"Jesus tells you to buy a sword"

WWJS?  Who Would Jesus Shoot?!?

So, yesterdays blog post and comments earlier in the week on the death of Osama Bin Laden has meant some rather strange comment exchanges with some Americans around the area of taking up arms as a Christian.  Now, even before looking at the particular text that was being banded around, I just have to say that violence doesn’t just seem to fit with Jesus.  Even when he went to the temple with his premeditated whip, his actions were against tables, not people.  Jesus teaches non-violence to his followers as citizens of a different Kingdom.  Jesus does not advocate any sort of ‘Jihad’.

Now…the text that was thrown at me was Luke 22:36:

“He said to them, “But now, the one who  has a money bag must take it, and likewise a traveller’s bag too. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.”

A no doubt lovely (but gun toting) Christian woman claimed her right to respond to Jesus here and to defend herself by taking up arms.   I have to confess that I thought to myself “Hm….that verse escaped me….I must get myself to the gun shop.”  NOT!  My natural instinct was that there must be something else going on here and there surely was.

As is always the case in the bible text, context is everything.  And that is surely the most dangerous out of context verses there is!  So, whats going on?  The disciples have emerged from the last supper and are about to make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  The disciples are already ‘gung-ho’ and ready to go to prison and to death with Jesus. ( v33)  Jesus starts taking the wind out of Peter’s sails immediately, indicating that at this point in history, Peter is going to deny him. (v34).

Jesus then strikes up a conversation of contrasts.  He brings to their mind that they went out and returned rejoicing in their mission (Lk 10), even when the hadn’t taken anything for the road.  Jesus brings in the symbolic contrast to that so signal that things were a-changing.  He tells them they’ll need a cloak, a bag, and a few quid….oh, and swords.  (Lk 22v36) Jesus is saying to them its not going to be plain sailing, you’ll need to make provision for yourselves and you’re going to face opposition and persecution.  Its not going to be like before…this is the time boys!

So, ever the dumb-wits, the disciples lose the plot.  ‘Hey Jesus, look we’ve got these two swords.’  We are told that Jesus’ response is ‘it is enough.’  Enough for what?  Can two small daggers defend 12 men against soldiers?  No.  Did Jesus mean ‘thats enough swords’ or did he mean ‘don’t be stupid, conversation closed!’  Now, I believe both interpretations of that have something to say.  Firstly, its not hard to imagine Jesus rebuking his disciples for being a bit slow and missing the point.  But secondly, we have a reference to Isaiah 53:12.  It is prophesied that Jesus will be ‘counted with the transgressors’.  Is Jesus not rebuking them here, but instead giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying that two daggers is enough for them to be arrested as a band of rebels by the authorities?  I’ll leave you to decide.  However, in either case, we must hold the position that Jesus did not intend a battle in the Garden and he did not intend these swords to be used in defense because he knew his arrest must take place, but the disciples having them at that time sprung the prophecy into Jesus mind and allowed them to take them.

Moving in to the Garden, a crowd come to arrest Jesus and because Peter had misunderstood Jesus’ reference to swords, he struck the high priest’s servant 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.”

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.  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’.   An exploration of that idea is interesting too because it doesn’t simply imply taking attack, but contains the notion of nonviolent resistence….discussion for another day.

I don’t necessarily believe that means that goverments have no armies or have defense forces.  Romans 13 indicates that God has given the sword to ‘authorities’.  Jesus has not granted Christians the power or authority to take up weapons to defend themselves.  This is the role of the state.  This is where I believe the Christendom mindset has corrupted our view of things with regards to what Jesus seems to teach.

Now, whether a state defending itself or others is the same as the things we see our ‘UN’ or ‘NATO’ nations doing today is another discussion for another day!

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