“Don’t you realize that I am able
right now to call to my Father . . .”
Melee in the Garden
I want to be clear here. I am not one of His disciples.
Sure, I’ve heard the stories. You would have to be a hermit not to know someone He has healed, or fed, or who has been to one of His meetings. And all Jerusalem seemed to be in the temple square on the first day of the week when He rode into town, as a triumphant king would, returning victorious from some battle. Although when I saw Him on the colt, it was like inhaling peace. I don’t know how to explain it, but in all the shouting and crowding and pushing, when I saw Him … I felt shalom, the sense that everything is right and good.
Since then, the whole town has been abuzz. Messiah? Heretic? Lunatic? Who is this Jesus?
My name is Malchus, and I am a servant of Caiaphas, the high priest. It’s not a bad job. The pay is good, and I get living quarters right in the center of Jerusalem. The work is not usually difficult or strenuous, but the hours can be long. It does allow me to send enough money home to support my beautiful wife and five little ones. My in-laws live with us as well, so I have many mouths to feed.
Usually my work consists of getting a scroll from the archives for the master or taking notes while he is deliberating some matter of great importance. In these last weeks, there has been much to say about Jesus. The crowds are growing with every appearance, which makes the temple priests and elders nervous. He is not making friends with the Pharisees either, which is a big mistake if you want to get anywhere in the temple system.
Thursday afternoon, one of His followers, Judas Iscariot, came to the council chamber. He entered through a side door, and Caiaphas almost had me escort him out. But then he said he had information about Jesus and knew how we could take Him quietly.
This got the council’s interest. They had been looking for opportunities to take Him since before I came to work for the high priest a year ago, but there are always crowds. The council does not want to cause a riot. They just want to pull Jesus aside, out of the public eye, and see if they can get Him to ease up on all this rhetoric. They have seen it before, and Caiaphas knows firsthand how crowds become mobs at the drop of a coin. They need this Jesus to back off a bit and, at the very least, consider keeping it outside the city limits.
In any case, they’ve been looking for a less public way to take Jesus. This Judas said he could bring us right to Jesus, and we would only have to deal with His little troupe of characters.
Judas said he would lead us right to Jesus that very night for thirty pieces of silver. He said Jesus frequently went off to pray, and he knew the place.
“Those boys don’t know how to fight, so you shouldn’t need a lot of men, and I have never seen Jesus’s hands do anything but good. Now promise me you’re not going to do Him any harm. His intentions are good, but He’s getting carried away. You’re just going to talk to Him, ask Him to get control of the crowds, right?”
“Here’s your silver; now be on your way. We will be ready when you come.”
As soon as Judas left, Annas, Caiaphas’s father-in-law and one of his chief advisors, suggested we pressure the Romans to send a cohort for the mission. What we needed with six hundred men, I had no idea. From what I’d seen, this man was no threat.
Then Caiaphas called me over and directed me to go with them that night to witness the event.
As the afternoon passed and we prepared for the evening’s raid, I remembered the address Caiaphas had made a few weeks back. It was on the temple steps during his Purim address, in which he spoke of the death of Haman. He said it was “expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.” I began to wonder if this was all going to end badly.
The council sent me down to speak to Pilate, the Roman Prefect over all Judea, which Rome now considered hers. Caiaphas demanded that if Pilate did not want a real mob scene, we would need his help to silence this Jesus. It would be in Pilate’s best interest to assist in the capture of this man.
After a bit of back and forth, Pilate agreed to send a cohort, but he would not release them until the traitor was ready to go. He ordered that no one was to leave the barracks that evening, and they would assemble once Judas had returned. He wanted to see if this spy would be back or if he would take the money and run.
The evening dragged on and on. I was supposed to have been at home with my family on this night of preparation. Passover was close at hand, and the festivities had begun in earnest.
It was nearly the third watch of the night before Judas showed up to let us know Jesus was heading to His secret place. I headed over to the Roman consulate to notify the head of the guards that the time had come.
