Calvary Road Baptist Church


John 18.6 

It is nighttime in Jerusalem. In less than twelve hours, the Lord Jesus Christ will be hanging on a cross atop Mount Calvary between two thieves. At the time of our text, the Lord Jesus Christ has wrapped up a season of fervent prayer to the Father and rejoined His remaining faithful apostles within the chilly confines of the Garden of Gethsemane, part way up the slope of the Mount of Olives, and across the valley from the Temple mount.

Many hundreds of Roman soldiers, perhaps dozens of Jewish Temple guards, and several Jewish civilians are gathering at the edge of the garden, having ascended the steep footpath leading from the brook Cedron that separates the Temple mount from the Mount of Olives. They have come to seize the Lord Jesus Christ, with Judas Iscariot providing the Lord’s likely location and standing by to identify Him to His captors.

We have previously considered John 18.4-5, wherein is recorded the Lord going forth to confront the arriving armed men and saying unto them, “Whom seek ye?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The Lord then said to them, “I am.” We now come to the text for this message, John 18.6, which reads, 

“As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” 

If the orientation of verse four records the narrative from the Lord’s perspective, verse five begins to shift the perspective of the narrative to the armed men coming for Him, with verse six completing the reorientation and providing the narrative from their side of the situation. Their reaction shows the readers the Lord’s command of the encounter, despite their vast numerical superiority.

Allow me to interject a portion of my personal testimony at this point. This verse was central to my progress as a very young Christian and my disassociation from the Charismatic and Pentecostal communities I was then exposed to.

During the second quarter of 1974, I was a babe in Christ surrounded by a sea of unbelieving spacecraft scientists and design engineers. Those few people with whom I interacted at Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo who professed to be Christians were, for the most part, of the Pentecostal and Charismatic persuasions. They were both excited and encouraging when I testified to them that I had trusted Christ as my Savior.

They were very welcoming to me and involved me in every aspect of their lives. They invited me to their Bible studies. They invited me to participate in their evangelistic projects in other countries. They also invited me to divine healing services again and again and again. But they never invited me to Church. For months after my conversion to Christ, no one invited me to Church. Not that I missed not being invited to Church since I didn’t know any better.

I was most frequently invited to the Shekinah Fellowship on Saturday nights in Long Beach, California, where a very interesting fellow named Brant Baker conducted a weekly service before a packed auditorium.[1] I was impressed by the big crowd, a large choir of very modestly dressed young women featured at each service, and a season of very slanted Bible lessons featuring Baker’s explanation of Bible verses related to him seeing visions and receiving prophecies.

As an aside, I am given to understand that Brant Baker mentored Greg Laurie, who presides over a vast congregation in Riverside and conducts the Harvest Crusade every year in Anaheim Stadium. Although he has led his congregation to join the Southern Baptist Convention, he and the congregation he leads are prime examples of the Charismatic movement.

Each of the Shekinah Fellowship Saturday night services conducted a half century ago concluded with people seeking their healing encouraged to move to the front of the auditorium to be queried by two or three different people, who would select from those who went forward the few who were allowed onto the platform to be “healed” by Brant Baker. And it was always the same, without variation of any kind.

Baker would ask a question or two about the person’s religious background, another question or two about the physical ailment that needed healing, and he would put his fingertips on the face of the individual, say a couple of words, pronounce the person healed, and then push the person back. That person was then expected to fall back to be caught by someone who was always standing immediately behind him or her. The person who fell back would then stand up to be escorted off the platform. But it was always the same. Fingertips on the forehead. A bit of a push. And then the falling back to be caught by the well-placed attendant.

As my new life in Christ proceeded, in my personal Bible reading, I came to John 18.6 and noticed something. I observed that it was those who came to arrest the Savior who fell backward in the Bible, while those who were His worshipers always fell on their faces before Him in other parts of the New Testament. This was a revelation to me, so I confirmed my suspicion with further study.

