Jesus words “And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” brought me up short this morning as we continue on through the New Testament in a year. Is Jesus advocating that his followers take up arms to personally defend themselves? Er, no!
The key to why he said that is in the very next verse “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’.” Jesus is fulfilling Isa 53:12 – he will be counted as a criminal and executed as one, even though He done no wrong. This was so that he could be a substitute for us – dying for us, so that the wrath of God for our wrongdoing would fall on Him and not us. What are criminals known for carrying with them? Weapons, and to be numbered among criminals, Jesus must also have weapons. That is why he said that only two swords would be enough — to fulfill this prophecy.
Two swords are not enough for the eleven disciples and Jesus to physically fight and resist arrest. They are not enough for an armed rebellion to resist the authorities and to impose the new Jesus movement in a political and military way. Jesus denounces this verypurpose in Luke 22:52, as the authorities are in the process of arresting him: “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs?” The answer is no, as he is seized and led away (v. 54).
Jesus told Peter to put his sword away when he had tried to resist and cut off Malchus’ ear (the high priest’s servant John 18:10).Jesus sternly tells Peter to put away his sword, “No more of this!” and then he heals the servant, restoring his ear (Luke 22:49-51). Resisting arrest was definitely not the purpose of the two swords, but they were enough to fulfill the prophecy that He would be numbered with transgressors.
In Matthew Jesus told Peter “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). The early Christ followers took those words to heart. The twelve disciples were all martyred except for John who died of old age. Suffering and persecution are part of our walk and our mission. Tertullian famously wrote “the blood of the martyrs is seen”. It’s an easy quote to write, because we are not in Northern Africa in the second century facing yet another onslaught from the Roman Empire. The early church grew explosively through spreading the Gospel, healing the sick and being fed to the lions. In the late 20th Century, China banned expressions of religious life, imprisoned belivers and sometimes tortured them. Now there are upwards of 50 million born again believers in China. Similar things happened in Cambodia. Now in war torn Syria hundreds are coming to Christ in the midst of persecution, arrests, torture and murders. Where there is perscution, there is passion and the Church grows as people see a faith that is so radical, so loving, so life changing that believers can willing be fed to the lions. And at the same time signs and wonders happen – Jesus healed the servant’s ear as he was being arested and about to be beaten, whipped and killed.
Lord fill us with the same love and passion to love, care, heal and share your love with those that hate us too.