Why Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to Buy Swords?

Most Christians I have encountered believe strongly that Jesus advocates the use of violence for self-defense. To bolster their position, they often quote Luke 22:36, which says:

And He 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.”

At first glance, it may seem as if Jesus was indeed instructing his followers to buy swords for self-defense against the people who were about to arrive at the Garden of Gethsemane.

And some have extrapolated this to mean that Christians are also to have weapons for self-defense (including guns) in order to resist a tyrannical government.

For example, on January 18, 2013, Chuck Baldwin published an article entitled, “The law of the sword.” In it he argues that “God’s eternal law” includes the right of Christians to keep and bear arms. He concludes:

The Second Amendment guarantee that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is as much a sacred right as it is an American right. The principle of armed self-defense is rooted in both Natural and Revealed Law. That Barack Obama and Dianne Feinstein want to strip the American people of this right should be met with the most vociferous resistance, and that includes FROM CHRISTIANS!

As you can see, in the face of government efforts to disarm Americans, Baldwin advocates “vociferous resistance […] from Christians.” He advocates this based on his interpretation of scripture.

But I disagree with Baldwin’s conclusions, and in this article I will seek to offer an opposing viewpoint, also based on scripture.

First, it is helpful to lay some groundwork to understand the character of Jesus and his expectations for his followers.

In Matthew 5:38-44, Jesus instructs his listeners:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard it said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

This clear teaching seems diametrically opposed to the view that Jesus advocates violent self-defense. Because here Jesus says that we should not resist a violent man, and that we ought to “turn the other cheek.”

This instruction aligns with the prophecies about Jesus. Prior to his birth, it was prophesied that he would be the “Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6 says:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

So Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 5 supports his claim as the Prince of Peace. But Jesus did tell his disciples to buy swords. Why did he say this? How do we reconcile Jesus’ admonishment to “turn the other cheek” with his instruction to buy swords?

Let us examine in context the passage in Luke 22, starting with verse 35 and concluding with verse 38.

And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.”

And He 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.”

Two things stand out to me. First Jesus mentions a money belt, bag, and sandals. But in the next verse he mentions a money belt, bag, and sword. And of the three items, only the sword is to be purchased if necessary.

It seems the sword was the most urgent item to acquire, while the disciples were to take along a money belt and bag if they already had these items. There is a reason for this, and I will get to it in a moment. First, let us look at Mason Wheeler’s interpretation:

Up until this point, the disciples had operated under the aegis of both Roman and Jewish law. They were seen as just another group of disciples of some charismatic Rabbi. If he had some strange ideas he was teaching, well, so did plenty of others.

But now, all that was about to change. He was going to be taken by the Jews, tried and convicted and put to death by the Romans. Suddenly their Master’s public status was about to go from “eccentric Rabbi” to “criminal condemned for stirring up trouble with the Romans,” which would turn those who supported him into fugitives, at least temporarily.

Here, he was trying to explain to them that they would need to be prepared to stay mobile (side note: the word fugitive comes from a Latin root meaning “to flee”): they would need to always have a purse (for money) and a bag (to carry basic supplies) ready, and that a sword (for protection against other men) was to be more important to them than a cloak (for protection against the elements) in the days to come.

I agree with Wheeler in principle. Part of what Jesus said was to prepare the disciples for the days ahead, during which they would be considered fugitives.

But I disagree with Wheeler regarding his conclusion that the disciples were to acquire swords for self-defense. Clearly, this would contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5.

And if the disciples had interpreted Jesus’ words this way, we would expect that many of them would have been killed while violently resisting the authorities. But this was not the case. All the disciples except for Judas and John were martyred, and they did not resist their deaths.

But let’s get back to Luke 22. Jesus explains in verses 37 and 38 why the swords were needed. It was so that Jesus would be “numbered with transgressors.” This is why when the disciples say, “Here are two swords,” Jesus says, “It is enough.”

One sword would not have been enough because Jesus was to be numbered with transgressors (plural). Therefore, two swords were needed to fulfill the prophecy. (This prophecy was fulfilled yet again when Jesus hung on a cross between two thieves.)

When “the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders” came against Jesus, his disciples asked, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” Note that Jesus does not reply.

Peter then draws his sword (one of the two swords the disciples had among them) and strikes Malchus, the slave of the high priest. It is easy to imagine Peter aiming for Malchus’ neck or the crown of his head. It is also easy to imagine Malchus attempting to dodge the blow, causing Peter’s sword to cut off Malchus’ ear.

After this incident, Jesus reveals more of his peaceful nature when he commands his disciples, “Stop! No more of this,” and then heals Malchus’ ear.

