“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.) John 18:10
I often wonder about Malchus, the servant of Caiaphas whose ear was cut off in the Garden of Gethsemane. Naturally, I did some digging. Ironically, the name Malchus means “My king; kingdom; or counselor”. The Bible doesn’t say what he believed before the attack. It would seem that he lived his life according to the collective religious consensus into which he was born. Like many people today, he probably never questioned the assumptions that undergirded his worldview. One day he was simply performing his usual duties when a lunatic named Peter chopped off his ear. If that wasn’t crazy enough the zealot insurrectionist named Jesus whom he’d come to help arrest picked up his ear and stuck it back on his head.
That Jesus’ final miracle before he was crucified was to miraculously restore Malchus’s ability to hear strikes me as poignant if not prophetic.
The Bible says nothing about Malchus after Jesus was arrested. But extra-biblical historical texts indicate that he was converted and went to live in a monastery in Greece until the end of his life.
Smart like a Rock
It is uncertain whether or not Peter was a Zealot (Jewish nationalist). We do know that his initial hope was in a physical messiah that would fulfill the prophecy as they understood it. Peter thought Jesus would conquer Israel’s enemies once and for all, and then reign like King David. More than a few professing Christians are prone to similar errors today.
But His “Kingdom is not of this world…” John 18:36
Peter is fishing, when Jesus calls Him. He simply drops his net and follows. The Bible isn’t clear about what went through Peter’s mind when he followed Jesus. But his actions before the resurrection imply anything but a divine revelation of Jesus’s true identity and plan.
None of the disciples truly understood Jesus until after the resurrection.
Peter’s first encounter with the true identity of Jesus is found in Mat 8:14-17 when He heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Healing is a primary basis of faith for many today. I could be completely wrong but I imagine Jesus rolling His eyes a lot. His healings often seem like a concession rather than His primary point.
So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” John 4:48
While I am only listing scriptures where Peter is at the center, we should keep in mind that he is present throughout all of Jesus’s teachings and miracles including His calming the storm. Mat 8:23-27
The next paradigm-shifting encounter comes when Jesus sends the disciples out in a boat and then follows them later on foot. Peter sees Jesus walking on water and tells Him to command him to get out of the boat and walk – if in fact, He is really Jesus. He does. So Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking. Then the wind scares him and he starts to sink.
Jesus takes Peter’s hand and pulls him up before admonishing him.
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Mat 14:22-33
Peter had his eyes and faith fixed on Jesus as he stepped out of the boat. Then he was distracted by the wind. His focus moved from Jesus to his external circumstances and he began to sink.
If I am honest, I’m a lot like Peter. I know that I know I was supernaturally delivered from a point-blank shotgun blast and over two decades of addiction that I’d tried everything known to man to beat. It is empirically verifiable that my life made a 180-degree turn from that moment on. Still, I have occasionally been tempted to question and consider alternative explanations. Was that really you Jesus? It was of course. Still, it got me thinking. Maybe, miracles, signs, and wonders come with a shelf life. They point to the source upon which our focus should remain.
Or they expire and leave us craving another experience. Mat 16:4
In Mat 15:10-20 Jesus explains to the Pharisees that it’s what comes out of one’s mouth that defiles them not what goes in. Peter still doesn’t understand and Jesus explains it to him.
Next, we have an amazing display of discernment in Peter’s revelation that Jesus is the Christ to which Jesus replies “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” Mat 16:13-18 Some people think Peter was the rock.
He was referring to Peter’s revelation that He – Jesus was the Rock.
Somehow Peter assumed the authority to rebuke the one he’d just acknowledged as the Messiah. Peter determined that he would not allow Jesus to go to the cross in fulfillment of Isaiah 53 and at least 351 other prophetic scriptures. So Jesus rebuked Peter,
“get behind me Satan” Mat 16:23
Peter was sincere but earthly-minded.
Next, in Mat 17:1-8 Peter is one of the disciples accompanying Jesus to the mount of Transfiguration where He Jesus, attended by Moses and Elijah, reveals His deity. Peter was busy wondering if he should make tents for the three when suddenly,
“Behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
Later as they walked down into the valley. Jesus commands Peter and the others,
“Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” Mat 17:9
Apparently, this wasn’t a problem because based on their reaction to Jesus’ crucifixion no one understood what he was saying anyway.
Back in the valley, Peter watches Jesus cast out a demon and admonishes the other disciples for their faith that apparently was a lot smaller than a mustard seed. Mat 17:20
Next, we have money collectors asking Peter if Jesus will pay tribute in Capernaum. “Of course, He will”, says Peter. Then he asks Jesus. Jesus says “No”. But just to avoid offending people He tells Peter to catch a fish and give them whatever he finds in its mouth. Peter loves fishing. He finds a gold coin in its mouth and gives it to the collectors.
One would think that would have rattled Peters’s worldly paradigm.
Given that I can so identify with Peter’s misunderstandings, mistakes, and failures, I have to wonder. Was it apathy born of Peter’s familiarity with Jesus? Was Peter so consumed with his view of things and the hope of a coming overthrow of the Roman empire? Or was he simply naive and uneducated?
