Each gospel tells the same story but is different in emphasis. John’s account of Jesus’ arrest is markedly different from the rest in that no mention is given to Judas’ kiss of betrayal. John’s gospel is also different in that it reports a scene omitted from the others, a scene in which Jesus asks, “Whom seek ye?”
These differences are not by accident. John wrote his gospel more than two decades after those of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John would have possessed full knowledge of the other gospels and the epistles of Peter, James and Paul. The reason that John’s gospel reads differently is by design. The Holy Spirit is the real author of all scripture.
Before examining that which John was moved to record, let us review the sequence of events leading up to and following Jesus’ arrest. Matthew, the human author of the gospel bearing his name, was on hand to witness the same things which John witnessed. The timeline of John is found in the text before us.
John’s timeline: Jesus and the disciples enter the garden of Gethsemane (v. 1). Judas accompanied with men dispatched from the chief priests approach Jesus and the disciples (v. 3). Jesus interacts with the arresting party (v. 4-8). Peter draws his sword and strikes the high priest’s servant and severs his ear (v. 10). Jesus is arrested and bound (v. 12). Jesus is led off to appear before Annas (v. 13).
Matthew 26 documents the following sequence: Jesus and the disciples arrive at a location within Gethsemane (v. 36). Peter, James and John are separated from the presence of the other disciples (v. 37). Jesus tells the three to remain where they are while He goes a short distance to pray (v. 38-39). Jesus returns to Peter, James and John, finds them asleep, and admonishes Peter (v. 40). Jesus, again, separates from the three to pray twice more, each time returning to find them asleep (v. 40-45). Judas and the armed multitude approach (v. 47). Judas betrays Jesus (v. 49). Peter draws his sword and strikes the high priest’s servant and severs his ear (v. 51). The disciples flee (v. 56). Jesus is led off to Caiaphas (v. 57).
While both John’s and Matthew’s accounts begin and end with the same happenings, that which falls in the middle is not the same. John describes that which He witnessed before Jesus’ identity was revealed by Judas. Matthew skips this scene and focuses upon the kiss of betrayal which identified Jesus to the arresting party which accompanied Judas. Everything that Matthew reported and everything that John reported transpired as set forth in scripture.
Did Matthew and John see different things? Both saw the kiss of betrayal. John, Peter and James, however, as documented in Matthew 26:37, were in closer physical proximity to Jesus than the other disciples. John, possessing a front row seat, would have seen more if more were to be seen.
We need not speculate upon that which is not stated. John recorded the words which Jesus spoke to those who approached in the dark of night. Jesus asked, “Whom seek ye?” (v. 4). Jesus knew whom they sought. Jesus knew and had made known to the disciples that which would transpire that night. Jesus, knowing all things, knew that they would reply, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus also knew that that they would fall backward to the ground when He said “I am he.”
John was moved by the Holy Spirit to report the things which he saw and heard such that all believers might know the Father through the Son as he, John, knew the Father through the Son. What did John see? He saw those armed with swords, staves and torches fall backward. What did John hear that caused them to fall? John heard “I am he.” John heard the words which Jesus spoke, not in KJV English, not in the Greek which he penned his gospel. John heard that which Jesus spoke in Aramaic, the language of the land, the language of the scribes, the priests, and Pharisees. John did not hear the “he” of “I am he” because “he” was never said; “he” was produced by the scholars who translated the Greek of John’s gospel into English. There is no “he” in the Greek text. Jesus spoke two words, “I am,” and He spoke them in Aramaic.
In the course of time, languages change and pronunciations are altered. The words which John heard, the words which caused the multitude to fall backward, “I am,” are a close cousin to the Hebrew words “I AM THAT I AM” which God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. John heard what Moses heard. John heard the voice of the self existent God.
The party led by Judas sought Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, “I am,” and they fell backward. This is the picture that the Holy Spirit directed John to record. Jesus cannot lie. Jesus of Nazareth was the “I AM” manifest in the flesh.
John knew what he had beheld. The Holy Spirit speaks to all believers through John. I AM in the flesh, possessing the power to make men fall backward before Him, willing gave Himself into the hands of them who knew Him not. I AM became flesh to die in the flesh such that all who believe might rise with Him and be one with Him. Such is the Son that John knew. Such is the love of God.