Living By the Sword
by David C. Grabbe
Forerunner, "Ready Answer," December 2002
And [Jesus] said to them, "When I sent you with out money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" So they said, "Nothing." Then He said to them, "But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: 'And He was numbered with the transgressors.' For the things concerning Me have an end. "So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough." (Luke 22:35-38)
At first glance, Jesus Christ seems to be commanding His followers to sell even their clothing, if necessary, to buy weapons. But if we examine this scripture more closely, as well as the preceding and following events, we can better understand His instruction.
Christ first asks the disciples if they were provided for when He sent them out. His reference to an earlier event provides the background for the commands in Luke 22. Jesus' earlier instructions—when the disciples were sent out as ambassadors to announce the presence of a King and a Kingdom—are distinctly different from these later instructions just before His death and resurrection, when He would no longer be with them in person.
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had told them not to be concerned with procuring extra provisions for their journeys as they went to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons. He specifically instructed them, "Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece" (Luke 9:3). A short time later, He gave similar instructions: "Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road" (Luke 10:4). The parallel account in Matthew 10:7-10 mirrors these directives:
And as you go, preach, saying, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs; for a worker is worthy of his food.
Jesus Christ was not issuing a blanket prohibition against sandals, or against money, or against owning more than one shirt. However, for a limited interval of time, He directed them to travel lightly, for a number of reasons.
First, for these initial activities, Christ did not want His disciples to be concerned about physical preparations. He wanted them to focus on the job that He had given them to do—preach the gospel and report back to Him—rather than on worrying about obtaining extra clothing or footwear. His emphasis was on the mission He was sending them on, but He knew human nature's tendency to worry about the details of its own comfort and existence. He did not want the disciples caught up in any preparations that would delay or distract them from His work through them.
Second, Christ was helping them to build faith in God as their Provider. He was teaching them to live and do His work without concern for their physical lives. He states clearly that if we are seeking His Kingdom first, and all that it entails, God will provide for all of our real needs (Matthew 6:33). The Father provides for even the birds and flowers, and we are of much greater worth than these (verses 25-32). God even has a name that reflects this: YHWH-Jireh, the Lord will provide as He thinks fit.
There is an alleged contradiction between the accounts given by Matthew and Mark. In Mark 6:8-9, Jesus says, "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics." In Matthew 10:9-10, He instructs, "Provide neither gold nor silver nor copper in your money belts, nor bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor staffs." This problem is easily resolved when we realize that He is really talking about two different things. In Matthew's account, Jesus does not forbid wearing sandals or carrying a staff, but only forbids their providing themselves with more—getting extra ones. Instead of being concerned when their current trappings wore out, they should trust God to supply their need and go just as they were. On this verse Albert Barnes comments, "The meaning of the two evangelists may be thus expressed: 'Do not procure anything more for your journey than you have on. Go as you are, shod with sandals, without making any more preparation.'"
Third, Christ did not want His disciples caught up in the spirit of materialism. Certain elements within the culture of the day would "preach" for money, either religiously or philosophically. Charlatans would sell "snake oil" cures. Mediums and spiritists could do seemingly miraculous things—for a price. People in this society would do anything to turn a quick penny just like today.
Christ's words in Matthew 10:8 are meant to counteract this mindset. He had given the disciples miraculous power to heal and cleanse, as well as authority over demons. Yet, because He had given these spiritual gifts to them freely, Christ told them to carry out His instructions without seeking monetary or material compensation. God's workers are worthy of their hire but should not build personal fortunes through the services they render for Him. God is certainly generous, and provides for His servants as He sees fit, but He prohibits them from using His gifts for their own gain. He will bless them as it pleases Him!
A Change in Approach
With this background in mind, we can see the contrast in Christ's instructions, and how His death would require a change in approach for the disciples as they conducted His work.
In Luke 22, Jesus first calls to their attention that they were divinely provided for during His earthly ministry. They did not lack anything. He is reiterating that they will still be provided for, but their circumstances would not be as comfortable as before. They would have to trust even more and perhaps be satisfied with less. God would still provide for them, simply because it is a fundamental part of His nature, but things would not be as easy.
We can see this principle at work in the account of the first Pentecost after Christ's ascension. There were many signs and miracles, and undoubtedly every person present remembered that day for the rest of his life! As the church started out, there were miraculous healings and other gifts of the Spirit being manifested seemingly on a regular basis. However, when we read the accounts of the apostles later in their lives, there are no records of the same public miracles or healings.
