A Question I Was Asked:

Doesn't Luke 22:36-38 Suggest That Christians Are Entitled to Arm Themselves to Fight Against Those Who Oppose Them?

Okay. Let us consider this Scripture:

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 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. (Luke 22:36-38, NIV).

This is a very interesting Scripture because Jesus here appears to be overturning an earlier instruction to the disciples. In Luke 9:3 and Luke 10:4 Jesus had told the disciples to take no purse or bag, but now He is telling them to do so. So why did Jesus now instruct them to take a purse and a bag? What had altered?

Well firstly, in referring to His change of instruction Jesus says this in Luke 22:35:

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bags or sandals, did you lack anything?” Nothing,” they answered

But now the instruction changes! Understanding the reason for this will also help us understand why Jesus spoke of the need of a sword. Here is the reason:

It appears as though the disciples could initially depend on the hospitality of the people. Let us remember that Jesus had enjoyed a real measure of popularity with ordinary people – but now, after the Lord's Supper (which occurs in Luke 22) Jesus was about to be crucified and things would dramatically change – people would now divide because of the gospel! Don't forget that in Matthew 10 Jesus said that He 'did not come to bring peace but a sword' (Matthew 10:34) and true believers would now find great opposition even within their own households (Matthew 10:35-36) - this clearly refers to the stumbling block (for some) of the dynamic Gospel. So now in Luke 22 Jesus is telling the disciples that with His death and resurrection, things would dramatically change and the generosity of the ordinary people (who – initially - saw Jesus as their champion, yet without truly understanding the nature of His mission) could no longer be relied upon. So bags and purses would be needed for financial accounting – in other words, from this point forwards, Christians themselves would need to finance the spreading of the gospel. This is the meaning of Luke 22:35-38.

But what about the reference to the need of a sword?

This was plainly a symbolic reference to the opposition which the disciples – and all later Christians – would sometimes meet. But – as so often – when Jesus makes a symbolic or a spiritual point, the disciples quickly misunderstand, thinking that He meant a literal sword. So in verse 38 they tell Jesus that they already had two swords. But Jesus retorts: 'That is enough!' Shortly afterwards a crowd come to arrest Jesus and because Peter had misunderstood Jesus' reference to swords, he struck the high priest with his sword, cutting off his right ear! But Jesus immediately heals the man and tells the disciples, 'No more of this!' (Luke 22:51). We get more information on this incident in Matthew 26:47-54. Notice verse 52:

Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

So here Jesus makes it very plain that His reference to the need for a sword was certainly not meant to be taken literally but a reference to the future opposition which the first disciples – and all Christians ever since – would occasionally encounter. By the way, this same incident is also mentioned in Mark 14:47 and in John 18:10-11 and it is the reference in John which tells us that the sword-bearer was Peter.

Those sent forth with the Gospel of Jesus Christ are not to arm themselves but – on the contrary – should display the attitude of 'turning the other cheek'. Christians should not be offensive or aggressive but should be determinedly patient and peaceful. Jesus said that He sent the disciples out 'as sheep among wolves' – this sounds potentially dangerous, so how should Christians handle this potential danger? By being 'as wise as serpents and harmless as doves.' See Matthew 10:16, NKJV. Being 'as harmless as a dove' rules out the possibility of Christians arming themselves – doves are a symbol of peace and the gentlest of birds - Jesus has not granted Christians the power or authority to take up weapons to defend themselves!!

Since the kingdom of God is not of this world (John 18:36; Acts 1:6-8), Christians are required to submit to the authority in this world during this present age (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-22) – except, of course, where obedience to that authority means disobedience to God (Acts 5:29)!

During the last few years a worrying trend has developed among one group of rather extremist American fundamentalist believers: the widespread acceptance of a “coming world government” conspiracy theory has led to certain leaders teaching that believers – and any others who will listen - will need to arm themselves in order to fight against a coming world government! This is an extremely dangerous and completely unbiblical teaching and approach!

Robin A. Brace, 2005.