Updated: Jan 30
In the Gospels, Matthew, Luke, and John tell of a servant of the high priest having his right ear cut off in the garden at Gethsemane, when Jesus was arrested. John named the disciple who used a knife to cut off an ear as Simon Peter and he also named the servant who had his ear cut off as Malchus.
This act comes with a lesson taught by Jesus, which is the last he taught to the disciples before his crucifixion. The lesson Jesus taught came as he healed the servant by touching his ear (Luke 22:51). Jesus then said, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) That lesson is further supported by Jesus also saying, “Stop! No more of this.” (Luke 22:51) and then asking Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given to me?” (John 18:11)
It is believed that Jesus is teaching the axiom, “Live by the sword, die by the sword,” but that is not a statement of truth. Plenty of people serve careers in the armed forces and are paid for their service. They, thus, live by the weapon (a substitute word for “sword”). Not all military personnel are killed in battle.
The Greek word written is machaira and that word actually refers to a “short sword” or a “dagger.” It is properly used as meaning a “slaughter knife,” so it refers to a potential weapon that could easily be carried in a sheath on one’s waist belt, for self-defense or a handy tool. However, the word means a large knife or short sword that is routinely used for cutting up animals, so that a butcher may carry one around. Few animals plot revenge against Temple priests, those who would routinely sacrifice animals with such a knife. The point is it was not a weapon typical of military use; and, Simon Peter was a fisherman, not a soldier.
So, saying that Jesus was teaching, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” as if Peter was a trained killer, is incorrect. In addition to that, the servant was not killed. Some have questioned if Peter was left-handed, which would make it easier to cut off the right ear of someone facing him; or they consider that he came up from behind and held the sword in his right hand. It makes sense that Peter struck out when the servant went close to Jesus, so he would have lunged out from behind, as a protective swipe. Whatever the case might have been, it is mistaking what Jesus said to Peter, according to Matthew, and turning Jesus’ words into something not intended. Since Jesus did not lie, the meaning is something different.
The lesson of taking a sword against someone and perishing by someone else doing the same against you means living out of control. An act was taken against Jesus and Peter reacted in haste, without thinking things through. Peter’s first reaction was to “take the sword” from his sheath, out of anger. He then used the sword in an emotional state that he could not stop. Perhaps to better see the deeper symbolism, a quick lesson in metaphysics could help.
In the Tarot, four suits of cards are used. Unlike the four suits of playing cards (which developed because of Tarot cards), the four suits of the Tarot relate to the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The Tarot represents those elements symbolically, with Pentacles (or Coins) to symbolize earth, Cups to symbolize water, Wands (or Torches) to symbolize air, and Swords to symbolize fire. The art of astrology similarly divides the twelve signs of the zodiac into the four elements, with the air signs (Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius) being the mental signs, where intellect is the “light” of ideas and thought (thus symbolized by a torch). The fire signs (Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius) are the signs of action and energy, where impulse is seen in the use of tools that make things happen. Therefore, a sword cuts through a stagnant condition as a burst of activity. So, a sword symbolizes some form of action, usually without much forethought.
That means that the mention of a sword, dagger, or slaughter knife is symbolic of being out of control, and Peter’s action was a knee-jerk reaction to another action. This is Newton’s law of motion, which states, “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” It is then a statement that Peter’s action, as a reaction, would only bring about another action, as a pendulum swings back and forth. The only way to stop this exchange of motion is to bring about an end (figuratively make motion “perish”). This means Jesus told the disciples (Peter directly) to stay in control or you will be arrested, because one’s action demands an equal and opposite reaction.
Jesus healed the ear to cease momentum. Thus, Jesus demanded, “Stop!” a command for rest. Another of Newton’s laws of motion states, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest.” Cease the hostility by absorbing it, bring all motion to rest. This is the principle behind, “Turn the other cheek.” To say, “No more of this,” Jesus is instructing everyone (disciples and guards) to cease being against one another, which is a state of opposition. Just go with the flow and peace will be restored.
The naming by John, of Simon Peter being the one cutting off the ear, means that the one whose name means “Rock” or “Stone” had suddenly stopped being a fixed, solid rock foundation (the earth element symbolism) and had crumbled into loose stones that erupted in a hurling manner, as a volcanic blast causes (the fire element symbolism). Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) That was a statement that Jesus saw Peter’s lack of faith once again. It implies Peter had no reason to be carrying a sword anyway, as all the disciples were drunk (and most passed out asleep), as is the tradition after the Passover Seder dinner and subsequent evening. Peter seems to have felt more secure stumbling along the path to the Wine Press (Gethsemane) with a sword on his side, more than he did with Jesus by his side.
