Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why did Jesus say "buy a sword"?

Hope you're all enjoying the Christmas season.

Here's a question I've gotten a dozen times in the last several weeks:

If Jesus is opposed to violence, why did he tell his disciples to buy swords (Lk 22:36-37)?

First, if we read ahead 12 verses we find Jesus being arrested in the garden. His disciples ask, "Lord, should we strike with the sword?" (vs. 49). Before Jesus can even answer, Peter swings away, cutting off the ear of a guard. Jesus rebuked Peter, telling him that all who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mt. 26:52; Jn 18:10-11). Jesus then healed the guard's ear, showing that the Kingdom he represents advances not by committing violence against enemies but by loving and serving enemies.

Whatever Jesus was up to in telling his followers to buy swords, it's clear he didn't intend them to use them! In fact, had he intended his disciples to use violence to defend themselves it would have contradicted every single teaching Jesus had previously given them about loving enemies, doing good to them, never retaliating, turning the other cheek, etc...

A close look at the passage reveals Jesus' purpose. Immediately after telling his disciples to buy swords (Lk 22:36) Jesus says, "It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”(vs. 37, emphasis added). So the reason Jesus wanted his disciples to possess swords was not to use them, but to fulfill prophecy (Isa 53:12) by appearing to be a law breaker to the Jewish authorities.

This is why, in the next verse, when the disciples say they have two swords, Jesus says "That is enough." (vs. 38). Obviously, if Jesus ever intended the disciples to actually use swords in self defense, two wouldn't be nearly enough. But it was enough to fulfill the prophecy and justify the Jewish authorities accusing him of being a rebel leader. (My thanks to my friend Tony Bartlett, author of Cross Purposes, for giving me this insight at a recent Atonement conference).

It's also significant that when Jesus appeared before Pilate and was asked if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus told him his kingdom was not of this world. He then pointed to the fact that his followers were not fighting to defend him as proof of this claim (Jn. 18:36). Kings of earthly kingdoms always have their subjects fight to defend or advances their causes. Not so with this King, and not so in this Kingdom.

Let your refusal to engage in violence be proof to the world that you belong to a Kingdom that is not of this world.

Be a peacemaker, not a sword swinger.

Merry Christmas