Throughout the Bible, I located only two times when men fell backward. The first time was when the wicked Jewish high priest, Eli, heard the Ark of the Covenant was taken in battle by the Philistines, First Samuel 4.18. The only other time I found it was on this occasion in the Garden of Gethsemane. When His people are overwhelmed in a good way by God’s majesty and glory, they fall forward on their faces, not backward, twenty times in God’s Word by my count.[2]

Thus, the worldwide practice of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements to simulate miraculous healings has been to pretend to be slain in the Spirit, to pretend to be overcome by the Spirit, and they do this by imitating the reactions of wicked men who came to take Christ into custody before His crucifixion. Why would worldwide movements emulate Christ’s enemies in this way? A valid question.

That was the first of an avalanche of Bible truths I learned as a new Christian that made my participation in the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements impossible. Why did those men fall backward? Were they surprised that the man they sought was unafraid? Were they as impressed by His manner of speech as others had been? Remember when “The officers answered, Never man spake like this man,” in John 7.46? Is that the explanation? Or is there something more?

I know that Christ’s enemies fell backward while those who adored Him fell on their faces before Him. Perhaps the soldiers and guards who fell backward were overwhelmed by the glory and majesty of the Savior. Maybe they were astonished by His unexpected confidence and stumbled down the incline of the footpath. Who knows for sure?

Whatever the reason, I know this: Twice in God’s Word, evil men have fallen backward when confronted by the majesty and might of God or God’s Son. But when the same majesty and might confront God’s friends, allies, and children, they fall on their faces in worshipful adoration.

Add to that the many other intolerable practices of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, along with their awful misunderstanding of everything from the doctrine of God, their doctrine of the Bible, their confusion about spiritual gifts, and their Arminian heresy of thinking someone can lose his or her salvation. It is easy to understand why the knowledgeable Bible student cannot abide such an approach to the Christian faith.

Back to our text, John 18.6: 

“As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.” 

At first glance, this verse appears straightforward and without complex implications. But such wrong conclusions are typical of those whose information is gathered chiefly with their five senses and without consideration of the spiritual realm.

When spiritual considerations are factored in, things are recognized by the spiritually-minded to be very different than they otherwise seem to be. Follow along as I set before you five considerations: 


Before we consider anything else, let us reflect on who comprises our company of who. We know there were many hundreds of Roman soldiers since the phrase “a band of men” in John 18.3 translates speῖra, referring to a Roman cohort numbering between five and six hundred men and officers.[3] The phrase “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees,” also in John 18.3, refers to one or two dozen Temple guards. Then, of course, there was Judas Iscariot, Malchus (whose ear was cut off by Simon Peter), and possibly Malchus’ relative, John 18.10 and 26. This is the company of men who arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane determined to take Jesus of Nazareth into custody. How many of them had any idea of who Jesus of Nazareth was is an open question, at least among the Romans.

Even if most of their number did not know what they were doing that night, other than participating in the arrest of some Jewish man, they would all soon know. Judas Iscariot knew what they were doing. Malchus knew what they were doing, as did his relative who might have been in the garden with them, though we know he was at Caiaphas’ residence later. It is also likely the Temple guards knew ahead of time what they were there to do. They had certainly heard the Lord Jesus Christ referred to by their officers and the chief priests they answered during their tours of duty in the Temple. But even the mostly out of touch with Jewish culture and current events Roman soldiers would discover what they were about when the Savior’s question was answered. He asked, “Whom seek ye.” They, and we do not know specifically who “they” were that voiced the answer, said “Jesus of Nazareth.”

With that answer, the question is settled in their minds. Whatever their ignorances were as they proceeded from the Antonia Fortress to the Garden of Gethsemane, there can be no doubt that one and all heard the Lord’s question and their answer. This means the field of play has just been leveled. Whatever some of them knew and the others did not know, now they all knew they were there to seize “Jesus of Nazareth.” The question, of course, is Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Jesus of Nazareth is a man. They were there to seize a man, just a man, an ordinary man. Or so they thought. 


