Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” -John 18:10-11
The name Malchus is forever preserved in Scripture as the only man injured during Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. One of Jesus’ Apostles, Judas Iscariot, had earlier decided to betray Jesus. He did so for thirty pieces of silver. He knew the place, the garden, where Jesus would be with his disciples, and he led a large detachment of Roman soldiers and Temple officers to Jesus late at night, betraying his identity with a friendly kiss. As Jesus was being arrested, one of the Apostles, Peter, drew his sword and savagely attacked an unarmed, unprotected servant of the High Priest. That servant was Malchus.
The story is recorded in all four Gospels (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 18), though in slightly different detail. For instance, only John mentions the name of the man injured. Only Luke includes the summary fact that Jesus reached out and healed Malchus’ butchered ear. This, by the way, was Jesus’ final miracle before his crucifixion. All four Gospels describe Malchus as a servant of the high priest. He was not a soldier. He was not armed. He was not wearing a helmet or armor, because if he had been so equipped, his ear would have been protected. Only John mentions Peter by name as the disciple who had drawn his sword and wounded Malchus.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s violent action is important. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” -Matthew 26:52-54
Jesus was fully in charge of the entire scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas was not in charge. The high priest was not in charge. The Roman soldiers, nor their captain, were in charge. Jesus alone held the power to control, heal, or destroy all those present. He neither needed nor wanted Peter’s help.
The “detachment” of soldiers accompanying Judas were likely the battalion garrisoned at the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem. The officers who were also accompanying Judas were the Temple Police. Together they may have numbered more than 600. The Greek word in the text refers to a Roman Cohort, which numbered six hundred. Regardless, Jesus reminds all present that if he wanted help, even against a Roman Cohort, he could ask his Father and the Father would send twelve legions of angels to defend him. A Roman Legion numbered 6,000 soldiers. 6,000 x 12 = 72,000 angels. We are reminded that Isaiah (37:36) records that one angel of the Lord exterminated 185,000 enemy Assyrian soldiers. Imagine the destruction 12 Legions of angels are capable of.
But the real point is that Jesus wanted to drink the cup His Father had given him. He was ready to go to the cross and there defeat not the Romans, nor any other human enemy, but the devil himself.
Remember this story also as a final testimony to the mercy and grace of Jesus. In his hour of arrest, facing trial and condemnation to death, Jesus was not focused on his own welfare or comfort. Instead, he took mercy on a wounded servant- one belonging to the High Priest who would orchestrate Jesus’ death!
Amazing grace! Jesus, who held in his hand all power, used his power only to control and direct the events of the Garden of Gethsemane. He refrained from using his extreme power, and he chastised him who did draw the sword, in order that he might be arrested, tried, condemned, and crucified for us. Like the wounded Malchus, whom Jesus healed from the awful wound delivered by Peter, we too receive the healing we need from our Lord. His love for sinful man always stands out as the defining character of our Savior.
Lord, may the servant Malchus remind us of our Lord’s reaction even to his enemies, that we also might reach out with healing and love rather than with revenge and violence. Jesus possessed the power, the right, and the authority to defend himself with twelve legions of angels, but he chose instead suffering at the hands of his enemies. Help us to set aside our powers and rights in order to serve and help others, even at the expense of personal suffering and deprivation. May we share in Christ’s sufferings even as we hope to share in His glory. Amen.