So the two swords were needed for that very moment in the garden, and Jesus allowed the violence to happen to fulfill the prophecy that he would be numbered with the transgressors. In fact, this is how Jesus explains it himself.

What does this mean for us today? Should Christians have swords and guns for self-defense?

I believe that is up to each Christian to decide for himself. At the same time, I think it is important to remember that God has given us a better sword — “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

We see the power of this better sword in the same scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus asks, “Whom do you seek?” They answer, “Jesus the Nazarene.” When Jesus says, “I am He,” they all drew back and fell to the ground (John 18:6). That’s powerful!

It is also important to remember what Paul says in Ephesians 6:12-13.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

And yet so many Christians do not understand this. They are still struggling against flesh and blood and encouraging other Christians to do the same.

I personally think this advice is misguided.

Rather, we ought to imitate Jesus, turn the other cheek, and rely on the better sword that God has given us.

Read Part 2 here:
How Should Christians React to a Military Threat from Another Nation?

About Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance writer. He's been a Christian most of his life, but did not discover that God would save all people until age 23. When he asked too many questions about the Bible, he was told he could no longer participate in his Sunday school's social activities. After that experience, Ryan left the church and has been studying The Restoration of All Things ever since.
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21 Responses to Why Did Jesus Tell His Disciples to Buy Swords?

  1. Allan Morton says:

    Hey Ryan, Thanks for your thoughtful article. I am wading through these issues myself. And here I might not disagree with your assessment for “self defense”, what about the defense of others? If your spouse is being harmed by an intruder, will you force her to turn the other cheek? The defense of those who can not defend themselves seems littered through Scripture. To allow them to be killed because you choose to do nothing seems to miss the spirit of protecting those that have no voice. Also, do you make a distinction between us owning arms ourselves and the commission the government has been given to wield the sword? I’d appreciate your thoughts!

    • Ryan Healy says:

      Hi Allan,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

      I think there are multiple levels of self-defense:

      1. Personal defense against an individual.

      2. Personal defense against a government.

      3. Defense of a victim who is being harmed by a private individual.

      4. Defense of a victim who is being harmed by an agent of the government.

      5. National defense against another nation that has sought to invade or conquer.

      Each situation requires discernment, and different people may come to different conclusions.

      I feel that defending victims is important, and so I would have no problem stopping, harming, or killing an individual who was seeking to harm or kill others.

      Things become very different when we shift away from situations involving individuals to situations involving governments. I plan to write more about that in a follow-up article.

      • Steven Davis says:

        I have heard this explanation of the passage Luke many times before. I do, however, find it difficult to accept that Jesus would coerce his followers into appearing to be criminals by asking them to buy swords in order to deceive the authorities and ensure his own conviction and execution.

        • Ryan Healy says:

          Are you familiar with the story of Micaiah? It’s in 1 Kings 22. Pay special attention to verses 19-23.

          19Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the LORD. I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20“The LORD said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21“Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22“The LORD said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23“Now therefore, behold, the LORD has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the LORD has proclaimed disaster against you.”

          http://biblehub.com/context/1_kings/22-8.htm

  2. Greg says:

    Another Bible verse that many pro-gun Christians seem to look past:

    For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

    • Ryan Healy says:

      Good point, Greg. Thanks for mentioning that verse.

    • Riley says:

      The sword, or guns, are not the weapons of the kingdom of God. But that still doesn’t take away their legitimate use for self-defense, any more than God’s word being the true spiritual food takes away our need for eating regular food daily.

  3. Riley says:

    The biblical duty of self-defense is not contradicted by Matthew 5. In that passage, Jesus does not take away legitimate self defense, he counsels against a requiting of insults which produce no serious physical injury. A slap on the right cheek is to be understood as coming from a right-hander. It’s a back-handed slap, not a serious threat to life and limb. In that case a Christian is to “turn the other cheek.” This says nothing about true self-defense, when ones life is in danger.

    In the Luke passage, Jesus says “it is enough” because two swords were all that was needed for the moment. But his counsel for each disciple to carry a sword is a more general instruction for the times to come, times of persecution when the disciples will have to think about defending their lives from aggression. In this passage Jesus further legitimizes the self-defense principles found in the Old Testament.

    • Greg says:

      Riley – Using your logic then how do you explain Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 6:8-81) in which no weapon, any act of self defense, or self-preservation was used? Or, how about the thousands of Christians in the early church who met their demise during the great Roman persecution in which entire families were killed using no self-defense?

      Furthermore, the swords you mentioned in Luke 22:36 are not the military style of weapons commonly used among Roman soldiers. The Greek word for “sword” used in this passage is macheira. A macheira is closer to a knife than an actual fighting instrument. These knives were the equivalent to what we would call a utility knife. And these knives were used for cutting nets, fish, or skinning animals for clothing and food prep.

