And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 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. 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.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
(Luke 22:35-38 ESV)
This is a very difficult passage to make sense of. The voices I have been able to access that discuss the meaning of these four verses have quite a range:
At one end of the spectrum, J. Vernon McGee (d. 1988) said this was Jesus telling his disciples they should all have a gun in their house because “if a mad dog comes into my yard, whether of the four legged variety or the two legged variety, and threatens my little grandchildren, I’m surely going to take that gun and use it.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Peter Ballard (loveyourenemies.org), a Christian pacifist who concludes that these verses may, just possibly provide a basis for fighting in self-defense. Still, he comments that Jesus and his Apostles never, ever, ever resorted to violence, even though they were attacked. If Jesus had meant for the Apostle Paul to carry a sword to use in self-defense, my guess is the riot at Ephesus would have ended differently than it did. At what point do you conclude that all diplomatic efforts are at an end and that God is not going to pull this one out of the flames?
What are we to make of Jesus’ statement here? Is Jesus in any way talking about Christians arming for battle? Is he arguing for self-defense?
As I read this passage, my eye was drawn down a paragraph in Luke’s narrative to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter picks up a sword and lops off the ear of a slave by the name of Malcus. Clearly, his anger was not at the slave. He was pissed at the High Priest (Caiaphas), who had done the evil deal with Judas that got them all to this point. I bring this up because that was one of the two swords the disciples said they had! In Matthew’s account (Mat. 26:52) Jesus tells him to put his sword back in its sheath, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Now that is confusing. Hadn’t Jesus just told his disciples to go out and buy a sword? But, let’s unravel the mystery of the text and see what Jesus actually just said:
Phrase one is what faith looks like. And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”
The Mission of the Seventy-Two (Luke 10:1-11, 17-20) is a chance for the growing company of Jesus disciples to flex their faith muscles and see what it feels like to really trust God, albeit in a controlled environment.
Phrase two is what loss of faith looks like. “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.”
All three things Jesus says to “do” in this passage are examples of trying to provide for yourself as you go on mission (for God, by the way) because you don’t believe God will provide for you. These are not marching orders for how disciples should live life in the future because he has tied them to the Mission of the Seventy-Two.
You take a moneybag along on mission because you don’t believe God will provide the money you need. Gosh! Don’t ever go out on mission unless you’ve already raised all the financial support you could possibly need.
You take a knapsack along on mission because you don’t believe God will provide hospitality for you along the way. You’ve got to have a bed-roll with you. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell you’re going to get invited in out of the cold, and you know it.
You bring a sword along on mission because you don’t believe God will keep you safe. There are baddies out there, and you’d darned well better have your pop-gun with you because it is going to get bad, and when it does you are going to have to take matters into your own hands.
Phrase three is why Jesus is here. Isaiah 53:12 says,
…because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
In the Garden, Peter and the rest of the disciples were at the critical point all people come to when they decide they have righteousness on their side and that justifies what they are about to do. Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address said this of the terrifying realization of supposed righteousness in war, “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” (March 3, 1865)
The prophecy that was being fulfilled in Jesus is proved true because the disciples – Peter and the rest – are themselves transgressors whose sin Jesus is about to die for. This moment is the proof that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Remember that just an hour or so before, as they sat at table, Jesus told Peter he was about to deny three times that he ever knew Jesus. Jesus is here to restore the lost faith of the disciple who goes out and piles up money before he goes out for God, who buys camping gear before he goes out for God, that brings along a sword when he goes out for God. “And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
Phrase four is the disciples’ confession. “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” I think this was actually a horrible moment of self-discovery for the disciples. By admitting that they actually had kept a couple of swords with them they are admitting their own lack of trust in God.
Phrase five is Jesus’ agreement. “It is enough” And so it was. The presence of the two swords proved that what Jesus had just prophesied was true. Even his disciples, whom he had entrusted with the secrets of the Kingdom of God, had not trusted Jesus enough to leave their swords behind when they went to Jerusalem on that final journey. They didn’t need the swords in the Garden of Gethsemane. They wouldn’t need the swords again for the rest of their lives.
The mercy of God is that Jesus doesn’t tell them to get rid of the swords. It isn’t that he had no time for a final lesson. It is that he knew the moment was the lesson and that the disciples would learn from the moment. He makes no judgment, though he does tell Peter to put the sword away when he resorts to violence. Peter clearly took that admonition seriously, because tradition holds that Peter was crucified upside down as a sign of submissive love toward his Lord.