Sunday, December 9, 2012



This is the forty-third installment, comprising Act 6, Scene 6, chapter 14:43-52, in the online commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which I am blogging on throughout the liturgical year. Please see the forty-second installment here. Links to the entire series are available in one spot at The Complete Gospel of Mark Online Commentary.

This is my division of the Gospel:


Prologue,  1:1-13;
Act  1, 1:14-3:6;
Act 2, 3:7-6:6;
Act 3, 6:7-8:26;
Act 4, 8:27-10:52;
Act 5, 11:1-13:37;
Act 6, 14:1-16:8(20).

Scene 6: 14:43-52

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." 50 All of them deserted him and fled. 51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. (NRSV)


Mark, in a few short sketches, manages to capture the chaos and the fear that suffuses the arrest of Jesus. These are captured precisely because Judas’ hidden role, skulking in the background of the actual life of the Apostles and the life of Mark’s account, must now show himself, he must reveal who he is for all to see. He steps out of the shadows to turn Jesus over to the Temple authorities. Mark does not describe the reactions of the Apostles when they see Jesus; whether Judas had always been suspected due to his absence or whether this is a shock, we do not hear their voices or see their faces. No reaction to Judas’ betrayal is described by Mark, but shock might be suspected not only in the fact that Judas has come but that he has not come alone.

In fact, Judas has arrived with an ochlos, a “crowd.” From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry until his entry into Jerusalem, crowds have been following Jesus, listening to him, seeking healing, welcoming him. In Act 5, Scene 2, when the chief priests and scribes seek “to kill” Jesus, it is the “whole crowd” (pas ho ochlos) that protects Jesus from arrest. Even more recently, in Act 6, Scene 1it is still the people who are Jesus’ protection from arrest. Now it is a "crowd" that comes to arrest him with “swords and clubs” (14:43). While we cannot, naturally, identify the exact composition of this crowd, Mark tells us they are “from (para) the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders,” the people seeking Jesus’ death most diligently since his arrival in Jerusalem. It is most probable, of course, that the opposition to Jesus would emerge in Jerusalem from the Temple authorities, who actually had a wide range of political and legal authority upon which to act. Interestingly, the Pharisees and Herodians, who first sought Jesus’ death in Act 1, Scene 9, have fallen out of the picture. It is possible that Mark might have marked the Pharisees as the group that sought Jesus' death earlier in the Gospel in order to combine all opposition to Jesus. In this case, even if the Pharisees’ opposition was grounded in different modes of interpretation of the Torah, dramatically it is more powerful to see the human opposition to Jesus as united.

It is Judas, however, who is the main player here initially, as he fulfills his pre-arranged role for the chief priests and scribes and in the divine drama itself, by stepping out to Jesus and carrying out his script. He names Jesus as his teacher (“Rabbi!”) and greets him in the manner of a student greeting his teacher: a kiss upon the cheek. This is not the sign of affection, though, but the sign of betrayal: “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard” (14:44). Why does he do it? To get to the heart of Judas’ betrayal is impossible. Whether he thinks he is protecting Jesus or the people, whether he has lost faith in Jesus or his mission, whether he desires money or fame, Mark gives us no clues. Judas plays his part and his inner life remains a mystery to us. It is his actions that tell us all that Mark wants us to know. After he kisses Jesus, he becomes lost in the crowd. It is the crowd, “they,” who now act, “seizing him” and arresting Jesus (14:46).

Jesus’ apostles and disciples, who have been extras in the scene, jump to the fore, but Mark leaves them as extras, nameless. This anonymity is maintained when “one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear” (14:47). His name is not given.[1] Jesus does not remonstrate with his own disciple in Mark’s Gospel, but chastises the Temple authorities for bringing a mob with clubs and swords. Jesus asks, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit?” (14:48). The final word, lêstês, “bandit, robber, brigand,” is important. In denying that he is a lêstês, he is not just denying that he is a common criminal, which should be obvious to all, but that he is not a revolutionary. His goal is not an overthrow of the Temple or the Roman occupation, but of the oppressive structures that bedevil all human life: sin and death.

He tells them that “day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me,” which indicates, I think, only that Jesus was teaching publicly for the previous few days not that he was present constantly for a long period in the Temple (14:49).[2] It does raise the question, however, of why the Temple authorities needed Judas to identify Jesus. Since there were run-ins with Jesus on the Temple Mount, basically from the time Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, would they not have known what he looked like? It is probable, even likely, that they knew Jesus by sight, but I think Judas’ main task was to tell the authorities where Jesus was in order to arrest him quietly and only secondarily to identify him for them. It would not have been unhelpful, though, to get a secure identification.

As for Jesus, he is calm in the midst of his betrayal, the commotion and the arrest, and for this there is an obvious reason: it is the purpose and the goal for his life as Mark has told us throughout the narrative. More recently, he has prophesied what is to take place, in Act 5, Scene 1 and Act 6, Scene 4, prophecies which have come to pass. Jesus knows what is happening before it happens and it is not his will, but God’s will, as we saw in Act 6, Scene 5. So Jesus can say in response to his arrest: “let the scriptures be fulfilled” (14:49). At the moment that Jesus expresses that what is happening is simply the fulfillment of his destiny, yet another prophecy is fulfilled, the one made in Act 6, Scene 5 that all of his disciples would desert him. Mark, again, is the master of droll understatement in describing the disciples’ behavior. What happened? “All of them deserted him and fled” (14:50). The image of his disciples, so near and so dear to Jesus, turning tail and running is encapsulated by the simple statement of the fulfillment of the prophecy: yeah, Mark says, they did it. They ran.

The final description in this scene of “a certain young man (neaniskos)” who was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth” (14:51) has led to a lot of speculation of his identity. Mark gives us no clues. To connect him to the young man (neaniskos) in 16:5 seems a stretch, both in terms of their function and how they are dressed (stolê in 16:5; sindōn in 14:51). I think he is an image of the collective disciples, who follow but run when confronted. It might also serve double duty as a fulfillment of another prophecy, that of Amos 2, in which God explains what is to come due to the poor treatment of the prophets and God’s word :

11 And I raised up some of your children to be prophets and some of your youths to be nazirites. Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel? says the Lord. 12 But you made the nazirites drink wine, and commanded the prophets, saying, "You shall not prophesy." 13 So, I will press you down in your place, just as a cart presses down when it is full of sheaves. 14 Flight shall perish from the swift, and the strong shall not retain their strength, nor shall the mighty save their lives; 15 those who handle the bow shall not stand, and those who are swift of foot shall not save themselves, nor shall those who ride horses save their lives; 16 and those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day, says the Lord.

 The Temple authorities actually “caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked” (14:51-52). He ran off, that is, like all of the other bold disciples, revealed as naked in the face of the harsh truth of Jesus’ arrest. He deserts Jesus to face his fate alone. Like the others, he flees not as a betrayer, but naked in the harsh light of his fears, shorn of faith.


John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @BibleJunkies



[1] He is named as Peter, of course, in John 18:10 and the slave is Malchus; Luke 22:50-51 leaves both unnamed as does Matthew 26:51, but Luke has Jesus heal the slave’s ear.
[2] Some scholars believe the "day after day" as at odds with Mark’s chronology. I think it is simply a figure of speech to indicate the public ministry and activity of Jesus at the Temple in the previous few days.