The following text was originally published by someone on a site called Harmless as Doves. I thought it was so good that I copied it and saved it on my computer, but now I’ve seen that the original site has been removed. So here it is, re-entering the Internet:
Luke 22:35-38 is often cited to challenge the Christian pacifist perspective. In this passage, Jesus instructed his disciples to buy swords, amongst other items.
Luke 22:35-38: Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. For it is written: ‘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.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.
First we must ask, why did Jesus want them to buy swords? It seems unlikely that Jesus’ instructions were intended to prepare his disciples for armed conflict and self defense, because two swords does not seem to be “enough,” as Jesus put it, to defend twelve men. In fact, in the passage itself Jesus explained the purpose for the swords. Jesus instructed his disciples to buy the swords, “for it is written: ‘he was numbered with the transgressors.’”
Here, Jesus referenced Isaiah 53:12, which contains one of the many Old Testament prophesies concerning the life of the Messiah. Jesus wanted the swords present when he was arrested, because the presence of the swords would indicate to those arresting him that he was one of the “transgressors,” that he was leading a violent rebellion. Jesus again referenced this while he was being arrested:
Matthew 26:55-56: At that time Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
In this passage, Jesus acknowledged that all this was taking place so “that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”
The disciples did not understand this, and as Jesus was being arrested, Peter attempted to defend him by reaching for one of the swords, and striking the servant of the High Priest, cutting off his ear. Jesus miraculously healed the wound, and then rebuked Peter:
Matthew 26:52-53: “Put your sword back in its place… for all who take the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?”
Peter’s actions could certainly be considered a just use of defensive violence. Jesus, an innocent man, was about to be given into the hands of an angry mob. Using one of the swords Jesus told him to buy, Peter attempted to rescue his friend. Jesus, however, rebuked Peter and rebuked this use of defensive violence. Later at his trial before Pilate, Jesus made a comment which explained his condemnation of Peter’s actions:
John 18:36: My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight…
If Jesus’ kingdom were of this world, his servants could use defensive violence when attacked. However, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.
Many argue that Jesus had to die on the cross, and this is why his disciples could not defend him. It must be noted, however, that the reason Jesus gave for not fighting was not that he had to die on the cross, but that his kingdom was not of this world. In contrast to the kingdoms of the world, Jesus’ servants do not fight; His kingdom is built around love and the love of enemies. Jesus specifically forbade Peter from using the sword, but his wording was universal:
Matthew 26:52: “Put your sword back in its place… for all who take the sword will die by the sword.”
This same denunciation of “the sword” is found in the book of Revelation, specifically applied to all followers of Christ:
Revelation 13:9-10: He who has an ear, let him hear… He who kills with the sword will be killed with the sword. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.
In this passage, the same comment Jesus made prohibiting the defense of himself is explicitly applied to all “who has an ear.” Indeed, refraining from using violent self-defense against an approaching enemy does require “patient endurance and faithfulness.”
Jesus’ followers appear to have gotten the message, because although Jesus told them to buy swords in Luke 22, we never again read of the disciples carrying swords or physically defending themselves. Acts 8:1 tells us that a “great persecution broke out against the church.” Throughout the rest of the book of Acts, and the rest of the New Testament in general, we read of Christians facing persecution from mobs, religious authorities, and governmental authorities. Most of the Apostles met a martyr’s death, but instead of using defensive violence, they showed love towards their enemies.
Acts 7:60: …“Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”…
Although faced with great persecution, the Apostles followed the lead of Jesus and Stephen, facing their enemies with love while rejecting the sword. Here are the Apostles in their own words:
Romans 12:14: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Romans 12:17-21: Do not repay anyone evil for evil… live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
1 Thessalonians 5:9: God did not appoint us to wrath…
1 Thessalonians 5:15: Make sure that no one back evil for evil, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.
James 1:20: The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
1 Peter 3:9-11: Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing …turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.