On violently resisting Jesus’s arrest.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 March 2021

Mark 14.47, Matthew 26.51-54,
Luke 22.49-51, John 18.10-11.

After sundown Thursday, Jesus and his students had a Passover meal, which Christians call “the Last Supper.” After it, Jesus had some things to tell them, and in that discussion there’s this:

Luke 22.35-38 KWL
35 Jesus tells them, “When I sent you out
without a wallet, bag, or extra sandals,
you didn’t lack anything, did you?
They tell him, “Nothing.”
36 Jesus tells them, “But now:
Those who have a wallet, take it. Your bag too.
Those who don’t have one: Sell your coat and buy a machete.
37 For I tell you this scripture has to be fulfilled in me:
‘He was counted among the lawless.’ Is 53.12
For the scriptures about me have an endpoint.”
38 The students say, “Master, look!—two machetes here.”
Jesus tells them, “That’s plenty.”

This passage confuses people—usually because of the way it’s typically translated.

Luke 22.36, 38 NIV
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” […]
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.

Typically the way Christians interpret it is Jesus (for whatever their favorite reasons might be) told ’em to sell their coats and buy swords—but he meant it metaphorically. He was telling ’em some sort of parable. He didn’t literally want them to buy swords; he wasn’t trying to start an armed uprising or anything. We misunderstand. And the students likewise misunderstood, and were quick to point out to Jesus, “Oh no problem, Master, we’ve already got two swords!”—to which Jesus had to angrily respond, “Wait, what’re you actually doing with swords? You homicidal numbskulls, stop it. You’re missing my point again.”

I won’t get into all the possible interpretations of what Jesus’s “metaphor” supposedly is. Because Jesus wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He really did want his students to go get themselves machetes. Because there’s a big difference between the purpose of a machete and a sword. A machete is a work knife. Not a Roman gladius, a double-sided short sword. This is a μάχαιραν/máheran, a long, broad, single-edged work knife. I’m not translating it “machete” to be different: That’s what it is. That’s all it is.

Despite what Danny Trejo action movies might have you believe, a machete is not meant for battle or fighting. It kinda sucks for fighting; a trained soldier with a gladius will easily take out anybody who’s only carrying a máheran. But it can stab, cut, and kill; it can do damage. Machetes have been historically used for warfare—same as pitchforks, axes, hammers, and tomahawks—’cause when the poor had to fight and didn’t have access to proper weapons, you work with what you have.

So when Jesus tells ’em to sell their coats and buy machetes, he’s properly telling them to give up their comforts and get tools. It’s time to get to work and help him build his kingdom.

But of course if you’re an ivory-tower revolutionary and haven’t worked with your hands in years, y’might miss that little nuance of reality. And think Jesus really is talking about swords—but not really talking about swords, because God’s kingdom doesn’t come through violent human revolutions, right? I mean, most of us get this… even though Jesus’s students clearly didn’t.

Got all that? Now let’s jump forward a few hours to when Jesus got arrested… where, it turns out, Simon Peter had taken one of those two machetes with him.

Defending our Lord, violently.

The synoptic gospels don’t identify who swung the knife. Mark actually said it was a παρεστηκότων/parestrikóton, “one standing nearby,” a bystander.

Mark 14.47 KWL
One of the bystanders, pulling out a machete,
strikes the head priest’s slave, and cuts his ear off.

Christians have traditionally claimed Mark, because he later worked with Simon Peter, must’ve got all the information for his gospel from Peter himself. If this is true (and it might be; I won’t rule it out), I doubt Peter would’ve lied about himself and said “Um… er… it was some bystander.” He did after all confess he denied Jesus. Mk 14.66-72 More likely Peter skipped this part of the story altogether, and Mark filled in the blanks from what he heard from others.

Matthew and Luke identify the perp as one of Jesus’s followers. And John positively ID’s him as Peter—as well as giving us the victim’s name, Malchus. (Malchus is a Roman form of the Hebrew name Melekh.)

John 18.10-11 KWL
10 Simon Peter, having a machete,
draws it and strikes the head priest’s slave;
he slices off his right ear. The slave’s name is Malchus.
11 So Jesus tells Peter, “Sheath your machete.
This is the cup the Father gave me. Shouldn’t I drink it?”

Luke says Jesus not only ordered Peter to stop, but immediately healed Malchus.

Luke 22.49-51 KWL
49 Seeing what those round them intended to do,
the students says, “Master, should we strike with a machete?”
50 One hits a certain one of them—the head priest’s slave—
and cuts his right ear off.
51 In response Jesus says, “Stop this now!”
and touching the ear, Jesus cures him.

Various bibles deliberately have Jesus’s “That’s enough!” in verse 51, match Jesus’s “That’s enough!” in verse 38, where Jesus supposedly tells his kids to stop it with the swordplay. Jesus doesn’t even use the same Greek words, though. In verse 38 it’s not a command; it’s a statement, ἱκανόν ἐστιν/ikanón éstin, “[That] is sufficient.” In verse 51 it’s definitely a command, ἐᾶτε ἕως τούτου/eáte éos tútu, “Abandon this [behavior] now!” The translators are creating a parallel where none exists. Bad translators. No doughnut for you.

Matthew includes Jesus’s “live by the sword, die by the sword” speech, and reminds us Jesus is in full control of this situation.

Matthew 26.51-54 KWL
51 Look, one of those with Jesus stretches out his hand,
draws his machete,
and striking the head priest’s slave,
cuts off his ear.
52 Then Jesus tells him, “Put your machete back in its place!
For everyone who chooses arms
will be destroyed by arms.
53 Or do you think I can’t call out to my Father,
and he will give me, right now,
more than 12 legions of angels?
54 But then how might the scriptures be fulfilled?
So this has to happen.”

Contrary to popular belief—well, stretching and mutilating the scriptures—Jesus doesn’t condone violence. Violence begets violence, and while we may think we’re doling out righteous justice, we’re simply giving our enemies the excuse they desire to smite us back.

At the same time, Jesus pointed out the Father had authorized him to put a stop to everything if he saw fit. Let that idea sink in. At any time Jesus could call down “more than 12 legions of angels,” Mt 26.53 a legion being a company of 60 centuries: 6,000 troops. One angel could flatten a nation, as the death-angel had done to Egypt. Twelve legions could conquer the world. Siccing them on the world would turn Jesus into exactly the sort of Messiah the Pharisees and the devil wanted. That’s why Jesus didn’t wanna call ’em down like Elijah called down fire. It was no sin to put his passion on pause, and try again another time. But “then how will the scriptures be fulfilled?” Jesus pointed out. Mt 26.54 He had to fulfill them sometime. May as well be now.

The reason I figure this incident is worthy of its own stations of the cross entry—which are of course about Jesus’s suffering—is the fact it demonstrates Jesus willingly going into his suffering. He allowed himself to be arrested. He refused to let his students fight to defend him. He still doesn’t want us to do violence on his behalf, no matter how much violent people desperately wanna kick ass for Jesus. When he takes over the world, he won’t have to do that violently either—even though plenty of people will be very resistant to such a massive change. But he can pull it off. He’s got the 12 legions, y’know… not to mention the 2 billion raptured Christians falling in behind him.