Today's verses are Mark 14:43,44: "And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.'" The time for betrayal had arrived. It was now around midnight. Jesus had to be arrested in the dark, in the middle of the night, so the crowds who followed him would not swell to defend him.
While Jesus was still speaking to Peter, James and John about the need to watch and pray, Judas arrives. Mark emphasizes Judas horrific treachery by calling him one of "the twelve." By using this term, he is showing that Judas was at one time one of Jesus' closest friends. A friend was now betraying a friend.
Accompanying Judas is a "great crowd." It is a strange entourage of people. A detachment of Roman soldiers assigned by Pilate to the temple to guard security accompanied Judas. They all carried swords. There was the Levitical temple police, appointed by the Jews, to maintain order, especially during times of public worship. There was also the chief priests and elders from the Sanhedrin, the group assigned to oversee the correct implementation of Jewish law. The chief priests and elders evidently carried "clubs."
I've often wondered which caused Jewish heart to hurt the most: the betrayal by Judas or the treachery of the Jewish officials? I've wondered if the later was more painful, simply because these educated, religious people should have known better. They had the law and prophets. They knew the Scripture. Supposedly, the sought regularly the heart of God. Plus, they were assigned to safeguard the hearts of the people. Yet they were the leaders of the decision to have him crucified.
Note too that everyone is heavily armed. Even the spiritual leaders, the scribes and elders, carried clubs! They must have thought that Jesus' powers were a threat to the arrest. Therefore, they were convinced they needed arms to protect themselves. They were ready for a violent confrontation, if necessary.
Judas told his entourage that the one he kissed would be Jesus. Though it was very dark, they probably carried torches. Judas would be able easily to identify Jesus. He would greet him with the customary way for friends in that day (and today too in some parts of the world) to greet one another. An act of friendship was actually an act of betrayal! It would be the signal for Jesus' arrest and eventual death.
Before we are too harsh on Judas, we who say we follow Jesus and that he is our close friend need to ask if we've done the same thing as Judas. Have we sung, "What a friend in Jesus" while denying opportunities to witness for him? Have we prayed to our best friend in heaven while not caring for the hurts and needs of those around us, those for whom he died? Have we worshiped him passionately, calling him "Lord, Lord," while not doing the things that he commanded us to do?
If we're all honest, there is some betrayal in all our souls. There's a bit of Judas in us all.
May we all today have the courage to confront the Judas in our souls. May we all realize that our treacherous betrayal sent Jesus to the cross as much as Judas' betrayal did.
That's why we all, daily, need his never-ending grace, don't we?