Malchus was a personal servant to Caiaphas, the high priest who led the conspiracy to have Jesus arrested and killed. Probably on Caiaphas’s orders, Malchus accompanied Judas and the party seeking to arrest Jesus while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. As the situation threatened to explode into chaos, Malchus found himself very much in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesus’ disciples watched the horrifying scene unfold—one, however, decided to act. Peter unsheathed a sword and swung, severing Malchus’s ear. It may have been the combination of instinct and adrenaline that drove Peter’s hand. Or it may have been his failure to understand the true nature and purpose of Jesus’ ministry. As Malchus writhed in pain, Jesus rebuked his attacker, warning Peter that:
“all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Determined that no blood but His own be shed on His account, Jesus somehow managed to reach Malchus and heal his injury before being dragged away by the temple guard. Malchus, then, provided the object lesson in one last teaching to the disciples before Jesus’ crucifixion—one final reminder that His kingdom would not come by force or be spread by the sword. What happened to Malchus after this incident—and whether he returned to his master, the man who plotted Jesus’ murder— is unknown.
While uncertain, the attack on Malchus may have had hidden significance. Assuming Malchus was a Levite, like his master and all who belonged to the priestly class, a defect like the loss of an ear would have rendered him unclean according to the Law of Moses. Malchus would have been forbidden from going anywhere near the temple (see Leviticus 21). If this was the case, then Jesus not only restored Malchus’s ear—He restored his livelihood.