Matthew 10 :34 includes some rather strange sounding words by Jesus:
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” (Matt 10:34)
Is it really Jesus’ desire to send a sword – strife, bloodshed and death? Doesn’t that seem contradictory?
We all know what a literal sword is. This page is more concerned with the sword as a symbol in scripture and its use in relation to God. Especially, we want to understand its use in Matthew 10:34.
Traditional Legal Model – mainly, the sword is used by God as a symbol of His justice or revenge either executed personally or through Israel’s enemies.
Biblical healing Model – the sword is used as a symbol of the consequences (often via Israel’s enemies) of his people departing from Him and thus losing his protection. It is never wielded by God’s hand to inflict injury.
It is used symbolically in both models to represent God’s word. This page especially focuses on how it might cause division without God being to blame for it.
The first indication there is something wrong with the idea that Jesus sends a sword to cause injury is in the description of the Savior Himself:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6)
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)” (Acts 10:36)
The Sword as a Symbol
We need to look at the symbolism of a sword.
“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” (Eph 6:17)
From that verse, we can equate a sword with the word:
sword = word
Further evidence comes from:
“And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” (Rev 19:15)
The symbolism is fairly obvious. There is no literal sword coming out of His mouth but His words. Now we can take the comparison further:
“Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” (John 17:17)
sword = word = truth
This verse tells us more about the meaning and function of a sword:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
Here is the definition of “discerner” from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
- One who sees, discovers or distinguishes; an observer.
- One who knows and judges; one who has the power of distinguishing.
He was a great observer and discerner of mens natures and humors.
- That which distinguishes; or that which causes to understand.
The word of God is quick and powerful–a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12.
Now we can expand the comparison:
sword = word = truth = discerner
What does that mean? The sword is the word which, since it is truth, will help the one who sincerely reads it to discern truth. But what truth? The verse tells us: “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Of course, it is we that need to properly understand the thoughts and intents of our own hearts – basically, our own condition. And we are told:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9)
So since the sword or word helps us to discern truth how could that result in division as we think the sword to mean?
Divisions Will Happen
There is evidence that the truth divides or separates, even within families:
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Matt 10:34-36)
In John 6, Jesus spoke a very sublime truth”
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
But that truth resulted in division:
“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? … From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” (John 6:60, 66)
So the result of the sword/word which helps to discern truth is often division:
sword = word = truth = discerner –> division
We further see that the Word is equated in scripture with Jesus:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
“And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.” (Rev 19:13)
So we can take our comparison still further:
Jesus = sword = word = truth = discerner –> division
Now we are connecting Jesus with a source of division. However, it was and is not His purpose to cause division. The problem is man’s reaction to truth. When some reject truth and others accept it, that naturally results in division.
Much Depends on Your Viewpoint
Much in the Old Testament, when read with the common understanding and a mind not open to truth, causes people to turn away from God. Indeed, most of even the Christian world views God as condemning and judgmental – out to find fault with us.
But what happens if a person actually reads and studies the word of God especially the difficult parts of the Old Testament with a mind open to truth and through the lens of the New Testament revelation of Christ? In other words, with a correct concept of the character of God.
“But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it [he] shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.” (2 Cor 3:14-16)
Looking through “the Jesus lens” is removing the veil that is over our eyes that prevents us from correctly understanding the true character of the God of the Old Testament
There is a sense in which that correct understanding is now causing a division among Christians. Many Bible students are looking carefully at the character of God as demonstrated by Jesus’ life. They are attempting to harmonize all they read with the fundamental truth that God is love and they are seeing many things in a new light. There are examples of members and ministers who have been excluded from churches and fellowship because their reading of the Bible through the lens of Christ’s character has given them a different picture of the character of God.
While it has never been Jesus’ purpose to bring a literal sword or cause any division, the result of truth discerned in His Word has been to cause division between not only believers and non-believers but also among believers with very different understandings of the character of God.
If we would all look through the same “lens,” comparing everything, especially those difficult Old Testament stories, with the life and character of Jesus we would gain a better appreciation of the wonderful character of God.
Return to the Home Page