      In biblical hermeneutics, context is key. We must not cherry-pick or proof text passages of Scripture to conform to our socio-political agendas.

    • Jeff Fenske says:

      Excellent point on the slap on the right cheek being “a back-handed slap, not a serious threat to life and limb.”

      Wow, I haven’t heard that before.

      It seems that ‘Christians’ tend to go to one extreme or the other, instead of finding the balance.

      Most evangelicals supported all of the reverse-Christian Bush wars and torture. And some are ready to fight to the death, unwilling to listen to the Holy Spirit and be led by Him.

      And then there are those who say it’s wrong to carry a sword no matter what.

      The 2nd Amendment is meant to be a deterrent, so our government wouldn’t even think of becoming tyrannical. The 2nd Amendment is very important, not just to the freedom of Americans, because once the US goes down what is to stop Satan’s NWO plans from fully being implemented.

      I think this is what is coming:

      “[vision] Dumitru Duduman: The Russian Invasion of America — “It will start with the world calling for ‘peace, peace.’ Then there will be an internal revolution in America…. The government will be busy with internal problems. Then, from the oceans…” — The rapture will occur AFTER America is destroyed, as God destroys the enemies of Israel!

      http://onecanhappen.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/dumitru-duduman-the-russian-invasion-of-america

      For many of us, there may come a time for martyrdom, and we’ll know when that time is. In the meantime, fighting is always to be the last resort; though, ‘Christians’ have let our government let the sword be the norm in our foreign policy — for which we will be judged.

      The ‘Christians’ even booed Ron Paul:

      “[video] Ron Paul Booed by Reverse-Christian Debate Audience for Endorsing the Golden Rule

      https://onecanhappen.wordpress.com/2012/01/20/video-ron-paul-booed-by-reverse-christian-debate-audience-for-endorsing-the-golden-rule

      Most ‘Christians,’ today, are not real Christians:

      “Who-Goes-To-Heaven Scriptures — Narrow is the Way | Who are the Children of God?

      http://onecanhappen.wordpress.com/2008/01/14/who-goes-to-heaven-scriptures

      The deception in the last days will be, and is great. We need to find the balance, and abide in Christ — walking in love. And self-defense and defending others is sometimes walking in love. But it’s always the LAST resort.

      It’s amazing to me that the evangelicals dissed Ron Paul, to instead vote for pro-war-and-torture warmongers. Romney was even pro-NDAA!

      We’re now going to reap what the majority sowed. Yikes!

      Jeff Fenske
      Anchorage, Alaska

  4. Teri says:

    Or perhaps Jesus wanted to have swords present to show that he had the capability to escape capture, but chose to go willingly.

  5. Dalibor Sver says:

    Hi, Ryan.
    I agree with your opinion that Christians should be opposed to bearing arms. In fact, I use the same argument of Jesus rebuking Peter for cutting off Malcho’s ear, yesterday in Facebook discussion with the pro-weapon brother.

    However, while browsing your site, I realized you never replied my comment:
    http://makepeacewithjesus.org/gods-will-salvation-of-mankind#comments
    I’m really interested in your reply, if you would like to.
    Best regards
    Dalibor

  6. Michael Snow says:

    “Most Christians I have encountered believe strongly that Jesus advocates the use of violence for self-defense.”

    This is incredible! How anyone who has read the NT could make such a claim is like something out of the twilight zone. But, sad to say, we do live in a time when Biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high in America.

    Compare such a view with what NT scholars say about the Two Swords
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/two-swords-enough/

    And with what a faithful preacher like C.H. Spurgeon said about Christians and war:
    http://spurgeonwarquotes.wordpress.com/

  7. marko says:

    Jesus did intend us to use self defense and his quote on those who live by the sword die by the sword is more like this if you use a sword to solve all your problems that is how you will die. Jesus was an advocate for non violence but let us remember when he went into the money changers in the temple and whipped them and turned over the tables. also there is the parable of the robber and the strong man of the house the robber must subdue the strong man which means the strong man fights back. this is a matter of common sense basically jesus is telling us that violence is the last resort you use to protect yourself. As far as stephens myrtordom which I saw qouted earlier I feel as though this is a vision of stephens own temperment not as the will of God there is only one person who was lead like a lamb to the slaughter and I dont remember that being stephen;)

  8. Steven MacFarlane says:

    This is a question of faith,here’s the test;
    “Vengeance is mine saith the lord,i shall repay”.If we truly love,trust and obey the word we WILL NOT resist any violence used against us.I know the arguments this reply will face,but I question the understanding and above all FAITH of anyone who will resort to violence under ANY circumstances.If we,or our loved ones are faced with tyranny,violence,even death,then we either take matters into our own hands,or we trust the words of our lord and father.Take the example of early christians being thrown to the lions along with thier children,did they resist?..Nope,they trusted the promise of ha’shem that they would inherit the kingdom,knowing that this life is a test of faith and character and trusted that the death of themselves and thier loved ones would be of little consequence in comparison to the promise of eternal life in our fathers kingdom for those that obey his commands.He will avenge his children.Brotherly love to you all from the UK.

