(Not a lot; it just gives his name …)
But then I would ask: ??? Why do you think they gave the NAME of the servant here???
(They gave his name because he was a REAL person. This really happened. And there were people who knew him, and who could corroborate this story. This is a powerful point.)
+x Dr. Richard Bauckham has written an impactful book called Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (it’s 700 pp long; and very academic) but in it he talks about how the people who lived in Palestine in those days KNEW the people whose names are given in the Gospels — like this Malchus.
So you couldn’t just “make stuff up” like a lot of people think the writers of the Gospels did. Real people’s names are given in these accounts. There were people ALIVE when the Gospels were written, who lived through these things, who could say “YES this really happened, or NO that didn’t; I know that guy!” So you couldn’t just “make up” things that happened. These real people with these real names, and the people who knew them, would KNOW better
It would be like if someone wrote a book and said: “There was this pastor named Shawn Thomas who lived in Angleton. And he was a miraculous golfer. Every time he played golf, he got a hole-in-one!” Well, anyone could write that. But if you said, he played golf with James Peterson and Drew Culpepper, you could say, “Oh, I know those guys!”, and go and ask them for yourself: “Is that what happened? Was he really like that?” And they would laugh and tell you: “NO! The only thing he hit every time we played was the WATER!” These real people would tell you the truth. You couldn’t just get away with making things up, when you use the real names of real people involved!
That’s how it was with the names in the Gospels. You couldn’t just make up anything and put it in the Gospels, because there are names of real people who were known. You could ask them and check it out. And other people knew them. And they’d know if these things were true or not.
So Bauckham says in his book, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, that this is one of the strongest evidences for truthfulness and reliablity of the Gospel accounts: the REAL names of these REAL people, whom everyone knew.
So Malchus’ place in the story here is very brief; but by giving his name, it is actually very powerful. This man — and/or people who knew him — was alive, and could testify that all this really happened. The Gospel of Jesus is not a myth; it really happened, to real people — and it will still touch and change real people like US today!
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— And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.
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– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.
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Thank you for your comments and insight into the lesson. I am a new teacher at 72 years old! I wanted to experience how others approach some of the Lifeway lessons.
A friend told me of your website and I like reading it after I have read the original Lifeway lesson to get another perspective on it.
Pastor Shawn, I was blindsided by the tragic death of Northside’s former school librarian and a teacher with me at Northside several years ago. Our hearts were broken. I knew who you were referring to. I have moved to Denison, since.
Our pastor, Jeff Humphreys (61) had a light stroke ending up in the hospital last Sunday after evening services here at Parkside, Denison. We were blindsided by that.
He’ll recover after many weeks of recuperation. It reminded me of the ordeal you, too faced. Please be in prayer for him and our congregation.
thanks for these would like to get every week firstname.lastname@example.org