When the Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities came to arrest Jesus on the Mount of Olives (John 18:1–9), not all of the disciples stood idly by. As we see in today’s passage, Peter drew his sword and attempted to defend our Savior (v. 10).
John tells us that Peter struck one of the high priest’s servants, a man by the name of Malchus. We do not know anything about this servant besides his name and that Jesus actually healed Malchus’ ear (see Luke 22:50–51), but we do know that the sword Peter wielded would have been more like a dagger than what we might normally think of as a sword.
More importantly, 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).
If Peter held such a belief, it would have been as misguided as his action, for John 18:11 gives us a second reason why the disciple’s drawing of his sword was unwarranted. Jesus rebuked Peter, telling him to sheath his sword because He had to drink “the cup” given to Him by the Father. What Jesus was enduring had to happen, for He came into the world to drink a specific cup—the cup of God’s righteous wrath against the sins of His people (Ps. 75:8; Ezek. 23:31–34; Rev. 14:9–11). Scripture frequently uses the metaphor of drinking from a cup to refer to the outpouring of God’s wrath against sinners. Ultimately, Jesus was arrested so that He could take our sins upon Himself, bearing God’s just sentence against us so that we can be forgiven (Isa. 53).
Finally, let us learn from Peter to watch ourselves. We can also err, believing that we are serving God when we are violating His will. 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.”