When Jesus is heard to have asked, “Shall I not drink the cup which my Father has given to me?” this is a question that turns the topic of faith away from the fire of swords, to the water of emotions. Not long before the group went into the garden at Gethsemane they had been getting drunk from cups of wine at the Passover Seder meal. The disciples had fallen asleep on Jesus because they were drunk and it was late, after midnight. Jesus had symbolically told them during dinner, “This cup of wine is like my blood of the new Covenant with the Father. Whenever you drink this do so in remembrance of me.” Jesus was about to drink from the cup of the Father, in remembrance of what he had to face very soon.
The “cup which my Father has given me” is a statement of faith and an emotional trust that all will be good. For Jesus to ask why Peter would attempt to prevent him from trusting the spiritual wine of God meant Jesus was asking why his earliest disciple still was not in touch with the spiritual and ethereal. Instead, Peter was stuck in the physical and material. Peter was afraid for his own safety in the world that he lived, which he saw as real. That world included Jesus as his strength, which meant Peter needed to show his own strength to the others, perhaps by carrying a sword for safety. Peter only knew to fight for what Peter wanted, because without a strong leader to lean on, Peter was lost and fearful. The thought of losing Jesus made Peter strike out in a selfish rage.
In astrology, according to the “traditional rulership” model, each planet rules two signs.* The planet Jupiter (the largest planet in the solar system) rules the signs Sagittarius (fire) and Pisces (water). Both signs are associated with religious belief and faith, where the fire sign Sagittarius is aligned with dogma, doctrine, and symbolic ritual (as knowledge of faith), while the water sign Pisces is aligned with the spiritual feelings that receive psychic revelations and move one to be self-sacrificing (as acts of faith). The two roles conflict with one another (fire and water do not mix well), while challenging one to be religious both by words and deeds.
In this sense, one can see in the act of Gethsemane how cutting off an ear was an indication (as a prophetic statement being made) of how Peter would become the founder of that which would become identified as the physical body of Christ (Roman Catholicism). Such a dogmatic, rule-stating approach to faith would seek to keep Christian individuals from drinking of the cup God has poured for each person to experience. Jesus then represents each of us being called to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, just as he was called.
The lack of faith that Peter had is then displayed in his denial of knowing Jesus and refusing to acknowledge he was one of Jesus’ disciples. The fact that Peter swore a curse on himself, as proof that he was not lying (when he was), means that Peter failed God (breaking His Commandment) at the same time he denied Christ. This curse would take hold after Peter’s death, when the Church of Rome would begin the decline of true Christianity (where each individual must drink from the cup of the Father), forcing it (at the edge of a sword) to worship the Church as the earthly “King” (a surrogate) that served as an intermediary for Christ the King and God the Father. In this view, one can see that Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, whose Hebrew name means “my king,” somewhat as a Freudian slip of the sword, subconsciously wanting the unworthy (a servant of Rome) to never hear the message of Jesus, the king of the Jews.
The symbolism of an “ear” is clearly about one’s ability to “hear.” The symbolism of the “right side” is that of the proper or correct view, as opposed to the “left side,” which bears the connotation of that which is “sinister and evil”. Christ is at the right hand of God, with nothing heavenly at God’s left hand. To only be able to hear with the left ear, one would be led to a condition of doubt, finding it difficult to discern truth from lies.
Peter then, in effect, cut off his own right ear by his action, making himself hear the relative of Malchus (Gentiles) with fear and doubt, when that relative addressed Peter as a known Galilean, thus surely one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter heard that (and the two prior denials) as a threat to him personally, should he be identified as a follower of Jesus, then arrested. Most likely, Malchus, having been touched by Jesus and healed, would have marveled about this to his relative, who would then later encounter Peter. The relative would then be more likely to want to praise Jesus to a disciple, for the miracle Jesus performed, rather than bring charges against Peter for an act that did no lasting damage (after the healing). Thus, for anyone’s right ear to be severed, the symbolism is an act that prevents one from hearing that which is right and good. Jesus restored the ability to hear the word of God for “my king”(the meaning of Malchus), as a sign that Jesus was doing the work of the Father.
R. T. Tippett.
* The two signs Cancer and Leo are ruled by two bodies, the Sun and Moon, but those two bodies represent the duality of one’s self – the outward and the inner.