The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved: Part 1



     I don’t understand.

     That was the only coherent thought I could grasp amid the tumult swirling in my mind. Seized with foreboding intuition, I knew that this was going to be a night unlike any other.

     The stars glittered above the Kidron valley as Jesus led us out of the city to Gethsemane as He had done countless times before. Secluded from the chaos that defined Jerusalem at Passover time, the garden was usually a place of comforting tranquility, but this time it failed to soothe me.

     I shivered at the chilly April breeze rustling through the olive branches. Eyeing Jesus warily as we walked along, my mind wandered back to the evening’s Passover meal and His mysterious words.

     My children, I will be with you only a little while longer. You will look for Me, but where I go you cannot come.

     His penetrating gaze had swept the length of the table, stopping to linger on each of us in turn with solemn sadness and pity. His next words were even more disturbing.

     This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken. Satan will sift you like wheat.

     Cold, shadowy dread had seeped into me, settling into the pit of my stomach and permeating every fiber of my being. What was He talking about?

     To be sure, He had also told us not to let our hearts be troubled, that He would send an Advocate for us…but that was more bewildering than reassuring, doing little to mitigate my fear in view of a prospect as bleak as life without Jesus. I could live without air before I could live without Him. That’s why my brother James and I had abandoned the only life we had ever known, not hesitating to leave our father and our fishing boats behind to follow Jesus when He called us.

     In addition, His ominous predictions about Peter and Judas were too startling to ignore, at least for me. Though I wondered where the latter had gone after leaving the upper room and what he was doing, Jesus didn’t seem concerned at all. On the contrary, He seemed preoccupied with something else.

     After leaving the others behind near the entrance, Jesus brought Peter, James, and me deeper into the garden with Him. Just the three of us as He had done when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and went to pray on Mount Tabor. We walked for a short distance until He abruptly stopped. Leveling His gaze on each of us as if gauging our strength even in the dark, He said, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with Me.” Without waiting for a reply, He turned and left, disappearing into the darkness.

     “Keep watch for what?” James murmured. “What is He doing?”

     I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know. Let’s just do what He told us.” Sinking down at the base of a gnarled olive trunk, I sighed in resignation. “What choice do we have?”

     Peter growled deep in his throat. “But why? Why doesn’t the Lord tell us what’s happening?”

     “Instead of just expecting us to wait without any explanation?” James sat down beside me with a groan. “It’s so late…I’ve never seen Him act the way he did at supper, and I still don’t have the faintest idea what He was talking about.”

     I swallowed the lump in my throat, unable to answer. Trying to suppress my own frustration, I squeezed my eyes shut, once again pondering the Passover meal. I vividly recalled the sheer sorrow and distress in Jesus’ eyes. To me, that was more significant than even the farewell speech. Something sinister was drawing near; with all these worries nagging at the back of my mind, how could I simply sit idly and wait…

     The next thing I knew, someone was calling my name. My eyes flew open.

     Jesus was standing there again. “So you could not keep watch with Me for one hour?” His face was inscrutable in the darkness, but the disappointment permeating His voice was clear.

     “Watch and pray that you will not undergo the test,” He said. “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Before any of us could say a word, He was gone.

     “Has it really been an hour?” James whispered.

     “I don’t know,” I whispered back. “But we have to stay awake from now on. I don’t know what came over us.”

     We lapsed into silence. Then Peter voiced the question we were all thinking. “What kind of ‘test’ is He talking about?”

     James and I didn’t even try to answer.

     As the minutes ticked by, I tried to force my heavy eyelids to stay open. I felt like I was slipping into a state of numb inertia, lacking the will to move or speak even if I was capable of doing so…

     Before I knew it, it had happened again. At a jab in the ribs from my brother, I snapped awake once more. Jesus stood there, silently regarding us, before melting into the darkness once again. All my questions died unspoken.

     I shifted uncomfortably on a tree root, determined not to let it happen again. But it was so late. It had been an exhausting day, and I was so tired of worrying. If only I could escape for a little while…

     And a third time, I failed. I didn’t know how long I had been sleeping when I opened my eyes once again. In a voice laced with reproach, Jesus asked, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”

     Guilt and shame swept through me in a rush. I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice refused to cooperate.

     Jesus tilted his head towards the gate as if He was expecting someone. “It is enough,” He continued. “The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.”

     I frowned, wondering what He meant, then jumped at the sound of pounding footsteps and agitated voices. I whirled around, my eyes widening in shock at the sight of the approaching crowd. I turned back to Jesus, seeking an explanation.

     He heaved a deep sigh, wiping a weary hand across His forehead. When He spoke, however, His voice was strangely calm. “Get up; let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

     The solace of the garden was irrevocably shattered. The mob drew near, clubs and swords brandished, torches blazing. Leading them was Judas Iscariot.

     Even as I shrank back, reeling with mingled disgust and fear, Jesus stepped forward. “Whom are you looking for?”

     Voices shouted back, “Jesus the Nazarene!”

     “I AM. So if you are looking for Me, let these men go.”

     As Jesus spoke, Judas dared to come closer. “Rabbi,” he said, in a voice dripping mockery. With his face twisted into a sneer, he dared to kiss Jesus.

     “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Jesus studied him gravely in the flickering torchlight; I noticed with a start that his face was streaked with blood. He sighed again. “Friend, do what you have come for.”

     Hot fury burned in my veins. Why didn’t He send down fire from heaven and strike the traitor dead? “Lord, shall we strike with a sword?”I shouted, my voice overlapping my brother’s.

     Peter, however, didn’t waste time inquiring. Drawing his sword, he rushed to the nearest man and slashed wildly at his ear. I caught of glimpse of pouring blood while Jesus called, “Stop; no more of this!” Several men raised their weapons as He stepped forward, but He ignored them and simply touched the wounded man’s ear.

     Suddenly, it appeared to be intact. I blinked, wondering if I had imagined it.

     Turning to Peter, Jesus reprimanded him–not Judas but Peter. “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?”

     The cup. Hadn’t He mentioned that before?

     Jesus shifted His attention to the crowd. “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?” He asked. “Day after day I was with you in the temple area, and you did not seize Me, but this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness.”

     He said nothing more, not even when they bound His hands and led Him away. Like a lamb to slaughter.

     Dimly I heard James calling my name in panic. “John! We need to run before they arrest us, too. Come on!”Without waiting for a response, he fled.

     I couldn’t answer him. I couldn’t do anything but gape in horror, frozen with fear.

     Meanwhile, the torchlight receded into the distance across the valley towards the city walls and vanished. They had taken my Master.

     And I was utterly alone.


To Be Continued…

By Ellen Virginia