The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Go Buy A Sword (4 of 12)

PART 4 OF 12

Go Buy A Sword


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

If you are still with me this week, I want to congratulate you. We have had so many e-mails coming in from this series. For many, the lights have come on and the whole world is changing colors. Others are still wrestling, while others have become very upset and simply walked away. My heart is deeply affected by each. But if you are still with me, you are my hero!

There is so much I’d like to say about this passage that time and space does not allow in an article of this nature. I’m going to share three related passages, some comments about each, and then some links to presentations on our website to fill in whatever conceptual gaps may persist.

The first text is very related to the one above and it’s found in Luke 22.25-27.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Here Jesus is contrasting the characteristics of the kingdoms of this world with His own kingdom. The most significant difference is a “power over” style of influencing society verses “power under.” We are not called, as followers of Jesus, to lord power over others who may believe and live differently than ourselves, but rather to humbly and lovingly come under, and by serving them, influence the society around us. Again, this is best summed up as “power over” versus “power under.” (For a more detailed explanation of this concept, see the eSights on our website dated 1.16.2012 and 1.23.2012 as well as the presentation in The Jesus Dialogue titled Religion and Politics.)

The five main differences between a kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Jesus are the type of power they rely on (power over versus power under), their societal aims (controlling outward behavior versus producing change from the inside out), their territorial scope (national versus global), the battles they fight (taking up arms against other people versus seeing our enemies as not having flesh and blood, Ephesians 6.12) and lastly, how each responds to violence (tit for tat, returning like with like versus returning love in an effort to make peace by peaceful means, overcoming evil with good). Some will say, “Well, is the State wrong then in the methods they choose?” I want to be clear here—no, they are not wrong per se. But they are “different.” The kingdoms of this world, although using the same methods of their king (Luke 4.5, 6 and 1 John 5.19), are indirectly being used by God in serving the role of “imposed” law in our society. (Please see the presentation Intrinsic or Imposed for a more detailed explanation of what this term means if it is unfamiliar.) So we cannot say they are wrong. This is Paul’s point in the passages found in Romans 13 (more of which we will be explaining later in this series). But Paul is very clear in Romans 12 that as those who are “following Jesus,” we are NOT to use the same methods as the state. The church and state may both be used by God, but for very different ends. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus to their logical end know full well that the lines between these “two servants” should never be blurred. The church is called to an entirely different purpose than the state. We are to influence society the way our mentor Jesus did.

Secondly, Jesus says in our beginning passage that if his kingdom were of this world, then his followers would fight to defend him. This had actually been done just a few hours previous.

With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26.51-54)

Jesus here rebukes the disciple who used the sword to cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear. Remember, Peter was actually aiming for the servant’s head, but with fast reflexes, the servant leaned sideways to escape the disciple’s swing and it glanced off the side of his head, taking off his ear. Jesus rebukes the disciple: “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We will return to this statement before we finish this eSight. Another question that arises from this passage is, “But Jesus was supposed to die, certainly that doesn’t apply to us does it? I mean, Jesus’ death was for a specified purpose, so doesn’t that specialize the application of these statements by Jesus?” We’ll return to this as well before we end today, but I want to bring it up here so you can be thinking about it. John identifies this disciple.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18.10-11)

Again, we see the potential objection by some that Jesus words here are not to be taken as a rule of life with no exception, but rather as a specialized application revolving around this “cup” that He was supposed to drink. Again, we’ll come back to this. Now I’d like to turn to Luke’s record of this event, address a typical objection to Jesus’ peace teaching, and then wrap all the loose ends in these passages, putting the puzzle pieces together and seeing what picture we get.

