In the book of Luke there is an interesting conversation not included in the other gospels. After celebrating the Passover, and immediately prior to His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read the following exchange between Jesus and his disciples:
“And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, “AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS;” for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.’ They said, ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them, ‘It is enough.’” Luke 22:35-38 (NASB)
I have heard this passage of scripture quoted by modern day Christians as a call to arms. A quick reading in context, though, reveals Jesus was clearly speaking metaphorically when He told his disciples to sell their coat and buy a sword. Only a few verses later (Luke 22:49-51) when Jesus is arrested, Peter draws his sword and tries to kill the servant of the high priest. Immediately, Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword (Matthew 26, John 18) and He heals the man who had been struck by Peter.
Reading through the rest of the New Testament, we do not encounter a single example of the followers of Jesus “taking up arms.” Instead, just as Jesus did, we see His followers take up their cross and lay down their lives for the sake of the Gospel.
As I have reflected on this passage of scripture from Luke 22, a question I have been asking myself is, “When the disciples brought Jesus two swords, why didn’t He explain His statement was not meant to be taken literally?” In this situation, it is what I would have done. Actually, if I had been in Jesus’ shoes I probably would have shook my head in disappointment when they brought me two swords and said, “You still don’t get it.” Jesus’ response, though, is filled with wisdom, grace, and humility.
Up to this point in the story, the disciples of Jesus thought, as the promised messiah, He would overthrow the Roman government that was oppressing them and establish Himself as king of the nation of Israel, just as David had been. In their eyes, Jesus was going to “make Israel great again.”
Jesus had not come to establish an earthly kingdom though, He came to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus would establish His kingdom, not by overthrowing the Roman government, but by laying down His life. Jesus had foretold His death and resurrection to His disciples numerous times (even that same night), they just did not understand yet.
I think this is the reason when the disciples brought Jesus two swords, instead of trying to explain to them that is not what He meant, He simply said, “That is enough.” He did not want them to go and gather more swords, but explaining to them why they did not need the swords would have been futile.
So how did Jesus finally get His disciples to understand the swords were not needed? He showed them.
Jesus could have spent hours trying to explain His calling and the Kingdom of God more clearly to his disciples, but the truth was that He had already explained all of these things thoroughly. The only way the disciples were going to fully understand the arrival of the Kingdom of God would be through Jesus’ example.
I am sure all of the disciples were completely confused when, that same night, Jesus told Peter to put the sword away, and willingly let Himself be arrested, humiliated, mocked, beaten, and finally crucified. Three days later the disciples still did not understand, but the resurrected Jesus appeared to them and opened their eyes to what He had been teaching them from the beginning.
From the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, a kingdom was established which has outlasted all the other earthly kingdoms at the time and will continue to do so. Earthly kingdoms are built on war, weapons, and power; God’s kingdom is built on something else. The kingdom of heaven will continue to grow, not through earthly means, but through those who have followed the example of Jesus, their Savior.
Unfortunately, many Christians in the United States of America today have tried to fit the kingdom of heaven into an earthly kingdom. Many have become convinced that the Kingdom of Heaven is built by “taking up arms” and even by warfare. I have had many Christians tell me that without our second amendment rights here in the United States, Christianity would crumble. Would it though?
When I said there are no examples in the New Testament of the followers of Jesus taking up arms, I was not being entirely accurate. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Chapter 6:10-18) calls on the followers of Jesus to take up arms, but the weapons he calls us to carry are not the typical weapons of earthly warfare. Paul implores the Ephesians that our weapons are: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, our salvation, and the word of God.
Many of the Christians in the United States of America today are similar to the disciples in Luke 22. We are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, but we do not fully comprehend what it means to be His disciple. Many of us are still holding on to our swords thinking this is how the kingdom is built. Yet, unlike the disciples at that moment in time, we know how the story ends. We know how Jesus called His followers to live.
So why are we still reaching for our swords?
In a country that is becoming increasingly worldly and divided, it is not enough for Christians to know the words of Jesus. Every day you and I encounter people that have heard the words of Jesus, are familiar with the teachings of Jesus, but have not seen them lived out. If others are going to understand the salvation and full life found only in Jesus Christ, it will be through our actions.
Those who do not put down their sword, cannot take up the cross. Make no mistake, we are living in a time where those who claim to be followers of Jesus will have to choose between one or the other.
Whose kingdom are we building?