"When I sent you without purse, and script, and shoes, lacked ye anything? . . . 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. 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 22:36, 37, emphasis supplied throughout). This text appears only in Luke. Matthew, Mark, and John apparently did not consider it of sufficient importance to include in the gospel record.
Clearly, this statement marked a change in Christ's life and behavior in a way the disciples could not comprehend, although He had told them. They thought He meant the time had come to fight; therefore, Peter drew his sword and cut off the high priest's servant's ear. But Jesus said, "No more of this!" and quickly healed the man. The disciples knew that Jesus had the power to win any confrontation. Why wouldn't He fight? Why wouldn't He allow them to fight? Now thoroughly confused, having taken Jesus' meaning literally, when He gave them opportunity to flee, they took it. Although critics of the message of God's character of love try to use this text to prove that, when threatened with physical harm, Christ endorsed use of the sword, abundant evidence exists1 that He didn't mean that. Violence was not in His nature. Well, then, what did He mean?
In a footnote to Luke 22:36 in The Geneva Bible Commentary, the author makes this comment: "He says all this using an allegory, as if he said, 'O my friends and fellow soldiers, you have lived until now in relative peace: but now there is at hand a most severe battle to be fought, and you must therefore lay all other things aside and think about dressing yourselves in armour.' And what this armour is, is shown by his own example, when he . . . reproved Peter for striking with the sword."
Remember where Jesus was at this time, because it is relevant. As they entered the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew this was the hour that He would drink the cup of sorrow to its dregs and then return to His home in heaven. Although the disciples didn't know it at the moment, this was His departing message to them.
Indeed, Jesus position in the world changed that day. Henceforth the disciples would have to go it alone without His physical presence to comfort and counsel them. He said, "[T]his scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless,'" quoting Isaiah 53:12, "[H]e was numbered with the transgressors," meaning He knew that within a few short hours He would be hanging between two thieves on His way to a voluntary death. He meant His crisis hour had arrived. His concern had nothing to do with swords, as critics of present truth today assert. He used the word "sword" symbolically. Did He refer to future conquests by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God? Or might He have meant the severity of the assault on His emotions? Could He have attached a symbolic word within a statement that was otherwise quite straightforward? One thing is clear; what He didn't mean. And He didn't mean to endorse the violent use of the sword.
Imagine what an emotional burden Jesus carried into the Garden that night. Could His experience have been compared to the agony of a sword slashing through His heart? Apparently so, for there are at least two references to this in Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The first is in Psalms 22:18, where we hear Christ praying to the Father. "Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog." A sword was not used at the crucifixion. The only thing that came close was a spear, which a centurion plunged into His side when He was already dead. This sword was clearly figurative.
A second example is Zechariah 13:7. "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man who is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." Jesus claimed these words as a prophecy of Himself when He said, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Matthew 26:31). Although He did not mention the sword in the part of the text that He quoted, these two portions clearly belong together, again symbolizing the great pain Jesus experienced when He went to the cross for us.
The New Testament offers a third example of the use of the sword to symbolize the pain that Jesus felt through His mother's experience when He went to the cross. The just and devout Simeon at the dedication of baby Jesus declared to Mary, "Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also," implying the piercing of a sword through Jesus heart and by this, through the heart of Mary. Did Simeon speak the truth? Yes. But it was a symbolic sword that nonetheless drove through His emotions so realistically that it broke His heart. Symbolic swords can kill.
When opponents of this message seek ammunition in Jesus' life to defeat our position, they inevitably pick this statement in Luke 22:36, 37 as their first exhibit. You can hardly blame them, because scant proof exists that Jesus was ever anything but nonviolent, and they have little from which to choose. Couple that with the fact that the Father is just like Jesus, and (what can I say?) we win.
Luke 22:36 illustrates what can happen when the symbolic is erroneously interpreted as literal or vice versa. In the study of no subject is this more clear than in the study of the Fires of Judgment Day. We will take up this study next time.
1"Then Simon, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, 'Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?'" (John 10, 11).
"Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'" (Matthew 26:51-53).