Is it true that shortly before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus told his disciples to buy swords? Was He warning them to be ready to defend themselves or preparing them for an armed assault against Rome? There may be another way to interpret this command found in Luke’s Gospel.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reminded His disciples that, in the past, when He sent them out on missions without any provisions, all their needs were supplied. “But now,” He said, “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.”
I believe Jesus was alluding to a well-known prophecy found in Isaiah 53, which states that He, the Messiah, would be “numbered with the transgressors,” meaning counted among the criminals. Since it was illegal for a Jew to carry a sword under Roman rule, if Jesus was caught with sword-bearing disciples, the prophecy would be fulfilled.
In response, His disciples said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”
What, exactly, did He mean?
First, there is nothing in the Bible forbidding self-defense, and, so, it could be argued here that Jesus was simply being practical. Dark days were ahead, and things were going to become increasingly difficult. Best to have some protection!
The problem with this interpretation in this specific context is that it’s contrary to everything else Jesus has been saying. He’s been telling His disciples that they will suffer for their faith. He has repeated to them that they will be treated just as He was treated. He has even told some of them that they will die as He did. Why, then, would they need swords?
Not only so, but in the Book of Acts, which records what happened in the decades following the Lord’s death and resurrection, the disciples are documented as having suffered intense persecution. They were arrested. They were whipped. Some were beheaded. They had to flee to other locations. Nowhere, though, does it say that they took up swords against their persecutors. Nowhere did they form militias to fight back.
Again, this does not address the general question of self-defense, such as fighting off a kidnapper who attempts to take your child. As stated, this is not prohibited in the Bible, and a good parent would be expected to fight off that attacker. (For the real meaning of “turn the other cheek,” see here.)
But that is far different from taking up swords against our persecutors. In fact, in this very chapter, when Peter fought back against the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus, using his sword to cut off a man’s ear, Jesus rebuked him strongly, saying, “No more of this!”
Obviously, Jesus did not tell His disciples to prepare swords, only to rebuke Peter for using the sword.
As for the idea that Jesus was preparing His followers for an armed revolt against Rome, that notion is completely contrary to everything the Gospels say – and the exact opposite of His mission. He came to die for our sins, not to lead a bloody revolt, and He made abundantly clear that, if desired, He could ask His Father to send thousands of angels to fight for Him at that very moment – but that was not His intent.
And does anyone imagine Jesus thought 11 men with two swords could start a rebellion against the armies of Rome? Is this what He meant when He said two swords were “enough”? The very idea is laughable.
What, then, was going on here? The Message Bible paraphrase captures the probable meaning, namely, that the Lord was making an ironic point. In other words, since the Scriptures prophesied He would be numbered with criminals, they had better look the part.
“Pawn your coat and get a sword,” He said to them, “What was written in Scripture, ‘He was lumped in with the criminals,’ gets its final meaning in me. Everything written about me is now coming to a conclusion.”
But they failed to grasp His irony, replying, “Look, Master, two swords!”
He answered, “Enough of that; no more sword talk!”
They took Him literally, thinking He was giving them practical advice, as if to say, “Boys, the old way of living by faith will no longer work. You better get some weaponry!”
When He saw how they responded, He said, “That is enough,” meaning, “Enough talking about swords. You’re missing my point.”
The other way of reading the text is that He was saying, “Since I’m going to be counted among the criminals, if you have two swords on hand, that’s enough. This will make us look like the bad guys, the sinners.”
What is clear is that He didn’t mean, “Two swords are enough to keep you safe in the future.”
And it is beyond ludicrous to think He was saying, “Perfect! Two swords will suffice to launch a revolt against Rome.”
Though, He was saying either, “Enough! You don’t get it. I’m not literally talking about buying swords,” or, “Two swords in your possession are enough to fulfill the prophecy in Isaiah that I will be numbered among the criminals.”
What seems clear is that you can’t use this portion of Scripture to argue for armed security guards in your church. It might be a great idea, even a fine Christian idea, but it is not supported by the Lord’s words in Luke.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.