  9. Allen Sawyers says:

    I guess if Hitler hadn’t been stopped u all wouldn’t be talking about this now? How about ISIS, should we just let them decapitate us all? Jesus came to save, not to condemn, next time he’s coming back as the roaring lion of Judah, TO JUDGE! GOD killed all evil men except Noah and his family, and Jesus is going to do the same thing to all those that haven’t accepted his free gift of salvation very soon, watch the NEWS! I believe Jesus said love GOD first, love your neighbor second, but I don’t recall him saying , Don’t defend yourself, he gave us a brain! The Gospel would not have been spread around the world if this country hadn’t stood up for what is right for so many years, but now we are in decline because of our moral standards. Exactly the way the BIBLE said it would be, greed, false preachers tickling peoples ears, love waxed cold.

    • Ryan Healy says:

      Hi Allen – In Matthew 5, Jesus said to “love your enemies.”

      43 You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

      Study the believers in the early church. They were thrown to the lions and they did not resist. The blood of martyrs caused the gospel to spread quickly during that time. John 12:24 says:

      “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

      Speaking of moral standards, the Bible warns kings not to go back to Egypt and multiply horses. Figuratively, this was a warning against military build-up. Kings were supposed to have faith in God first and foremost, not the strength of flesh. But America has the strongest military force on planet earth by far. We have figuratively gone back to Egypt and are in bondage to the flesh. Can America really avoid God’s judgment for violating his law?

      Anyway, I’ve already addressed the issue of ISIS in this post. Feel free to read it.

      http://makepeacewithjesus.org/how-would-jesus-respond-to-the-recent-beheadings-of-american-journalists

      • Josh says:

        Ryan,

        I like your thoughts brother. If you don’t mind, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the current Jesus dilemma in the world today.

        Jesus said, “that when we looked on him we looked upon the father”. He and the father are one. Jesus opened the eyes of the disciples that all the O.T. spoke of him. Which means, Jesus didn’t stand in opposition to any of the happenings of the O.T. which would include Noah.

        Jesus is coming again is a firm doctrine of our faith. Its at this point it seems to me…..a Jesus choice must be made….is the same non-violent Jesus ….the same Jesus who fills the valley of armageddon with blood….most Christians would argue its the same Jesus throughout the story…..and that there is no difference….

        When we want to be Jesuslike….there is a dilemma….which Jesus are you recommending? 30-33 Jesus?

        the defending the innocent stuff is hard…..its harder to rationalize than scripture can say…..seems to me we are reliant upon the Spirit in the moment…..Jesus’ stance on evil is tough…..it just is….

        I’m with you in Spirit….and then theres the book of Revelation….and Noah….and the zero tolerance for evil men…..and justice…..and these things are hard…..and its easy to point to 33 yr old Jesus, but harder to reationalize away the Revelation Jesus….

        hope that makes sense

        • Ryan Healy says:

          Hi Josh – The simplest answer, I think, is that the Bible tells us “mercy triumphs over judgment.”

          One of the reasons there was so much killing in the OT is because the Israelites rejected God’s voice (the Holy Spirit) at Mount Sinai and so were left only with crude physical swords. Fortunately, God gave us a better sword when he gave us the Holy Spirit. We now convert men by words.

          Yes, many died when God flooded the earth during Noah’s time, but that was a specific time and location and was part of God’s plan. He then promised never to do that again. The next flood will not be a flood of literal water, but a flood of the Holy Spirit that converts millions.

          The book of Revelation is a book of symbols and should not be interpreted literally.

          Hope that answers some of your thoughts/objections.

  10. David Shaw says:

    There is a big difference how we should react to evil men or governments who are simply attempting to do a person or family harm or take or God given rights away.
    If we are suffering because of are faith in Jesus Christ , the bible is clear , we are to indure that suffering as Jesus Christ did.

    But if evil men or governments attempt to commit crimes against us because they can .
    1 Tim 5:8 applies. But if any provide not for his, own, and specially for those of his
    Own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worst than an infidel.

    Jesus. did tell his decibels to buy a sword. I think I am right in the org Greek language it ment a short knife that was hidden up the sleeve of the person in case for self defense . And was a common weapon in bible days.

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