By Guest author Marilyn Campbell
New light has shone upon us in these last days, revealing our beautiful God in such splendor as we have never before seen Him. Slowly but steadily, the Bible has released to our understanding its glorious light that God does not kill, murder or destroy. Only a few seemingly-contradictory Scriptures remain to be reconciled. One such is this:
“Then said he unto them. But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)
On the surface. this statement seems to contradict the message of God’s loving character, for it goes against many of the other teachings of Jesus.
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” “Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5:44, 39)
The idea of using a sword for protection seems incongruous in this setting. Jesus walked the talk. He never sought vengeance, although He had many opportunities to do so – when the Samaritans rebuffed Him, when His brothers ridiculed Him, when Simon the Pharisee thought insultingly of Mary Magdalene, when Judas kissed Him; when the religious leaders abused Him, when He came forth from the grave. We do not find Jesus taking revenge in any of these scenarios. Taking vengeance would be contrary to both His and His Father’s character. In its profound simplicity, this concept changes the paradigm of truth for the coming years. Nothing about Jesus supports the idea of a vengeful God.
When Jesus spoke these words to the disciples, they understood the words literally, as do many today. Soon they saw the crowd approaching with swords and clubs in their hands. With Jesus’ words so recently sounding in their ears, the disciples prepared to fight. Now they would conquer.
Now Christ would reveal His true character to the world. Peter even brandished his sword and cut off the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant. They were wholly unprepared for Jesus’ reaction to all this.
As He reached forth His hand and restored the ear, Jesus basically said “No more of this.”
“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (Luke 22:51; Matthew 26:52, 53; John 18:11)
Confused and now thoroughly disarmed, the disciples felt that great danger threatened; therefore, they forsook Him and fled. Hadn’t Jesus told them so recently to go and buy a sword? Many modern readers interpret these words as the disciples interpreted them: literally. But might it have been not a literal but a spiritual statement, having a spiritual interpretation in keeping with Jesus’ practice of teaching in parables? Throughout the New Testament, virtually any mention of a sword had a spiritual or figurative meaning, such as “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Here a sword is likened to God’s word, a definite symbolic meaning. Simeon prophesied of Mary, “A sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35). Here prophesy reveals the great sorrow that Mary would experience watching as her Son went to the cross. That sorrow would be like a sword; no pain would compare with it. This great sorrow could only be likened to the sharp drilling down of a sword into her soul; a metaphorical rather than a literal sword.
Jesus also said, “I came not to send peace on the earth, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34), another metaphor not intended to be understood literally. That “sword” could come to the earth in the form of weaponry, yes but also weather, earthquakes, sinkholes, strife or any other destructive means the enemy could invent. It wasn’t meant to be understood in any other way.
Now, returning to our text, let us see if it could be understood spiritually and not literally. Jesus is engaged in teaching His disciples. He mediates a dispute among them as to who shall be the greatest. “Have they learned nothing in all the time He has been with them?” He surely wondered. He asked, “When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” A literal question calling for a literal answer. “They said, ‘Nothing.’” So far, so good.
This was a work of the Holy Spirit, He implied, continuing to minister to them about their dispute. The Spirit nurtured them and saw to their needs. But He suddenly feels the first shuddering chill of His Father’s abandonment. His conversation veers off. He was speaking to the disciples about what they could achieve with the Holy Spirit’s infilling. It then comes to Him that now He is on His own, or so He believes and the evidence indicates. He feels the Father’s presence breaking up from Him. Now He must live by faith alone. He has the sense of the horror through which He must pass now, with His Father’s face turned away.
The disciples do not recognize this change in Him. To them the sword is literal. They continue thinking and conversing in that vein. But they do not see, do not perceive, that Jesus is now experiencing a change. He begins to feel alone, barren, hopeless. Gone now is the Holy Spirit’s presence. Now, He thinks, He must soldier on feeling the loss of His Father’s presence. “Then said he unto them. But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” His following words support this. “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end” (Luke 22:37). Here He quotes from the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, “he was numbered with the transgressors.” He thought of why He had come to the planet, of the nearness of the completion of His mission and, may I suggest, of the loneliness of soul He would carry with Him from this moment on.
The following events prove that Jesus was not directing the disciples to protect themselves with their own resources. They straightaway went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed in such anguish of spirit that His bloody sweat drops fell and mixed with the Judean soil, revealing the deep feelings of aloneness that tore at His soul in those hours when our salvation hung in the balance. When the crowd came and began menacing them, the disciples still thought of His words as literal. His sharp rebuke to Peter, His healing Malchus’ ear, His words to the baffled disciples all show His commitment to nonviolence. We hear His plaintive words as He experienced the first draughts of His Father’s abandonment. “He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”