The Gethsemane Incident
Jesus performed so many miracles that all of them aren’t detailed in Scripture. John supposed that if everything Jesus did was recorded, “even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25, NKJV). But the Holy Spirit inspired the gospel writers to include certain miracles for our benefit. The New Testament tells us that Jesus turned water into wine, healed lepers, made paralytics walk, caused the blind to see, supernaturally fed thousands of people, walked on water, cast out demons, and resurrected the dead. He even got a fish to pay his taxes! One miracle which has always intrigued me is Jesus’ final miracle before His death. While being betrayed, Jesus healed the high priest’s servant’s ear after Peter cut it off with a sword.
This miracle seems out of place among the others. This man was there to arrest Jesus and nobody asked Jesus to heal him.. And the disciples were not helping Jesus minister to people; they were getting ready to fight. So what are we supposed to learn from this miracle? Let’s take a look.
After Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, they left downtown Jerusalem, crossed over the Brook Kidron, and went to pray in an olive grove called the Garden of Gethsemane. While Passover would typically be a joyous celebration of God’s deliverance of the Israelites from cruelty of Egyptian slavery, Jesus was somber this year because He knew what was to come the following day. So after they finished eating, this group of friends went to pray in a quiet, familiar place. They weren’t rioting or doing anything violent, destructive, or disruptive. They were praying. It’s a pretty peaceful activity anyway, but they removed themselves from the hustle and bustle of the city to make sure it was extremely peaceful. In fact, it was so peaceful that the disciples couldn’t stay awake. They were dozing off as they tried to pray.
You might already know that this was when Judas showed up with the betrayal party. Maybe you have a stained glass mental picture of this event complete with a couple of men standing around as Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. The reality is that there were a lot of people present that night. Scholars believe that 300-600 armed men showed up to take Jesus in for questioning. This probably seems excessive, but keep in mind that this is much more than the first-century version of the SWAT team picking up Granny from Bingo night. This was a company-sized military operation against a small group of friends praying (and sleeping) in an olive grove. Contrast this to the less than 80 people who raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan and it is easy to see that this was far beyond excessive. This was exponentially over the top.
The manner of the betrayal party’s approach is also interesting, and perhaps even ironic. They are seeking the Light of the World (John 8:12) in the dark of night with lanterns and torches (John 18:3). They are coming to arrest the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) with swords and clubs (Matthew 26:47). And when they arrive on the scene, despite the presence of the high priest and military commander who should have been giving the orders, Jesus immediately takes charge of the situation. He speaks first, asking, “Whom are you seeking?” and they reply with His worldly name, “Jesus of Nazareth.” This name would seem devoid of power. However, when Jesus replied, “I am He,” it caused them to draw back and fall to the ground (John 18:6). Note that Jesus was not resisting or speaking against them, but merely answering their question. Nonetheless, His powerful words knocked them to the ground. This overwhelming force of armed men could not withstand the power of Jesus’ words. He was in charge that night, and everyone present in Gethsemane knew it.
Continuing to act in the authority He held over the situation, Jesus commanded the arresting force to let His disciples go (John 18:7). But Peter wasn’t quite ready to abandon his Lord. Instead, he drew his sword and cut off Malchus’ right ear (John 18:10). At this point, both sides probably expected a full brawl to break out. Tensions were already high and blood had already been spilled. Combat seemed inevitable, but Jesus had other plans.
First, Jesus made it clear that He didn’t need anyone’s protection. He told Peter to put his sword back in its sheath (John 18:11). He added that if He needed protection (which He didn’t), that He could pray and the Father would send Him over 12 legions of angels to defend Him (Matthew 26:53). Just to put this in perspective, that would be over 72,000 angels, enough to defeat over 13.3 billion men (see Isaiah 37:36 where an angel slaughtered 185,000 Assyrians), and far more than enough to handle the 300-600 soldiers in Gethsemane that night.
Second, Jesus explained that everything happening was important to the fulfillment of the Scriptures (Matthew 26:54, 56 & Mark 14:49). He told Peter and the disciples to “Permit even this,” (Luke 22:51) indicating that he wanted to allow the betrayal to continue in order to fulfill the Scriptures. The Bible tells us that Jesus also asked Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Jesus understood that the betrayal was part of God’s plan for mankind’s salvation and wanted to faithfully fulfill His role to help accomplish this plan.
Finally, Jesus healed Malchus’ ear. Luke 22:51 states that “He touched his ear and healed him.” It is unclear whether Jesus’ touch restored Malchus’ severed ear or created a new ear, but we know that Malchus left the Garden of Gethsemane that night with a healthy right ear. Jesus healing an injured man is not surprising; He spent much of His earthly ministry healing the sick and lame. What is unique about this miracle is Jesus’ motivation behind it.
So why did Jesus heal Malchus? Of course, Jesus had compassion on Malchus. There’s always an element of compassion in Jesus’ healing. But this was more than that. While this miraculous healing certainly reflects Jesus’ compassion, it has much more to do with His willingness to go to the cross. You may be wondering what Malchus’ ear has to do with Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross. Jesus’ healing Malchus’ ear nullified Peter’s assault at the betrayal scene. If Jesus did not heal Malchus, then Peter’s actions would have warranted the arresting party’s use of retaliatory force to capture Jesus. If things turned violent, people could mistakenly argue that Jesus was brought to the cross by force. Jesus healed Malchus so the whole world would know that He went willingly to the cross for the joy set before Him.
Jesus said in John 10:18 that “No one takes [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of Myself." Everything that took place in the Garden of Gethsemane that night supported this claim. Jesus took charge from the beginning because the arresting party did not have the authority to take His life. His words overpowered them because they did not have the ability to take His life. Jesus stopped the incident from escalating into further violence and was clear that the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Jesus made it clear that He did not need any defenders because He was laying His life down. And Jesus healed Malchus so everyone would know that He went to the cross willingly for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).
Yes, Jesus healed Malchus’ ear out of compassion and for Malchus’ sake, but He also healed him for your sake and mine. Jesus wanted us to know the willingness with which He went to the cross. He wanted to make sure you and I understand that He wasn’t forced to do this; He did it because of His great love for us. Jesus healed Malchus so we would understand that we were the joy set before Him. Jesus healed Malchus to demonstrate God’s great love for us by willingly laying down His life for us. Jesus healed Malchus because He loved us! Jesus loves you!