Peter Swings for the Head — But Gets an Ear!

Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it,and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
— John 18:10

When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword? And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear.
— Luke 22:49,50

Can you think of a time when you became so impatient while waiting on the Lord that you decided to take matters into your own hands to get things moving a little faster? When you later realized that you had made a big mess of things, were you regretful that you didn’t wait a little longer before taking action?

At one time or another, all of us have been guilty of acting rashly and thoughtlessly. For example, just think of how many times you’ve said something you later regretted! Oh, how you wished you could have retracted those words, but it was too late! Or perhaps you’ve been guilty of acting spontaneously on an issue before you had enough time to really think things through.

Or have you ever gotten so angry at someone that you popped off and vocalized your dissent before the other person was finished talking? When you later realized that the person wasn’t saying what you thought, did you feel like a fool for popping off too quickly? Did you have to apologize for making a rash statement, all the while wishing you had just kept your mouth shut a few minutes longer?

Hotheaded moments rarely produce good fruit. In fact, when we act rashly, we usually end up loathing the stupidity of our words and actions. The truth is, we all need a good dose of patience — a fruit that is produced inside us by the Spirit of God. We desperately need patience in our lives!

Perhaps no story better demonstrates the mess that impatience produces than that night in the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter seized a sword, swung it with all his might, and lopped off the ear of the high priest’s servant.

When Jesus spoke and identified Himself as the great “I AM,” the soldiers and temple police were knocked to the ground — their eyes dazed, their heads whirling and spinning, and their bodies stunned by the power of God. The power that was released hit them so hard and so fast that they were on their backs before they knew what hit them!

While these soldiers were still flat on their backs, Peter suddenly decided to take matters into his own hands. He must have seen it as his great chance to show himself brave and to take advantage of the moment, but what he did was simply shocking! It is the perfect picture of someone acting before thinking things all the way through.

Peter’s spontaneous, hasty behavior earned him a place in history that no one has ever forgotten. However, to see the full picture of what happened that night, it is essential to piece the story together from both Luke and John’s Gospel, for each Gospel writer tells a different part of the story.

While the soldiers and temple police were lying horizontal on their backs, Peter looked around and realized that the armed men were disabled. So he reached down and took a sword, and with sword in hand, he gleefully asked, “…Lord, shall we smite with the sword?” (Luke 22:49).

Before Jesus had an opportunity to answer, Peter swung into action and did something outrageous and utterly bizarre! He gripped the sword and impulsively swung down, slicing right past the head of the high priest’s servant. Imagine how shocked Jesus must have been to see Peter lop this poor man’s ear right off and then to watch the severed ear fall into the dirt on the ground! John 18:10 tells us that Peter “…smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear….”

Let’s look at these words to see exactly what happened in that impulsive moment when Peter swung this sword. The word “smote” is the Greek word epaio, from the word paio, and it means to strike, as a person who viciously strikes someone with a dangerous tool, weapon, or instrument. It can also be translated to sting, like a scorpion that strongly injects its stinger into a victim. In addition, it means to beat with the fist. In this verse, the word is used to picture the force of Peter’s swinging action. This tells us that Peter put all his strength into the swinging of his borrowed sword, fully intending to cause some kind of bodily impairment.

Do you think Peter was aiming for the servant’s ear? Why would anyone attack an ear? Furthermore, it wouldn’t take this much force to cut off an ear. No, I believe Peter was aiming for the man’s head and missed, swiping the man’s ear by mistake. When that sword missed its target, it slipped down the side of the servant’s head and took his ear with it.

When John 18:10 says Peter “cut off” his right ear, the words “cut off” are from the Greek word apokopto, which is a compound of the words apo and kopto. The word apo means away, and the word kopto means to cut downward. Put together, it describes a downward swing that cuts something off. In this case, Peter swung downward so hard that he completely removed the ear of the servant of the high priest. Some try to insinuate that Peter merely nipped this man’s ear, but the Greek shows that the swing of Peter’s sword caused its complete removal. The Greek word for “ear” is otarion, and it refers to the entire outer ear. The Bible is so detailed about the events that occurred that night, it even tells us it was the servant’s right ear. The servant of the high priest lost his entire right ear when Peter swung in his direction!