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

It is at this point that many attempt what others have called “desperate exegesis.” “See? See? Jesus was right here telling them to buy swords! See?” And yes, it’s undeniable that Jesus was here admonishing his disciples to go buy swords, but we must quickly ask why. Is it because Jesus now wants them to use these swords to defend him? Or does he want them to use these swords to defend themselves? We don’t have to read too far to get a clear answer. It’s in the very next sentence:

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

The Greek word anomos is the word here translated as “transgressors.” It is defined as “lawless.” Jesus must be perceived by Rome as more than simply a focal point of religious controversy. For Rome to deem Jesus worthy of being tried in a Roman political court rather than simply by a Jewish religious court (the Sanhedrin), Jesus must be perceived as a political threat to the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.” Jesus must be perceived as a “lawless” one, against the order of Rome, a political enemy, an upstart Messiah. For this, they will need to be caught with swords in their possession. The mixture of many people’s claims that this could be the Messiah (remember, He who would take up the role of king of the Jews and lead them to freedom from the oppressive power of Roman rule) along with the claim that His disciples were now gathering, or “stockpiling,” swords would be enough to light the Roman fuse that would lead to the crucifixion. Jesus’ council to go and buy swords could not possibly be because He actually wanted His disciples to wield them. For starters, two swords for twelve men wouldn’t be enough. And secondly, when Peter mistakenly thinks the reason they were to buy swords was so they could wield them, and actually does wield one, he gets one of the strongest rebukes in all the gospels.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives . . . While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion [remember Jesus must be seen here not just a focal point of religious controversy, but as rebelling against the political order of Rome itself], that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22.35-53)


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

As we shared last week, the goals of Jesus’ Kingdom cannot be accomplished by violence (see last week’s eSight for a more detailed explanation of this). Jesus is here describing one of the most significant differences between His kingdom and the methods used by the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of Rome sought peace at any price, including peace by justifiable violence if necessary. Jesus’ kingdom was about establishing peace as well, but by very different methods: peaceful non-violence. Peace was not simply the goal to be achieved but the way that goal was to be achieved as well.

But what about those two objections (which are really the same) that the reason Peter was rebuked and told to put his sword away was not because Jesus’ followers are to live by the rule of peaceful non-violence, but rather because this was a specialized application: Jesus is saying He was not to avoid the cross but rather was ordained to embrace it.

Three texts should be enough to show how misplaced this objection really is.

The cross was not simply a specialized event to be experienced by Jesus only, but a way of life Jesus intended His followers to embrace as well:

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9.22-24)

This is true of the cup as well.

Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?””We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized . . . .” (Mark 10.38-40)

The cross of Christ is not simply to be something we preach, but also a way of life that Jesus’ followers have embraced.

Lastly, we see that Jesus’ words to Peter were not to be taken by the early church as an isolated specialized application. Not only would we see Jesus’ words in Mark 10 fulfilled in the merciless slaughter of Jesus’ followers in the first century, but we would also see the very words Jesus shared with Peter used by John to even encourage those who are being slaughtered by the sword to not return violence with violence, but rather to faithfully and patiently endure.

“. . . If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. (Revelation 13.10)

Again, we will discuss this more when we get to Paul’s words in Romans 12 and 13, but before we do, remember that the kingdom of Jesus is not advanced by moving “Rome” to govern by different laws. The kingdom of Jesus is advanced not in how we vote, but in how we bleed. By the testimony of the Cross itself, attested to by the witnesses of the first 300 years of what it meant to be a follower of this Jesus: It is the “blood of the witnesses” that is the “seed” of the Kingdom. To be clear, I’m not saying, “Don’t vote.” Again, if a kingdom of this world asks for your opinion on a matter, by all means give it. I’m simply cautioning us to be very careful. We are not to become confused. We are not to think for a moment we have accomplished anything for the “Kingdom” by our vote. We may have changed something for “Rome.” But again, the Kingdom of Heaven is advanced, not in how we vote, but in how we bleed. I’m not saying roll over and do nothing. I’m saying to let the Kingdom not only move you to “do something,” but also dictate the manner in which that “something” is done. (See again the presentation on our website Religion and Politics.) The methods of advancing Christ’s kingdom are radically different.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, even loving your enemies, and thereby keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.