Did Jesus Forget About Peace on Earth and Turning the Other Cheek?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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“But now,” he said, “take your money and a traveler’s bag. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!”

Luke 22:36

Luke 22:36 is one of those verses that at first seems rather shocking. Jesus asks his disciples about whether, when he sent them out before to preach, they needed “money, a traveler’s bag, or extra clothing” (22:35). They answered “No” because their needs were taken care of by the people who welcomed them and took care of their physical needs.

Now, however, Jesus’ disciples will need to take money and a traveler’s bag. Why? Because they will no longer be welcomed into the villages and people’s homes. Once Jesus is crucified, the stock of his disciples will lose its value. So, when they go out on their mission trips, they will need to bring their own supplies.

So far, so good. But then Jesus adds the stunning line, “And if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one!” (22:36). Now wait just a minute. What’s this? Wasn’t Jesus coming to bring peace on earth (2:14)? Didn’t he tell his followers to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek (6:27-29)? Is Jesus telling his disciples to arm themselves for battle? Are they supposed to fight against the Romans?

No, this is clearly not Jesus’ meaning. When his disciples show Jesus that they already have two swords, he says “That’s enough” (22:38). But two swords would hardly be enough to defend Jesus from the troops that are soon coming to arrest him, let alone against the armies of Rome. Moreover, when, a short time later, one of the disciples used a sword to defend Jesus, he said, “No more of this” (22:51). So why did Jesus mention buying swords?

Commentators on this passage suggest different solutions. For some, Jesus is being ironic. For others, he is emphasizing the conflict that his disciples will soon experience, in contrast with their previous experiences of hospitality. Still others note that the sword to which Jesus refers was not for battle, but was for basic protection from thieves and animals when people traveled.

All of these interpretations are possible. But I believe we should pay close attention to what Jesus himself says in reference to the sword. In verse 37 we read: “For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’” The prophecy to which Jesus refers is found in Isaiah 53:12: “I will give [my righteous servant who bears the sins of others] the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.”

Jesus mentions the sword so as to make the point that he was about to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 53. He would be the Suffering Servant of God who bears the sins of the world. The swords of the disciples were useless for any serious fighting. They would not be the way God brought his kingdom. Rather, the kingdom would come from Jesus, the Servant of God whose suffering and death leads to healing and peace for us.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you come to a passage of Scripture that you don’t understand, what do you do? In what ways does Jesus fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 52-53?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, sometimes your sayings are hard to understand. They perplexed your first disciples, and they confuse your disciples today, including me.

When I come upon one of your sayings that I don’t understand, help me to seek the truth with diligence and humility. And if I still can’t quite figure out what you mean, may I be patient, trusting that you’ll reveal to me what I need to know in your time.

I thank you, Lord, for scholars, commentators, and pastors who labor to interpret your teachings. I thank you especially for those who do so from a posture of faith and service to your church. Bless them and encourage them in their work.

Finally, I praise you, Lord Jesus, because you are the Servant of God, the one whose suffering and death brings healing and life. All praise be to you for your loving sacrifice! Amen.