Question & Answer Forum: The Use of the Sword

How do we understand, “I came not to send peace, but a sword”?

In Matthew 10, the Lord is sending His twelve disciples into a hostile world. Some would not receive their message (v 14). They were like “sheep in the midst of wolves” (v 16). They would face arrests and scourging (v 17). Closest loved ones would betray them to death (v 21). In fact, they would carry the message in a world where all hate them (v 22). When the gospel would reach families, the natural enmity toward God (Rom 8:7) would cause unbelieving family members to be the enemy of the believers (Mat 10:35, 36). Sometimes the unbelievers would display this outwardly; it would always be true inwardly.

The disciples did not encounter all of this on this first mission to which the Lord was now sending them. At the end of His ministry (John 16:1-4), He again emphasized this animosity, because they would face it after His ascension.

By saying, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved,” the Lord introduced a statement He later set in its context. In Matthew 24, He used that exact statement (v 13) as He described conditions accompanying great tribulation (v 21) in the last half of the seven years that precede His coming to earth.

So, in Matthew 10, the Lord sees these disciples as the beginning of a chain of witnesses that will stretch from “the days of His flesh” (Heb 5:7) until “the end of the age” (Mat 13:39; 24:3; 28:20). Until He comes in power and great glory (24:30), the world will be in a state of rebellion against the Lord and against His Anointed (Psa 2:2). The disciples recognized that the rulers had manifested this condition when the Lord was crucified (Acts 4:26).

Individuals in this world receive peace with God through personal faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). The world at large will not receive peace until the Son of Man returns with a sharp sword (Rev 19:15) to establish righteousness and peace (Psa 72:3). For individuals, He came to give peace; for earth’s kingdoms, because of the hostility of unbelieving man’s heart, He came to bring the sword in order to establish “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14).

David Oliver

What is the explanation of the Lord’s words, “It is enough,” to the disciples’ statement, “Lord, behold, here are two swords” (Luke 22:38)?

The Lord Jesus had reminded them of their place in His coming kingdom (v 29). Their path to that kingdom would be one of suffering. For the present, each of them was a target of Satan (v 31). Christ would be judged by the world (1Co 2:8) as worthy of a place among transgressors (Luke 22:37). Because of this enmity to Him, the world would persecute them also (John 15:20). They had not previously faced this blatant opposition when He sent them out with His message Luke 22:35). His statement, “But now,” points out a change. They were going to be under attack in a hostile world. Peter had already assured the Lord that he was willing to die for Him (v 33). Perhaps their statement, “Here are two swords,” was their way of saying all of them were willing to die for Him.

At this point, the Lord Jesus had given them all the teaching that they could receive (that was His way; Mark 4:33). Eventually, what He had told them would become clear. The words He had given them and the example He soon gave them of willingness to suffer were sufficient. He knew what the eventual result would be: they would fulfill their mission and suffer and die for His sake. Any further discussion was unnecessary. “It is enough.” In effect he said, “We don’t need to discuss this any further.” The tone of His voice would hardly have conveyed a rebuke.

(Commentators vary in interpreting this passage. In support of this view of verse 38, see “What the Bible Teaches,” The Gospel According to Luke, N. Crawford.)

David Oliver

How could the Lord tell the disciples to take a sword, yet teach, “Do good to them which hate you”?

When Peter took up his sword to defend the Lord, the Lord replaced the servant’s ear and rebuked Peter. Evidently, he misunderstood what the Lord had said. When the remainder (apart from John and Peter; John 18:15) fled at the time of the Lord’s arrest, evidently they also misunderstood. When the Lord told them to buy a sword (Luke 22:36), He was alerting them to a change. They didn’t need protection when He sent them out previously (Luke 9:1-3).

In light of His arrest, He was not teaching them to defend themselves, but taught them to understand the environment they were soon to face. We have no Biblical evidence that they ever defended themselves with a sword. In fact, Acts tells us that they rejoiced because “they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

God intends Christians to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21), which the Lord taught when He told His own, “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:27, 28).

David Oliver

Why did the Lord ask, “Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take Me?”

The Lord reminds those who came to arrest Him that He had been available for them to arrest day after day in the temple. These Jewish captains and officers (John 18:12) from the chief priests and elders did not lay hands on Him within the preceding week because they feared the people (Mat 21:46). In addition, within recent months they had taken up stones to kill Him, but He hid and left the temple passing through the midst of the people. They could not have laid hands on Him then.

What had changed? Why would they now be able to apprehend Him? The Lord supplies us with at least three reasons. First, the Scriptures must be fulfilled (Mark 14:49). Second, this was the divine appointment: “This is your hour and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Third, He made it clear that He would be voluntarily “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isa 53:7). His words had caused them to go backward and fall to the ground (John 18:6). What good would swords do if He didn’t willingly give Himself to do His Father’s will (John 18:11)?

David Oliver