Read John 18:1–11.
Every night before I turn in, I go into each of my boy’s rooms, give them a kiss on the forehead, and tuck them back into bed. I say “back into bed” because they have a habit of climbing out of their covers to play and then falling asleep somewhere else in the room. I usually find at least one of them curled up on the floor sans blanket or upside down underneath a pile of stuffed animals. The exception to this is my oldest son, Jonah. He’s always in bed where I left him, though not exactly as I left him.
You see, he likes blankets and pillows. I mean, he really likes blankets and pillows. So the normal routine for him is to grab every pillow, blanket, and stuffed animal—anything and everything soft and warm he can get his hands on—and pull them on top of him. When I arrive late at night, he can be hard to find, buried underneath a hefty mountain of polyester fleece and quilted cotton. When I do set things right by removing the excess bulk, Jonah’s usually a little sweaty; the cozy comfort he sought was too much for him.
This daily ritual with Jonah reminds me of something a counselor once told me. People walking through trauma or abuse often deal with their harsh reality by “putting on” certain behaviors as protection. They learn to keep people at a distance, retreat into isolation, and take steps to avoid being vulnerable. All of this, of course, is for good reason. But when the nightmare is over and those behaviors remain, it can bring heartache to them and everyone they know and love. He told me it was like a person who puts on a heavy winter coat when it’s below freezing in January, but doesn’t know how to take the bulk off in mid-July. Something’s gone terribly wrong. The comfort they sought has become too much.
This desire for protection, for covering, for comfort comes in many forms. I imagine that as the priests and scribes were preparing to arrest Jesus, they brought out their heaviest coat, perhaps without even realizing what they were doing. You see, it isn’t just a couple of temple guards who accompany Judas and the representatives of the Sanhedrin. The word translated “detachment” in the NIV (John 18:3) is the technical term for a Roman cohort, which could include as many as six hundred men.
Now, of course, it’s possible that not all six hundred soldiers are present, but it seems, at the very least, there is an overwhelming force on site to take Jesus. The Jewish religious leaders refuse to believe Jesus could be the Messiah, and yet they do not underestimate His power. They had seen some of the miracles, heard about others, and know Jesus isn’t an ordinary man. And still, the hardness of their hearts will not allow them to take the small leap of faith necessary to love Jesus. So, they hate Him instead.
Because these men have lived so long being terrorized by the Romans, they have learned to protect themselves against hope. Now that hope has arrived in the flesh, they cannot take off their heavy winter coats in order to embrace Him. So, they decide to crush that hope and remain in their fear, even though, on some level, they know Jesus is not an imposter. Otherwise, why bring out a small army for a simple late night arrest?
If there are still any doubts about who Jesus is, those doubts are silenced by Jesus Himself. “Who is it you want?” He asks the mob (v. 4). “Jesus of Nazareth,” they reply. “I am he,” Jesus answers (v. 5)—or more literally, “I Am.”
“I Am.” Ego eimi in Greek. It’s the way the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, renders the divine name spoken to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). Jesus isn’t simply raising His hand to say, “Yeah, it’s me. You’ve got the guy you’re searching for.” He is proclaiming the truth of His identity one more time, loudly, in a way that no one familiar with the Scriptures could miss. “I am Yahweh,” He is announcing. “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I am the God who brought your ancestors out of Egypt, who loved you and cared for you. I am the King and Savior you have been waiting for. I have come to rescue you.” It’s no wonder, then, that at the divine name, the soldiers and officials “drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:6). We shouldn’t be surprised that when God’s presence is revealed, people lose their footing.
Knowing the sort of power Jesus wields, it’s likely the priests and scribes thought Jesus would put up a fight, either through miraculous means or by calling the crowds to His aid. This is one of the reasons Judas leads the cohort at night, when there would be no crowds hanging on. Despite this forethought, the evening isn’t free of violence: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” (v. 10).
Simon Peter, it seems, also has a winter coat to take off. Though he’s spent the last three years following Jesus and witnessing a better way—one that’s higher than the ways of this world—in the adrenaline of the moment, he forgets he is called to love his enemies and does what many of us would do: he releases the full weight of his fear and insecurity with the swipe of a blade, his desire for control landing squarely on the side of Malchus’ face.
Jesus, then, is the only one in the scene who both embraces the truth and lives in it. He is not afraid of the soldiers, for He knows that it is His Father’s will to go with them—to be tried, arrested, condemned, and killed. He does not shrink back, and He does not forget compassion. He picks up Malchus’ discarded ear and repairs the damage done by Simon. It’s not a small thing that John records Malchus’ name in this passage. It’s likely an indication that the soldier was known to the early Christian community who first received his gospel. It seems young Malchus became a follower of Jesus sometime after the events of the garden.
One of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to set us free from trauma. In His kingdom, there is no need to wear protective layers. There is no abuse or torment, no waking nightmares. There is only the peace of Jesus, which is deeper and wider that any pain we may have experienced. He walked in the truth so that we could too. The healing He offers is nothing less than the healing He gave to Malchus: total restoration. Without stuttering or stumbling, He proclaims, “I Am.” He lifts the face of every wounded soul who comes to Him, and He says, “I am Yahweh, the Lord who is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (see Psalm 34:18).