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Wednesday Word: Insurrection or Resurrection

February 24, 2021 | Jim Keena

What Would Jesus Do?

How would Jesus respond to an insurrectionist? That question came to mind after seeing a photo. It was taken on January 6 of a man amidst the mob attacking the United States Capitol. Wearing black gloves imprinted with white bones, he was clutching a book to his chest. Embossed in gold-leaf on its cover was “Holy Bible.” The picture captured the stark contrast between the Bible’s holy words and the rioter’s evil actions.

So, how would Jesus respond to an insurrectionist? The answer is in the Bible the man held. It’s in a story about Jesus after being betrayed by Judas and surrounded by Roman soldiers and local leaders (John 18:1-9). They came to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus on bogus charges, to stand before a kangaroo court, and ultimately be crucified.

Peter’s Attempted Insurrection

But suddenly, Peter, a disciple of Jesus, attempted a one-man insurrection. He literally took matters into his own hands. With a swipe of his sword, he “struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.” (John 18:10). The victim’s name was Malchus, which indicates he was possibly a Gentile slave of Arabic origin.

Malchus was the servant of Caiaphas, the high priest during the ministry and trial of Jesus (Matt. 26:57). The Romans appointed Caiaphas to assure their control over the religious affairs of the Jews. In essence, he was Rome’s spiritual puppet and a traitor to Israel. So Malchus served the man who served the enemy that instigated the crucifixion of Jesus. No wonder Peter attempted to decapitate him.

Jesus’ Response to Attack

But then the storyline takes a plot twist, Jesus responded differently to Malchus. Luke, the physician, adds a medical detail, “And he touched the man’s ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). Jesus performed his final miracle before his crucifixion. Jesus practiced what he preached; he loved his enemy, an accomplice in his crucifixion (cf. Matt. 5:43-48).

But how did Jesus respond to Peter’s armed insurrection attempt? With a terse rebuke, he said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51a). He quickly squelched Peter’s plot to lead a revolution. Jesus commanded, “Put your sword back in its place … for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). It was a proverbial warning that his violence would escalate violence.

On January 6, I was horrified as the crowd laid seize to the Capitol. Even though some held Bibles aloft, there was neither anything holy nor biblical about the attack. Their assault of our civil servants was wicked. Blue lives didn’t matter to them! Like Peter attacking Malchus, they were assaulting the wrong people, fighting the wrong way. Jesus’ harsh rebuke still rings true, “No more of this!” No more lies. No more hatred. No more attacks. Jesus repudiates such violence and so should we.

The Resurrection Movement

Why did Jesus and Peter treat Malchus differently? Peter attacked Malchus because he believed in the power of insurrection. His belief brought bloodshed. But Jesus healed Malchus because he believed in the power of his resurrection. His blood was shed to bring healing. In fact, Jesus healed both Malchus and Peter.

So, how did Jesus respond to Peter’s armed insurrection? After Peter believed in the resurrection (John 20:19-20) Jesus reinstated him (John 21:15-19). And on the Day of Pentecost, Peter received the Holy Spirit’s power (Acts 2:1-4). Then, instead of using a measly sword, he used the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17) and three thousand people were saved (Acts 20: 40-41). And that day set in motion a gospel revolution that continues to save lives around the globe. That’s the movement Jesus invites us to join.

Jim Keena

Professor of Pastoral Theology and Church Relations

The Rev. Jim Keena was senior pastor of the Evangelical Free Church of Bozeman from 2008 through early 2020, when he joined the […]

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