Why did Jesus tell the apostles to buy a sword?

The Bible is an inexhaustible fountain of knowledge and wisdom. I need God’s Word every dayEar just like I need food, water, and oxygen. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to teach me, correct me, admonish me, encourage me, comfort me, and delight me. Praise the Lord for His wonderful and glorious Word!

The depths of Scripture can never be plumbed in this lifetime. I’ve read verses and passages many times without really understanding the full extent of their meaning. Then one day I’ll be reading a verse and, “Pow!,” the Holy Spirit illuminates it to me so that I really “get it” for the first time. I’m sure that’s happened to many of you as well.

I’m currently reading through Luke and yesterday I was reading chapter 22, verses 35-38:

“And He said to them, “When I sent you without 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.””

I’ve read this passage many times before but it never “clicked” with me. Why did Jesus instruct His apostles to buy a sword (makhaira: generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge)? Didn’t Jesus rebuke Peter for violently wielding one of those swords in the Garden of Gethsemane just a few verses later? I asked the young pastor of the church we attended last year about this seeming contradiction and he confessed he didn’t know the answer. In the documentary, “Fight Church,” the macho son of the macho former pastor of the independent fundamental Baptist church we used to attend who is now the pastor uses these verses to justify Christians owning guns and kicking some butt whenever needed.

But as I read the verses yesterday, the Holy Spirit finally illuminated their meaning to me. Jesus told the apostles to buy a sword to fulfill prophetic Scripture:

“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” – Isaiah 53:12.

Jesus was with Peter and the apostles in Gethsemane when Peter transgressed by using a sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus was counted among the violent “anomos” (lawbreakers). Oh, I get it now! It’s so simple. So easy. Why didn’t I understand it before? Jesus even states QUITE CLEARLY in the passage that the need for a sword was to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that He would be numbered among the criminals:

“…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.’”

Why didn’t my previous pastor just out of seminary know this? Why does the IFB macho pastor not see this but instead twists the passage to support his own misguided, macho man viewpoint? Why didn’t John MacArthur, J. Vernon McGee, and other notable Bible commentators understand this clearly obvious reason for Jesus’ instruction to buy a sword? Because it’s the Holy Spirit who illuminates God’s Word to us. Understanding of God’s Word doesn’t come to us from our own human wisdom.

“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” – John 16:13

Jesus would also be numbered with the transgressors when He hung on the cross between the two criminals.

“With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” – Mark 15:27-28

Jesus interceded for Peter after his violent act and He interceded for the repentant criminal hanging beside Him (along with all the rest of us sinners), just as Isaiah had foretold.

Lord, thank You for Your Word and for illuminating Your Truths which we can’t possibly discern through our own human understanding.

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8 thoughts on “Why did Jesus tell the apostles to buy a sword?

  1. Tom, this topic is worth further study. I would look at what a variety of solid teachers have said over the long history of the Church, commentaries, etc. Protecting the lives of others is a mandate, the positive aspect of the law forbidding murder. See, for example, the Westminster Larger Catechism on the sixth commandment:

    “Question 136: What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
    “Answer: The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge;all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and: Whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any. ”

    My thought is that the Bible tells us to turn the other cheek and not to resist a wicked man. These commandments have to do with someone coming against our own self They don’t have to do with someone coming against someone else, whom we must help.

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    1. Thanks, Maria. The question of the taking up of arms by believers has been debated within the church for many centuries. I don’t take a strong stand on the question either way, although I think many of those who were in favor of taking up arms in the past including Protestants also believed very strongly in church-state integration. I do think it’s fair to say the New Testament does not encourage believers to use violence or take up arms; in fact it encourages the opposite as we know. Some have pointed to Luke 22:35-38 as a justification for self-defense, but Jesus Himself states in the passage that the reason He directed the apostles to buy the sword was to fulfill the prophecy that He would be numbered among the transgressors.

      The early church was persecuted severely by the Romans, yet we don’t see any examples from history of the believers retaliating in kind against the Romans. It doesn’t seem to have been until Constantine that we see the sword mixing with Christianity. It’s a difficult topic. If someone were to break into our home and threaten my wife, I would not stand passively by. Neither would I knowingly take her to a dangerous place.

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      1. Tom, the Lord was clearly instructing them to be prepared as they went into the world and part of that preparation was to carry a sword. The sword wasn’t for aggression but defense, as it was used down through history by Christians in the minority, for example, by the Waldenses when they were under attack and had to defend mountain passes that led into their hidden homes. The apostles went armed before Constantine or the union of church and state.

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      2. Oh, yes we can certainly disagree harmoniously on secondaries, sister, as we have in the past and will probably do in the future. We follow the same Shepherd and proclaim the same Gospel and that’s the important thing.

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    1. When we get to glory, I’m sure the Lord will show me I was wrong about some things…although I can’t imagine what they might be! 🙂 Yes, it’s comforting to know our Shepherd knows all and that we can leave the details to Him.

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