The Forgotten Holy Thursday Miracle

The Thursday evening before Easter is observed by millions in remembrance of the Last Supper of Jesus and His tragic betrayal and arrest. However, the great miracle He performed that fateful night is largely forgotten and unknown. The Scriptures which foretold that no one would take His life from Him but that He would offer Himself willingly and that He would keep His Apostles safe, were fulfilled that night.  Christ performed His final great miracle before His crucifixion fulfilling prophecy and sending a very loud and clear message to the world. Modern Bible language revisions have unfortunately obscured this historic event.

The arrest of Christ is usually portrayed as being carried out by an angry mob of Jewish authorities and Temple guards.  That was clearly not the case. The fact of the matter is that the arrest of Christ was a massive Roman Legion military operation. Although a token number of Jewish authorities and Temple guards did accompany the Romans as observers and witnesses.

Four days earlier Jesus had been welcomed triumphantly into Jerusalem by crowds shouting “Hosanna” a word reserved in recognition of Divinity. Christ also rode in on a small donkey fulfilling the Old Testament Scripture that the Messiah would one day enter Jerusalem in such a manner. Christ’s prior three years of preaching and performing miracles and His recent raising of Lazarus from the dead had made His reputation very widely known. This situation understandably greatly alarmed the Temple High Priests. Jesus began His short lived ministry in the city, with the highlight being His violent attack on the Temple  moneychangers.  That attack resulted in the plot to end His life “and they sought to slay Him” (John 5:18). Two unsuccessful attempts were made to stone Christ to death for blasphemy. Both attempts miraculously failed. The High Priest then ordered the Temple guards to arrest Christ and bring Him before the Temple court. The Temple guards tried, but they were so inspired by Christ’s sermon that they just listened in awe and peacefully returned to the Temple without their prisoner. They reported to the High Priests that, “never has any man spoke such words as this Man”.  Enraged that the guards had apparently been bewitched, the High Priest cursed them crying, “has He seduced you also ” (John 7:47).

Having failed at their attempts to silence Jesus and now becoming more afraid of the ever increasing number of followers that Christ was attracting, they turned to the Romans for help.  “And they sought to lay hands upon Him but they feared the multitudes of the people”(Matt 21-46).

Governor Pontius Pilate had just arrived from the provincial capital of Caesaria, sixty miles from Jerusalem. Pilate would arrive with his Roman Legion of six thousand men every Passover to maintain order and put down any potential rebellion. Jerusalem’s population of one hundred thousand during Passover would swell to as many as two million. Rebellions were common at Passover, the great festival which commemorated Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Now it was the Romans who controlled the people of Israel and Pilate’s job was to keep an eye out for anyone who might stir up the people again. Troublemakers were routinely crucified to serve as warning to others who challenged Roman authority. Pilate’s Roman Legion reinforced the regular Roman garrison headquartered at Fortress Antonia. The massive Fortress was located and connected to the northwest corner of the Temple from which the Romans could observe all Temple courtyard activity.

Caiaphas, the Temple High Priest welcomed Pilate to Jerusalem. The two had a close working relationship as it was Pilate who had appointed Caiaphas to the position of High Priest. Caiaphas proceeded to inform the governor of Christ’s activities and charged that Christ was a threat to Rome as he had claimed to be a king, that Jesus had many disciples and followers who believed Him to be the prophesized Messiah, that Christ had violently attacked the money changers and that He had caused the people to question the payment of taxes to Caesar. Like everyone else in Judea, Pilate had heard the stories about Christ and His miraculous powers. Pilate also was well aware of the ancient prophecies that predicted a coming Messiah King who would once again bring freedom to the people of Israel. He recognized that a charismatic rebel leader with magical powers claiming to be the Messiah would be Rome’s worst nightmare. Pilate then authorized an army tribune to assemble the Legion’s top brigade and arrest Jesus and His followers.  This was the ideal arrangement for the Temple authorities as now they would be free of any blame by the people for the expected crucifixion of Christ. Christ was a revolutionary and therefore a Roman problem. And the Romans alone had the authority to crucify.  The High Priests expected that crucifying Christ would have the great additional benefit of discrediting Christ and His teachings, since there was a Scripture which stated that ”cursed by God is he who is a hung on a tree” (Deut 22-23).

The traitor Judas led the Romans to the hillside garden outside the walls of the city where Christ and the apostles had retired to after the Last Supper. It was after midnight.

