Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:10-11).
You’ve got to say this about Peter: he was impulsively consistent. Or it may be more appropriate to say he was consistently impulsive. Though he may have exhibited a misguided passion, it was still a passion. Peter was never ambivalent.
Throughout the four gospel accounts of Simon Peter, we witness a man who often acted, or reacted, first and then thought second. This was particularly true when Jesus spoke of His own death, burial, and resurrection and Peter reacted respectively with impulsive presumption and self-exalting bravado (Matthew 16:21-23; John 13:36-38).
As the confrontation between with Jesus and His enemies is joined in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter takes matters into his own hands, literally, and strikes out at the high priest’s servant. The text tells us the servant’s name was Malchus.
The sword (μάχαιραν; machaira) Peter possessed was actually more of a dagger. It was commonly used for shaving, or by tanners and gardeners. Peter pre-meditatively drew it and struck Malchus. This blow resulted in Malchus’ ear being cut off. It is perhaps correct to conclude that Peter may have been aiming more for Malchus’ head then just his ear. We do not know any more about Malchus. However, we do know that Jesus healed him from his wound (Luke 22:50-51).
One commentator explains that, “Peter’s action was an act of misguided zeal. No matter how well armed the disciples were—and likely all they had were some daggers like Peter’s—they were vastly outnumbered. From any reasonable military estimate, the disciples could not have prevailed in offering resistance to the detachment of Roman soldiers sent to arrest our Lord. This may indicate that Peter believed the disciples would receive supernatural assistance because they were defending the One whom he confessed as God’s appointed Messiah (Matt. 16:15–16).”
Regardless of Peter’s motivation in doing what he did, Jesus rebuked him and told him to put away, or sheath, his dagger. The reason Jesus gives is because He knows He must fulfill the Father’s will be willingly submitting to the cup of wrath for the salvation of sinners.
Ironically, by his actions Peter sought to prevent Jesus from accomplishing what would prove to be the most extraordinary blessing Jesus could ever give Peter: salvation from the penalty, power and eventual presence of sin.
Even believers in Christ today must be on their guard from misguided zeal and impulsiveness. We may think we are doing God’s work God’s way but we may be acting with impulsive and misguided zeal thereby failing to do God’s will, God’s way.
John Calvin writes, “Those who have resolved to plead the cause of Christ do not always conduct themselves so skillfully as not to commit some fault; and, therefore, we ought the more earnestly to entreat the Lord to guide us in every action by the spirit of prudence.”
Calvin goes on to say that, “We must attend to the reason, which is, that private individual was not permitted to rise in opposition to those who had been invested with public authority; for this may be inferred from the other three Evangelists, who relate Christ’s general declaration, “He who strikes with the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Calvin concludes, “We must also beware of repelling our enemies by force or violence, even when they unjustly provoke us, except so far as the institutions and laws of the community admit. For whoever goes beyond the limits of his calling, though he should gain the applause of the whole world, will never obtain for his conduct the approbation of God.”
Let us be careful of misguided and impulsive zeal which does not serve the gospel but rather our own appetites and desires.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!