Now he had to get the army assembled and ready to move. Many of the men had seen Jesus here and there, and the whole group was halfhearted about this mission.
After what seemed like hours, we were ready to move. Every sixth man carried a torch, and each man carried sword and shield. I remember thinking again about the absurdity of going after this man with an army—this man who never attempts to conceal Himself. It seemed absurd to me.
I found myself out in front as Judas and I led the procession. The two of us didn’t fit with either the military unit or the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders. He seemed nervous, or perhaps he was second-guessing himself. When he saw the army we led, he almost gave up the whole thing. I think he was beginning realize that we weren’t just bringing Jesus in for questioning.
He led us to an olive grove called the garden of Gethsemane. As we drew near, I noticed people milling about, some with torches. We stopped a little way back, and the traitor went ahead of us. He kissed one of the men on the cheek. It was our signal—this was the man.
This is where it all gets a little fuzzy in my mind. Everything happened in quick sequence. As we approached the clearing, the man Judas had kissed, Jesus Himself, came toward us to head us off and keep us from the others.
“Who are you after?” came a voice from the predawn mist.
“Jesus the Nazarene.” The centurion who acted as head of the cohort replied on our behalf.
Jesus spoke again, and the strangest thing happened. I heard Him say “I AM,” and all six hundred of the soldiers and the rest of us fell to the ground. What a clatter in the still of the morning in that deserted place! It was like the first clap of thunder preceding a midsummer night’s storm.
Until that moment, we all thought the evening was going to be a waste of time. Now every nerve was twitching, and as we all regained our footing, the soldiers put hand to sword.
As I got to my feet, I heard Jesus ask again:
“Who are you after?”
Again, the reply came from the head of the Romans. “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I told you,” said Jesus, “that’s me. I’m the one. So if it’s me you’re after, let these others go.”
From the corner of my eye, I noticed one of Jesus’s men searching around for something. It was hard to see in the mist and torchlight, but I realized he had a sword in his hand. He was flailing it about as though he had not held a weapon in decades.
The uneasy feeling in my gut was soon justified as he headed right for me, ready to chop off my head. As I dove to the ground again, I felt cool steel on my cheek and then the warmth of blood running down my face and soaking my tunic.
I thought I should be in pain and wondered if I was even alive. I was afraid, angry, confused. As I put my hand to the side of my head to stop the bleeding and assess the damage, I realized the ear was gone. My ear was gone! And then the pain overwhelmed me.
At the same time, the Roman soldiers drew their weapons, and it looked like a full-blown melee was about to ensue. Then Jesus simply put up His hand.
“Stop! No more of this,” He said.
Before I knew it, Jesus was standing right in front of me. He got down on one knee and helped me to a sitting position. He pulled my hand away from the side of my head and placed my ear right where it belonged. I have no idea how He managed to find it in the dust and predawn murkiness. Then He helped me to my feet.
The pain was gone, and I could hear. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I was hearing better than I had been earlier in the day. I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. Should I thank Him? Should I arrest Him? Should I worship Him? Who is this man?
Then He spoke again.
“Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords. Don’t you realize that I am able right now to call to my Father, and twelve companies—more, if I want them—of fighting angels would be here, battle-ready? But if I did that, how would the Scriptures come true that say this is the way it has to be?”
As Peter skulked back to the other disciples, he mumbled something about Jesus telling him to bring the sword in the first place.
Again Jesus spoke, this time addressing the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come to arrest Him.
“What is this, jumping me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been with you in the Temple and you’ve not so much as lifted a hand against me. But do it your way—it’s a dark night, a dark hour.”
At that point, His band disappeared into the grove, and Jesus gave Himself into our custody.
They all headed back into the city, but I lagged behind. I could take no further role in this drama. It was all wrong. Who is this man that by simple words can decimate an army in one breath and calm it with the next? Who can pick up a detached ear and replace it with hardly a thought? Who is this man?
To read the original story, see Matthew 26:45-57, Mark 14:43-50,
Luke 22:47-54, and John 18:1-12.
Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015
The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.