The apostle John was the apostle who was closest to Christ, the only apostle who did not abandon Christ, the one who would follow Him to the cross with Mary and the one to whom Christ would entrust His mother. John wrote the most important description of what took place that night. The apostles wrote their gospels in Greek. John’s gospel records that Christ and the apostles were approached by a “chilliarchos” and a “spira”, meaning a military commander with one thousand men. Chilliarchos is a rank, similar to brigadier general, spira is a military unit which equals one tenth of a Roman Legion. When the Bible was later translated from Greek to Latin, the language maintained the accuracy of this description. With the Latin describing a “tribunus” commanding a “cohors” of soldiers. Modern revisions to the Bible in an effort to make the passages more understandable changed “tribune” to “captain” or commander and changed “cohort” to “band of men”. They also changed the Temple “servants” to “officials” and then to “officers”, leading to even more confusion, by making it appear that the Jewish authorities were involved in the arrest. The arrest, or more correctly, the attempted arrest was conducted by a Roman army tribune in command of one tenth of a Roman Legion. And these soldiers were the  “Cohors Prima”, the elite unit of the legion, a sort of green beret/navy seal type company especially trained to deal with the most critical missions. And capturing a Messiah rebel who could raise the dead was as critical as a mission could get. The Cohors Prima was also twice as large as the other army units. This army unit would have consisted of infantry, archers and a squad of cavalry as well as auxiliaries. Auxiliaries were non-Roman citizens of the regular Roman army. The total strength of this force  would have been eight to twelve hundred soldiers. So Pilate was dispatching the best fraction of the force that he had available that night to deal with Christ and the apostles and possibly an unknown number of followers who might have been camped out in the hills surrounding Jerusalem. The city was full to capacity and the area beyond the city walls was filled with thousands of Passover pilgrims.

The other gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke also describe the night time assault as coming from a “great multitude”. The only great multitude available at night with weapons was the Roman Legion. For Roman security reasons the population of Jerusalem was not permitted to have weapons, a sort of ancient “gun control”.  For self defense the people were limited to the use of long daggers. We also know that the Temple authorities were not involved in the arrest because it was forbidden by Jewish law to arrest anyone at night for a capital crime. And the whole point of the arrest was to capture individuals who were considered a threat to Roman rule.

On sighting this military might the apostles became fearful. Christ sought to calm and reassure them, and His words give us further confirmation of the identity and the number of opponents they were facing. Jesus said, “Do you not realize that I could ask My Father and He would send Me at once more than twelve Legions of Angels “ (Matt 26:53). Christ makes it clear that though they are face to face with an earthly Legion, that He is quite capable of easily outdoing them with His own Angelic Legions if He so desires.

After being kissed by Judas, Christ confronted the Roman tribune and Jesus asked him whom they were seeking. The tribune responded, “Jesus of Nazareth”.

With that, Christ answered with two words, “I Am”. (English Bible translations added the word ”he” after I am). Christ uses the same “I Am”, that God had revealed to Moses as the Divine Name of God. With those two words Christ revealed to those seeking to arrest Him of His true Divine identity. And at that instant, as recorded by the apostle John in his original Greek description, on hearing the words “I Am”, the tribune, and the entire ensemble of Roman soldiers in and surrounding the garden and hillside fell suddenly backwards and collapsed on the ground as though dead (John 18:6).

The greatest earthly confrontation in history, the confrontation between the power of Heaven and all the power that the earth could muster was over. With just two words, the battle between the Son of God and the greatest power in the world at that time, Caesar’s mighty Roman Legion, had ended with the powers of the world collapsing helplessly at Christ’s feet.

After a short while, Christ revived the fallen Legion and Jesus a second time said, “I asked you whom do you seek ?” Having regained their composure after having been stunned and made humble, the tribune responded again, “Jesus of Nazareth”.  Having made His Divine point, Jesus then offered Himself to them.  

Thus was the Scripture fulfilled, “No one takes My Life from Me, but I give It willingly” (John 10:18)

But Christ was not quite done yet. Jesus then instructed the Romans to let His apostles go free. The Romans miraculously complied with Christ’s command. These, the world’s most professional soldiers, who had been ordered by Pontius Pilate to capture Christ and obviously his entire band of rebels, let the apostles go free! This startling move fulfilled the words of the Scriptures. “While I was with them in the world I protected them and lost none” (John 17:12)