The Healing of Malchus’s Ear
The Healing of Malchus’s Ear
The healing of Malchus’s ear is the last miracle Christ performed as part of His earthly ministry before His death. Perhaps at first glance this healing of an ear doesn’t seem to be a very magnificent final miracle. Yet, like all those that preceded it, this miracle gave form and shape to what Christ would do in the ministry of reconciliation. Moreover, it was a great bridge to what Christ would do in His state of exaltation following His death and resurrection.
A Sword-wielding Disciple⤒🔗
Christ had come to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Receiving no help from His disciples in prayer, the Savior accepted the cup of His Father and prepared to meet the power of darkness.
Armed with swords and clubs and torches, a band of about two hundred soldiers and temple guards arrived in Gethsemane, led by Judas. To them Christ revealed His royal dignity as the Son of God, forcing the soldiers backward to the ground (vv. 4-7). Nevertheless, He then allowed these soldiers to bind His hands – hands that had healed the sick, blessed children, and done so many miracles (John 18:8-12). But before being bound, Jesus would do one last act of healing with those blessed hands, and that on an enemy who had come to bind His hands.
Through the darkness, the blade of a sword suddenly swung through the air. Had some soldier from the temple guard gone on attack? No. One of the Lord’s disciples reached for his sword and pulled it out of its sheath. He lunged towards the group and aimed for the head of one of them. Perhaps in the dim light the man named Malchus saw the shining blade coming his way and, throwing his weight to one side, survived the attack. John tells us that the victim’s name was Malchus and that he was a servant of the high priest, Caiaphas. The sword missed its intended target and instead cut off Malchus’s ear.
Imagine Malchus reaching for the right side of his head to find his ear gone and his head bleeding profusely. John tells that the perpetrator of this crime was Simon Peter, known for his impetuous words and actions. What did this sword-wielding disciple’s action accomplish? Was he helping his Lord here? No; not only did Peter do damage to Malchus, he brought damage to his Lord. Christ had just said in Peter’s hearing: “Let these go their way” (John 18:8). He should have taken this as a cue that what was going to happen would not involve him, but instead of getting out of the way, Peter got in the way. His sword dripping with blood, he was more ready for Armageddon than for the Passion.
We often respond like Peter did when we see more of the enemy around us than we do the guilt within us. We are so easily persuaded to see Christianity as a cause in which we must fight. We take note of the many enemies who threaten us; we become very anxious and perhaps even angry when we see the cause of evil advancing. But we should remember that Christianity is not, in sum and substance, a cause to be fought outside of us as much as a work of grace within us. That grace causes us to rest in the finished work of Christ. If we had to add one sword stroke to the cause of our salvation, we would be lost forever.
No wonder, then, that the Lord admonished Peter: “Put up thy sword into the sheath” (John 18:11). Scripture elsewhere codifies the lesson as follows: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). This is not the time for fighting. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God” (2 Cor. 10:4). More importantly, you can’t share the work with the Mediator.
Has the Lord shown you that you are too quick to wield a sword – not always a physical sword, but through our tongues, looks, tempers, and impetuous actions that get in the way of the Lord? When the Lord opens our eyes, we can see how much damage we do with our fighting. Even in the church and spiritual communities there is so much sword-swinging from which we must repent and turn.
Peter would have no one to blame but himself if his discipleship and ministry had ended right at this point. What a mercy that it didn’t! This was owing to Christ as the merciful High Priest.
A Merciful High Priest←⤒🔗
Among the gospel authors, it was Luke, the physician, who described this miracle of the Heavenly Physician. We read in Luke 22:51, “And he touched his ear, and healed him.” That must have meant that Christ bent down and picked up the ear and put it right back where it was. His touch tenderly yet powerfully restored the tissues, muscles, and nerves, bringing healing to Malchus.
We see Christ as the merciful High Priest in two ways. First of all, He was a High Priest towards Peter. Peter couldn’t be left to himself for one moment. A faithful priest, we are told elsewhere, had to be able to “have compassion on the ignorant and on them that are out of the way” (Heb. 5:2). And that’s exactly how Christ intervened with His erring disciple. He would undo what Peter has done. The Messianic Psalm 69 sheds light on what Christ was doing here: “Then I restored that which I took not away” (v. 4). Peter had cut off Malchus’s ear, but Christ restored it. This pictures what Christ’s work on the cross would be like. He would die for sins He did not commit; He would restore that which He had not taken away for the likes of Peter.
At the same time He was a merciful High Priest towards Malchus. Malchus was the servant of Caiaphas, the earthly high priest descending from the line of Aaron. We know Caiaphas’s track record, and from it we can deduce what a sad life Malchus must have lived in the shadow of this corrupt and vain high priest. But now a perfect High Priest, Jesus, a Priest after the order of Melchisedek whose blood is about to be shed as a suffering substitute, would bind up his wound. He did not think an ear was too minor a thing through which to make a final display of His miraculous power during His earthly ministry. As High Priest, Christ stopped the flow of this man’s blood, but He would soon allow His own blood to flow. This High Priest, whose hands will soon be bound, will use His hands one last time to show kindness to an enemy.
A Healed Ear←⤒🔗
We don’t know whether Malchus ever came to believe in and live for this merciful High Priest, Jesus Christ. Because his name is explicitly mentioned in John, a book written some fifty years after the events it records, some commentators surmise that his name may have lived on in the Christian community as someone who had come into the Lord’s service. Could it be that along with the great company of priests who became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7), Malchus came into the early assembly of the church? We won’t know for sure until eternity.
If not, his healed ear would have been a mighty testimony against him all the days of his earthly life. The Lord had done a wonder on him, but where had that brought him? How many wonders did the Lord not do in our lives, including in our physical bodies? These are strong calls to us to abandon a formal religion like the kind Caiaphas represented.
Meanwhile, the healed ear of Malchus was a testimony to Peter of Christ’s healing power through His dying and rising. We know that he learned the lesson, for he wrote later,
For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience, toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults ye shall take it patiently? But if ... when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps ... (W)hen he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.1 Peter 2:19-24
Though we don’t know what happened to Malchus, Peter went on to preach of Jesus Christ as the spiritual Healer and Restorer. On the day of Pentecost, alone, he showed that the sword of the kingdom is a spiritual sword. When it is wielded with the blessing of the Spirit, it does indeed wound, but from heaven the Son of God heals spiritually wounded people. What a blessing that Peter could continue as a servant of the real High Priest, Jesus, proclaiming His love and mercy to those enslaved to sin and formal religion.
- According to Luke 22:49, the disciples asked the Lord whether they should attack with the sword. Peter didn’t seem to wait for an answer (v. 50). What lesson can we learn from this about waiting on the Lord and not deciding ourselves what it is the Lord wants us to do?
- Earlier, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter had failed to watch and pray as Christ had told him to do. Now he did what he shouldn’t have done. How does Peter represent believers, who, though well‑intentioned, are still often so thoughtless? Compare also what he said in verses 33 and 60.
- Why does the heart of a disciple still often continue to have such difficulty with the way of suffering – both Christ’s suffering and his own? What did Peter learn according to 1 Peter 2:19-24?
- Malchus served the high priest Caiaphas. Peter was the servant of Christ the true High Priest. Compare and contrast both lines of service. Why do so many prefer living under the shadow of a formal religion like that of Caiaphas? In what ways do we trust in a system of ceremonies?
- Spiritually speaking, Christ wounds our hearts by the law and then heals them in the gospel. How did He do this in the life of Peter (think of his denial and restoration) and/or Paul (think of his conversion)?
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