Jesus gives an in-depth teaching in Mat 18 about cutting off everything that leads to sin. Peter has heard all the other teachings about forgiveness and still asks ‘How many times do I have to forgive? Is seven enough?’
“70 times 7”. Mat 18:21-22
Jesus teaches about the potential bondage of material wealth in Mat 19 and finishes with the idea that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of God. Luckily all things are possible with God.
How does Peter respond?
Ok….but what about us? We gave up everything. What do we get? Mat 19:27 Like so many of us Peter lost sight of the fact that he already had the most valuable gift in Jesus Himself.
Well, Peter, here’s the deal. Y’all get to rule with me from 12 thrones in heaven.
Still, Peter sincerely loves Jesus. He swears that he is different from the others and will never deny Him. Jesus looks at Peter and says, actually Peter you will. In fact,
you are going to deny me before the rooster crows three times… Mat 26:34
Peter is incensed and responds with even greater determination. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same. Verse 35
Things come to a head in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter has one of the two swords that Jesus told them to bring. Jesus goes off to pray and asks them to watch and pray with Him. Naturally, Peter and the others fall asleep. Peter gets the brunt of Jesus’s anger. “So, could you not watch with me one hour?!” Maybe Peter is overcompensating for crushed self-esteem born of his failure. Now more than ever he stands ready to defend Jesus as the soldiers come to arrest Him. If I were Peter I probably would assume that Jesus told me to bring a sword so I could use it. I’d be wondering if this moment marked the beginning of the zealot rebellion for which I’d been waiting.
Peter swings hard. I’m guessing that splitting Malchus’s head was his goal. Instead, he misses and cuts off his ear. Malchus and Peter stare in dumbfounded amazement as Jesus exclaims “No more of this!” Luke 22:51 picks up the ear and reattaches it. Then He blasts poor Peter again.
“Peter! Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” John 18:11
It wasn’t long after that Peter denied Jesus three times. John 18:17-27
Jesus is crucified and resurrected. Everyone is standing around the tomb talking about the fact that everything happened just as Jesus said it would. Now what? Peter is even more confused than before. He runs into the tomb in apparent unbelief to see if Jesus’s body is there.
…for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. John 20:4-10
Soon after Jesus shows himself to the disciples. Peter still doesn’t get it and characteristically replies,
“I’m going fishing!”
He and the disciples spend a fish-free night on the water. In the morning Jesus calls to them from shore and instructs them where to throw their nets. Suddenly, “the one whom Jesus loved” (John) realizes it is the resurrected Jesus standing on the beach. What does Peter do?
He puts all his clothes on, jumps out of the boat, and swims to shore.
Later during a beach breakfast fish fry, Jesus asks Peter three times if Peter loves him. The irony that Peter had denied Him three times just three days ago seems lost on Peter as he passionately affirms His love. Jesus replies that if Peter loves Him then he should “feed my sheep”. Then He prophesied Peter’s death. John 21:15-19 Peter still did not have the remotest clue as to what Jesus was saying as evidenced by Peter’s next question. What about that guy? John 21:21
“If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
How often have I been so focused on what I think God is doing or wants to do in others that I remain oblivious to what God was doing in me?
There is a story about Charles Darwin as he arrived in Patagonia on the HMS Beagle, a colossal steel brigantine ship. Darwin and his crew rowed ashore in rowboats. To his surprise, the Patagonians who had canoes themselves clearly saw the row boats. But they did not perceive the HMS Beagle. Why? Because a ship so large was so far outside the realm of their experience and resulting presuppositions that it was too much for their brains to process. Instead, their brains filtered it. They literally could not see it.
I often wonder, as I read about Peter, how much I fail to see?
Peter wasn’t stupid. He simply had his own ideas about God. They prevented him from seeing. It didn’t matter how many times Jesus explained God’s plan. Peter filtered what didn’t fit his paradigm.
In the Marine Corps, we referred to guys like Peter as “Rocks”.
Still, Peter’s heart and intentions were in the right place. It didn’t matter how many times he failed and was rebuked. Peter loved Jesus and never stopped pursuing Him. He remained “Semper Fi“. Ironically, it wasn’t until after Jesus ascended Acts 1:11 and Holy Spirit was poured out in the Upper Room that Peter finally understood everything Jesus had taught.
He preached the entire Gospel in his first sermon beginning in Acts 2:14-15
“For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel…”
Peter was apprehended by Holy Spirit in the upper room. Paul was apprehended on the road to Damascus. I was apprehended at gunpoint on a beach. We don’t know for certain what happened to Malchus and I may just be projecting. But I suspect he was apprehended the moment his hearing was restored. I know a lot of people who were miraculously apprehended by Jesus. I am convinced that a truly transformed life is always the fruit of divine apprehension, not merely an act of human will. John 15:16
Even so, our will often gets us into position for our appointed arrest.
1st and 2nd Peter address some hard topics. Let’s keep in mind that like Peter, every one of us is prone to be smart like a rock. It is only through the power of Holy Spirit in conjunction with the whole counsel of God through His Word that we gain the right perspective and ability to joyfully walk out the hard things to which every Christian is called.