Throwback Thursday: Why did Jesus tell the apostles to buy a sword?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on April 29, 2016 and has been revised.

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The Bible is an inexhaustible fountain of knowledge and wisdom. I need God’s Word every day 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:

35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, 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” (Greek: makhaira: generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge) when He subsequently rebuked Peter for violently wielding one of those swords in the Garden of Gethsemane just a few verses later (v. 51), causing the reader to question if Jesus had contradicted Himself. 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 violently 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 also interceded for the repentant criminal hanging beside Him (along with all the rest of us sinners who trust in Him by faith alone), 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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Note from February 11, 2021: I’m a bit embarrassed by my bold certitude regarding the interpretation of this difficult “let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” passage. I still hold to the above interpretation (which seems quite obvious to me), but in retrospect I would ratchet down my “triumphant” tone a few notches.

40 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Why did Jesus tell the apostles to buy a sword?

  1. This is indeed one of those “gems” that God’s Holy Spirit reveals, numbered with the transgressors as in setting the stage for the general appearance associated with transgressors. having the swords there and using them were not one and the same thing. Another gem is the man who ran away naked which reminded me of the scapegoat in the OT. I found someone else who thought the same thing: https://prepareforthelamb.com/2018/03/19/mark-1451-a-certain-young-man-followed-him-having-a-linen-cloth-thrown-around-his-naked-body-and-the-young-men-laid-hold-of-him-and-he-left-the-linen-cloth-and-fled-from-them-naked/. Let me know what you think! Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have read this article and this author reads more into this passage than what Mark records. In Mark 14:51-52 nakedness (and running) were forms of shame in the Jewish culture (hence in Luke 15 why the father running and showing his ankles to reach the Prodigal is shocking. The father shames himself to save his son because the townspeople according to Second Temple tradition had the right to kill the son since he was excommunicated). The nakedness of the man in Mark signifies the total failings on the part of the followers of Jesus. Every resource I consulted has affirmed this premise. The men who laid hold of this young man were not transferring anything onto him. This young man in his nakedness is not recording forgiveness but serves as a reminder how all the disciples fled and left Jesus alone. They saved themselves rather than suffering with Christ. Jesus alone is our scapegoat. He is the One who bore our sins. The Father laid the sins of the world on His Son, Jesus (Isa 53:6) and Jesus is also the Sacrificial Lamb (1 For 5:7). Praise God that Jesus’s death is once and for all. Praise God there is forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Christ alone.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mandy, thanks for the additional info. I’d have a tendency to go with your info, I just found it curious with the tentative tie-in with the scapegoat from the OT but because the scapegoat symbolized what only Jesus could do, it would have to be Jesus for both the sacrificed goat and the scapegoat. Much appreciated!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m kind of with you, Tom, on the ratcheted down part. Though it is not all that clear to me (that the sword reference fulfilled the prophecy regarding the transgressors), I still like your thought progression and effort to make sense of a verse most of us never think about.

    Of course I still think that the transgressors referred to our the thieves on the cross, but Peter did indeed transgress by what he did, and Jesus did get to perform a staggering miracle because of it. Who knows how many people were saved that day … at least those who directly witnessed the ear being restored. How could you see something like that and not be saved?

    So, even if the sword itself did not directly apply to that prophecy (though it may have), I believe it was definitely Jesus’ will for Peter to have possession of that sword so that he could do what he did, which led to Jesus doing what He did. Either way, Jesus’ will was done, and He was glorified.

    A very thought-provoking post, Tom (as you can tell by long-windedness)!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: I’m kind of with you, Tom, on the ratcheted down part.

      Hey! You’re not supposed to second the motion regarding my humble backtracking! 😊

      I would agree that the “numbered with the transgressors” episode #1 with Peter the swordsman was not of the same magnitude as the “numbered with the transgressors,” episode #2 on the cross, BUT I still argue that episode #1 is a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. We won’t solve it, but I appreciate your thoughtful evaluation.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, Tom!
    I cannot reconcile the trailer to the documentary. Merciful God, I have no words. I will watch this whole documentary at some point in the near future. While I am a proponent of faith, sports, Christian athletes etc this is too much. I am not opposed to boxing, in fact I appreciate Paul’s imagery in shadow boxing as a metaphor to the training in a Christian’s life.

    Todd Bentley used to hit people as part of his “healing” and “prophetic” ministry (I saw this heretic is making a return to public ministry, this makes me ill). Where I am going with this is that the IFB looks more like Todd Bentley and the NAR on this when then they do with evangelical, orthodox Christianity.

