Q. When Jesus was about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, those who came to arrest Him asked Him a question. His response caused them to fall to the ground (John 18:6). Why?
A. The soldiers who came to arrest Our Lord in the garden asked for Jesus of Nazareth to identify Himself. He replied, “I am.” Some Bible versions translate the Greek words here as “I am He,” as if to complete the sense of the statement. But His response is literally “I am,” and those words hold great significance.
Many centuries before, when Moses had encountered God at the burning bush, he had asked God to reveal His name. God replied that His name is “I am,” the One who is eternal, infinite, and self-existing (see Exodus 3:13–14). Jesus claimed this name as His own on several occasions (John 8:24, 58; 13:19; 18:15), implying that He was God incarnate. That claim was clear to His Jewish adversaries; on one occasion when He referred the name to Himself, they tried to stone Him for blasphemy (John 8:59).
This time, Our Lord’s words apparently wielded extraordinary power. As St. Augustine observed: “I am, He says, and throws the wicked to the ground” (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 112.3).
Even so, immediately afterward, Jesus’ enemies were able to stand up again, bind Him, and take Him away to His trial and execution. Why? St. Augustine concluded in the same commentary that Jesus demonstrated His divine power to prevent His own arrest momentarily, because His enemies needed to know (as do we) that He was giving Himself up willingly. “I lay down my life, that I may take it again,” Our Lord had earlier declared. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again” (John 10:17–18).