Had God left them? Was He displeased with their work? Had they lost their faith? Was He limiting their supply of His Holy Spirit? On the contrary, the apostles were maturing spiritually, and God did not need to bolster their faith in the same way through astounding manifestations of His Spirit. "Elementary school" was over. Now they were growing up spiritually and had more serious work to do.
In the same way, Christ warned the disciples in Luke 22:36 that their responsibilities would be increased, their journeys lengthened, the dangers greater, and the physical costs higher. God would still be with them, but they would begin to be more acutely aware of their physical circumstances and have to trust in Him to an even greater degree.
Christ's instructions in verse 36 are primarily spiritual, but there are true physical principles in them as well. The disciples would be going on much longer and more arduous missions now, and they would have need of a moneybag and knapsack. But shortly after His original instructions to the disciples in Luke 9:3 and Luke 10:4, He showed them that material wealth is of little importance:
Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
Yes, they would have need of bags to carry their provisions, but again, Christ teaches them not to be limited to the physical and temporal in their contemplations. It was exceedingly more important that the "bags" the disciples carried with them be spiritual moneybags, symbolizing good works that would never decay or be stolen. While there was a physical application of His instruction, the real lesson was a spiritual one.
Why Buy a Sword?
In the same way, Christ's instruction to buy a sword had an immediate application in that it would fulfill in part the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12: By carrying weapons, the disciples would be classified by others as transgressors or criminals. In this instance also, the spiritual application far outweighs the physical.
The disciples' reaction shows that they did not really grasp His intent. Their response is, "Lord, look, here are two swords," to which He replies, "It is enough." He is not saying that two swords would be enough to defend twelve men. If that were His intent, He would have said, "They are enough." Instead, He is showing that the discussion was over. It was a mild rebuke showing that the matter was closed, as in "Enough of this!"
Through His capture and trial, Jesus Christ demonstrates that neither He, nor the disciples, nor anyone following Him, needs to take up a weapon:
But Jesus said to [Judas], "Friend, why have you come?" Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus [Peter (John 18:10)] stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:50-53)
The parallel account in Luke 22:49-51 shows that Christ was so opposed to this sort of reaction by Peter that He miraculously undid what Peter had done!
Peter was walking by sight. He did not yet grasp that God was completely in control; nothing would happen to him or to Jesus that was not according to God's ultimate plan. God's plan entails so much more than just length of days or freedom from injury! This physical life is the training ground, not the end. One who stays faithful to his commitment to God will not die until God's purpose for him is complete!
It is given that all men die (Hebrews 9:27), and our death may even be a violent one—of all of the apostles, only John died a natural death. As servants of God, we can expect to be persecuted in the same way our Master was (II Timothy 3:12). But that does not give us cause to take up arms if it means harming someone else! Christ shows that those who trust in physical protection will be let down, while those who trust in God to defend them will never suffer anything that does not ultimately fulfill His purpose.
Later in life, the formerly impetuous, sword-wielding Peter revisited this scenario. After having many years to reflect on Jesus' instructions and personal example, Peter is still inclined to reach for a weapon. He says, "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves"!
What are we to be armed with?
". . . arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (I Peter 4:1-2).
We are commanded to arm ourselves with the same mindset and attitude of Christ. He had the entire host of heaven at His disposal yet never lifted a finger in His own defense! He threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, not because they were threatening Him, but because they were desecrating His Father's house. When it came to His own security, He always chose to remove Himself from the situation—until His earthly ministry was over, when He humbly submitted to the most unfair treatment that has ever been imposed on a human being.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10 to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." In the next several verses, He shows that we are involved in a war, one in which no sword, gun, or any other human weapon can help us. Our battles are spiritual battles, and even when those battles involve human instruments, our articles of defense are still spiritual: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and of course the "sword" of the Spirit—the Word of God (verses 14-17). This is the sword that we should carry with us constantly and look to for defense.
Jesus Christ's words in Luke 22:35-37 are not instructions for us to be physically armed or to trust in our own might for our physical defense. There will always be a weapon or a foe that is stronger than any physical defense we could muster. God tells us to stay above the fray and to trust in Him for our defense.
If He sees fit to let us befall persecution or injury as a consequence of our own foolishness or sin, we should learn from our mistake and continue on. However, if we are reviled, slandered, or even physically persecuted for righteousness' sake, and we take it patiently— that is, if we endure it without reaching for a sword—this is commendable before God (I Peter 2:19).
© 2002 Church of the Great God
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