John 18:10 tells us the servant’s name was Malchus. Who was this Malchus? Did Peter indiscriminately select Malchus as his target that night? Was there a particular reason Peter chose this man as the focus of his wrath?

The name Malchus has two meanings: ruler and counselor. We do not know that this was his original name; it may have been a name given to him because of his close position to the high priest, who at that time was a man named Caiaphas. Caiaphas was a member of the Sadducees, a sect that was particularly opposed to the reality of supernatural happenings, viewing most supernatural events of the Old Testament as myths and legends. This is one reason Caiaphas was so antagonistic to the ministry of Jesus, which, of course, was overflowing with miraculous events every day.

When Peter saw Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane, it no doubt brought back memories of the many times he had seen Malchus standing at the side of the high priest. Although this man is referred to as the servant of the high priest, he in fact was the high priest’s personal assistant. This was a very prominent position in the religious order of the priesthood. As a high-ranking officer of the religious court, Malchus was regally dressed and carried himself with pride and dignity. To Peter’s eye, he probably represented everything that belonged to the realm of the priesthood, an order of religious men that had instigated numerous problems for Jesus and the disciples.

Because Malchus was present at the time of Jesus’ arrest, we may conclude that he was sent as the personal representative of the high priest to officially oversee the activities connected with Jesus’ arrest. Few scholars believe that Peter singled him out by chance. Although the following thought can’t be said with absolute certainty, Malchus may have become the intended target because of Peter’s deep resentment and long-held grudge toward the high priest and his entourage, all of whom had been continually critical of Jesus’ ministry.

I must point out that the healing of Malchus’ ear was the last miracle Jesus performed during His earthly ministry. What a statement this makes to us about Jesus! Just before He goes to the Cross, He reaches out to help a publicly declared and avowed foe! This man was part of a group that had been menacing and antagonistic toward Jesus. But Jesus didn’t say, “Finally, one of you guys got what you deserve!” Instead, He reached out to the man in his need, touched him, and supernaturally healed him. Keep in mind that the high priest, a Sadducee, was vehemently opposed to Jesus’ supernatural ministry. Yet it was the high priest’s own servant who received a supernatural touch from Jesus!

What a contrast Jesus’ actions were to Peter’s behavior! More than likely, Peter acted out of a long-held offense, but Jesus demonstrated love and genuine care even to those who opposed Him during His life and who were instrumental in leading Him to His crucifixion.

So don’t follow Peter’s example; instead, pray for the grace to be like Jesus! Decide today to let the Holy Spirit empower you to reach out to your offenders and opponents and to love them the way Jesus would love them!

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My Prayer for Today

Lord, I ask You to help me be more like Jesus! Help me release the grudges and deeply-held resentments that I am tempted to carry toward people. Instead of rejoicing when they get in trouble or when something bad happens to them, help me to reach out to them, to see what I can do to help, and to become the hand of God in their lives. Forgive me that I haven’t already acted as Jesus would act, and help me learn how to put any negative emotions aside so I can reach out to them in the name of Jesus!

I pray this in Jesus’ name!

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My Confession for Today

I confess that I do not hold grudges, nor do I allow deep-seated resentments to reside in my heart, mind, and emotions. I have the mind of Christ, and I think just like Jesus thinks. What Jesus does is what I do. What Jesus says is what I say. How Jesus behaves is how I behave. Because the Holy Spirit is working to produce the life of Jesus Christ in me, I can be the extended hand of Jesus to everyone around me, including those who have been opposed to me.

I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!

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Questions to Answer

1. Can you think of five times in your life when you acted rashly and later regretted that action in your life?

2. What did you learn from these incidents, and how might you respond differently the next time?

3. When you find yourself reacting with impatience, do you ask the Holy Spirit to help you become more patient? If you haven’t done this recently, why don’t you stop what you’re doing right now and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in this area of your life today?