Have you ever contemplated the irony of it? They went looking for a man, just a man. But they found the God-Man. They might have imagined their overwhelming force in numbers would come upon and frighten a local peasant. Still, they found themselves face to face with someone who did not run, did not hide, did not attempt to evade capture, and most obviously was not afraid. They were looking for “Jesus of Nazareth,” but the One who approached them, who challenged them, who questioned them, corrected their incomplete response to His question, “Whom seek ye?” Were they accurate in supposing they were dispatched to apprehend Jesus of Nazareth? Yes ... partly. So, you see, their answer to the question of who they were seeking was only partly correct, only partly accurate, since they were only partly informed.

It was, therefore, only reasonable, rational, responsible, and right for the Lord Jesus Christ to correct their error, their partial truth, their inadequate information. His answer to the question, “Whom seek ye?” was, “I am,” ἐgώ eἰmi. Would the Romans grasp the implications of our Lord’s answer to their question, His correcting of their ignorance? How could they, being Gentiles and having no exposure to the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures? But the Temple guards, being Jewish, would understand. As would Malchus, Malchus’ relative, and Judas Iscariot (unless he was utterly blinded to the truth by Satan’s indwelling presence), they also were Jewish.

What would the Jewish men comprehend? They would grasp the significance of Moses’ experience in the Midian desert recorded in Exodus chapter three. Somewhere near the mountain of God, Moses was tending his flock in the backside of the desert when he saw something that defied explanation. It was a bush that was on fire without being consumed by the fire. And the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob spoke to Him from that burning bush. During the conversation, the LORD identified Himself to Moses in Exodus 3.14: 

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” 

When Moses investigated a bush that burned with fire without being consumed, he was drawn to an encounter with Almighty God, Who identified Himself to Moses as the great I AM. When those soldiers, guards, and some few civilians arrived at the Garden of Gethsemane that night in search of Jesus of Nazareth, Who they found was the eternal Son of the living God, Who identified Himself to them as He had fifteen centuries earlier identified Himself to Moses, the I AM.

Was He Jesus of Nazareth? Yes, but so much more. They looked for a man, and they found a man. But they found much more than merely a man. They found the God-Man, God clothed in humanity, prefigured by the burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. God, in all His glory, had become a man. 


Was their reaction the result of a miracle, or were they merely surprised? I don’t know the answer to that question, and I am not persuaded the answer is important. If the reason why they went backward and fell to the ground was of any importance, I do not doubt that we would be told. But we are not told. So the fact that they went backward and fell to the ground is significant, with the reason being insignificant.

What is important is the picture in the mind of the reader and the pattern that is found in the Bible. There is no way the soldiers and guards avoid embarrassment. They looked clumsy. They appeared awkward and unimposing. They were cartoonish. It was slapstick comedy. For all the seriousness and imperiousness armed and uniformed men throughout history have sought to display, those men were buffoons. They were undoubtedly men who strived for grandeur, but before the Son of God, grandeur was denied them, replaced with clownish bumbling. This mental image of the soldiers and guards falling over themselves had a purpose, to fix the event in the minds of the readers of the Gospel. Why so? So we would be driven to comparisons. God’s people fall on their faces in a posture of worship, adoration, and praise. These men fall backward like the fat old reprobate high priest, Eli. Fix that in your mind. 


It is interesting that we are provided with no description of those men recovering after their fall. Their recovery was both physical and psychological, don’t you know? Of course, when you are armed, shielded, helmeted, properly shod, and appropriately breast plated, you cannot just lay there on the ground. But getting up might not have been easy on a slope made slippery by the dew of a rapidly falling temperature, especially when wearing the thick-soled leather sandals typically worn by Roman soldiers. They might have looked even more ridiculous trying to regain their footing than would first be imagined. But that is not the only recovery that is important. They also had to recover psychologically. After all, they looked goofy and awkward by their stumbling and fumbling. And for men concerned about how they looked, embarrassment might have figured more prominently to them than we estimate.

