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Sword and Jesus


Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). In a literal sense, from this verse it would seem as though Jesus came as a rebel to fight or to ignite conflict. That of course would contradict his own teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). Jesus even promised a reward in heaven for those who tolerate persecution. “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).

The sword is a symbol of war because it is an instrument for attack. Jesus did not carry any sword with him, did not wage war or even instruct anyone to attack the enemy. His approach was just the opposite of the worldly and Jewish style, as seen below:

1. When the Temple soldiers arrested Jesus, Peter struck the high priest’s servant with his sword and cut off his ear. Jesus rebuked him: “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).

2. Jesus taught us to deal with enemies not with opposition but with love. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well” (Mt 5:38-39). He continued, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:43-44).

3. When Pilate questioned Jesus about his kingship, he replied, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here” (Jn 18:36). Thus, he clarified he had no intention of establishing a worldly kingdom, though he had heavenly troopers to defend him.

4. Based on Jesus’ teachings, Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:14). “Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17). “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ Rather, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Rom 12:19-21). Hence, Christians should expect justice from God and not judge and retaliate against persecutors or enemies.

If Jesus had no intention to fight or instigate retaliation, how can we understand his saying, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword”? (Mt 10:14). The sword of Jesus, in a metaphorical sense, is the Word of God that he introduced. It has the following effects:

1. The Word of God is sharp and can cause conflict in the listener. Hebrews 4:12 states, “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”

2. The Word of God is the weapon Jesus used when Satan attempted thrice to defeat him after his forty days of fasting in the desert (Lk 4:1-13). The word of God is our spiritual sword which we should use to protect ourselves from the evil influence of Satan.

3. Paul presents the word of God as “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17). According to him, Christians are in a spiritual battle against evil. He advised the Ephesians, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:10-12).

4. The gospel of Jesus can and does cause conflict in the family or in society because of those who oppose the faith of believers. Hence, conflict and the use of the sword by our persecutors can be the outcome of our faith in the Word of God.

Jesus did not present the sword as his weapon or human battle as his means to establish his kingdom. However, his mission can cause conflict in the world. His disciples would face the same consequences that he encountered from his detractors. The wicked people would take swords against them or torture them. The disciples should not fight back, and they did not. Jesus sent the apostles with the following instruction: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt 10:16).

Jesus’ teaching on reacting when facing opposition was not retaliation. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to another” (Mt 10:23). Jesus even taught to love and support one’s enemies. “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back” (Lk 6:27-30). His intention was not success for his disciples in this world but self-sacrifice like Jesus did for the Kingdom of God.

Though Jesus came as the Prince of Peace, his peace is not an instant accomplishment. Besides facing persecution from the opposing religious leaders and civil authorities, Christians would face challenges even from their family and community for the Kingdom of God. Thus Jesus, prepared his disciples to face challenges in faith and persecution. That has been continuing in the Church’s history, with followers enjoying internal peace in this world and eternal joy in the afterlife or after the second coming of Christ.

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