    I do agree with you that Luke is a fulfillment of Isaiah. Personally, for me, I have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God so I do not find it necessary for myself to own a gun, sword, knife etc (I will admit, I do have mace on my keychain, I have had some unfortunate things happen to me in life and there are times when I am traveling at night alone and so it is wise/prudent to have).

    I know there are people who use these verses to support owning firearms and other such items. I am married to someone who is career Army so for me, I know that Nathan knows how to fully operate said items and he is also VERY good at deescalating conflict, so I am thankful for that.

    I appreciate your acknowledgment of your “triumphant” tone. This one didn’t rattle my snow globe; however, it’s always good for us to reflect on how we say things!!

    Love and blessings to you and Corinne!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Mandy.

      RE: Fight Church

      The church that Paul pastored was the first Gospel-preaching church we attended, from 1983 to 1991. It was an independent fundamental Baptist church. Paul’s father was the first pastor and he was into karate. When Paul became pastor after we were long gone he took the fighting “ministry” to a much higher level that you see in Fight Church. The macho man culture was very bad at that church and Paul was eventually arrested and charged for abusing four young women. I wrote the posts below in 2017. Paul got a plea deal and was convicted on one count. He now runs a small tree-trimming business instead of pastoring.

      https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/how-a-church-became-a-stain-on-the-gospel-witness-in-my-city/

      https://excatholic4christ.wordpress.com/2018/03/16/update-how-a-church-became-a-dark-stain-on-the-gospel-witness-in-my-city/

      Yup, I was pretty puffed up about my interpretation. I still think it’s correct, but don’t need to wave a flag.

      Thank you and love and blessings to you and Nathan!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, with the macho man culture that he and his father created within the church they felt they weren’t accountable to anybody and could do whatever they wanted.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Couldn’t find even a single scratch! And I smacked the other car pretty hard. The other driver didn’t get out of his car but kept going- very strange all around.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow never saw it in that way before. While I do think elsewhere in Scripture there is a place for self defense which should also include the option of escaping I think “Fight church” MMA style is crazy for me. I like Mandy’s comment here. I’ve always found the guys who are principled and skill in self defense to be less bark and less flaunting. Descalating is so important. As I get older I feel I roll my eyes more to phony toughs decked out with cammies and a rifle on WordPress and have never known an ounce of violence but eager to do things in the name of Christ that will drag others in a conflict when it escalate. I don’t have time for beta male playing hero and can’t even be corrected theologically but can be a bully to a special needs Young Christian. But I digress

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for the spot-on comments and I know exactly the type of WordPress phonies you’re talking about. Speaking of phonies, I used to work with a guy years ago who used to brag regularly about his stint in Vietnam until an actual Vietnam vet (who rarely talked about his service) sat down with him and asked him a couple of pointed questions, which exposed him as a fraud who had never actually been to Vietnam.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow, Tom! I am so sorry to hear about that guy at work. There’s nothing worse when someone who does not know that Nathan’s prior/retired military and brags about their service. For the most part Nathan remains quiet or asks for their DD214 papers. It is tragic when these folks act like this in Christ’s name.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Brother, I never heard this explanation and, since its midnight, I will search out the passages tomorrow. Thank you for opening up this passage in this post. Press on brother, through the snow and every challenge. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lisa Beth. I remember while writing that post looking up the passage in several commentaries and on the internet and seeing MANY interpretations, including the one I had. This is one of those difficult Bible passages. Have a blessed weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. When we were there, the father in his sermons regularly mentioned kicking anyone’s butt who crossed him. He would always be sure to sarcastically add, “…in Christian love of course.” We stayed there way too long.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was our first Gospel church so we had no basis of comparison, but the macho man act was appealing initially because it contrasted so sharply with the limp-wristed priests of Roman Catholicism that I was used to.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for sharing this Tom. I rejoice when the Lord shows me something in Scripture and I too want to share it. No need to be embarrassed when we get excited about something the Lord shows us in His Word. So many today have no interest in what Scripture has to say about anything. I’m sure your excitement blesses the Lord!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cathy! The interpretation seems pretty clear to me, with Jesus pointing out in context that the buying of the sword will lead to the partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

      I knew that interpretation would not be welcomed by some Christians who interpret the passage as permission to bear and use weapons.
      Thank you for the encouragement!

      Liked by 1 person

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