Do you see yourself falling and looking ridiculous without leaving an impression on you? Do you wonder if it might not have been those same Roman soldiers who fell and looked goofy in the garden who were then given custody of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Antonia Fortress not so many hours later? Would the sting of their embarrassment be remembered? Would theirs have been good memories of that event? Or would they have looked forward to getting even with the one they decided was responsible for their embarrassing experience?

Might we reasonably suppose the Roman soldiers, known for their brutality and cruelty, did not recover so well psychologically but carried a grudge that they took out on the Savior only a few hours later, as the One they blamed for their comedy of errors?

As for the others, the Jewish guards and the civilians, I would not hazard even a guess. 


De 32:36    

For the LORD shall judge his people. 

1Sa 2:10    

The LORD shall judge the ends of the earth. 

Ps 7:8         

The LORD shall judge the people. 

Ps 7:11       

God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. 

Ps 9:8         

And he shall judge the world in righteousness. 

Ps 26:1       

Judge me, O LORD. 

Ps 35:24    

Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness. 

Ps 43:1       

Judge me, O God. 

Ps 50:4       

He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. 

Ps 75:7       

But God is the judge. 

Ps 82:8       

Arise, O God, judge the earth. 

Ps 96:13    

Before the LORD: for he cometh, for he cometh to judge the earth: he shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth. 

Ec 3:17       

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked. 

Isa 2:4        

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people. 

Isa 3:13      

The LORD standeth up to plead, and standeth to judge the people. 

Isa 33:22    

For the LORD is our judge. 

Ac 10:42    

And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. 

Ro 2:16      

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my Gospel. 

2Ti 4:1        

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom. 

Heb 10:30  

For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 

Heb 12:23  

To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 

Heb 13:4    

Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. 

The Scripture I have read establishes that you, I, and everyone will be judged. That is a fact.

I will state but not, at this time, prove to you that if you repent of your sins and trust Christ as your savior, you have already been judged concerning your sin, your sins, and the eternal salvation of your undying soul. Your judgment occurred when Jesus Christ suffered on your behalf on the cross of Calvary.

Die without Christ and you will be judged not less than 1007 years from now, when you are taken from Hell to stand before the Great White Throne, to give an account of your sinfulness before you are cast into the lake of fire, where you will suffer torment throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity, Revelation 20.11-15.

When were the Roman soldiers, the Jewish Temple guards, and the civilians judged? Judas Iscariot and the others who died unconverted have not yet been judged. Their judgment will take place in the future, at the Great White Throne. But some of those who were there that night turned from their sins and trusted Christ. Perhaps some of them who were in the company of the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane were among those who crucified the Son of God and said, “Truly this was the Son of God,” Matthew 27.54. I would like to think some of them were converted to Christ. If so, their judgment took place there and then, as the Savior they embraced suffered on their behalf. 

We will be judged.

You will be judged.

I will be judged.

And God and His Son, Jesus, will do the judging.

If you trust Christ as your savior, your judgment will have already taken place on the cross 2000 years ago, when Jesus died for your sins.

If you do not trust Christ as your savior, judgment will take place no less than 1007 from now, after which you will begin your eternal punishment in the lake of fire.

Thus, judgment is certain. But which judgment? And when? That will be the direct consequence of your response to the Gospel. Will you come to Christ now?


[1] Two links, the first to a video of a typical Shekinah Fellowship service conducted by Brant Baker and the second to a favorable biographical sketch of Brant Baker

[2] Leviticus 9.24; Numbers 16.22, 45; 20.6; Judges 13.20; 1 Chronicles 21.16; 2 Chronicles 7.3; Nehemiah 8.6; Ezekiel 1.28; 44.4; Daniel 2.46; Matthew 17.6; Acts 9.4; 22.7; 26.14; Revelation 1.17; 7.11; 11.16; 19.10; 22.8

[3] Andreas J. Köstenberger, John - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), page 505.

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