The Two Swords
Luke 22:35-38 says,
35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” and they said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with trans-gressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment. 38 And they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”
Luke is the only gospel writer to record this conversation with the disciples. Jesus compared that present time with the past, when, in Luke 9:1-5 He sent the twelve out to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Luke 9:3 gave instructions:
3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece.”
Likewise, when He sent out the seventy, we read in Luke 10:4,
4 Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way.
Why, then, did Jesus seem to reverse this policy as they were about to go to the Mount of Olives just before His arrest? The answer is given in Luke 22:37. According to the account, it was to fulfill Isaiah 53:12, which says, “He was numbered with transgressors; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.”
The Prophetic Purpose of the Swords
What role did the swords play in fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy? After all, the prophecy in Isaiah 53, says that He was coming not as a military messiah but as a gentle lamb being led to the altar of sacrifice. He would not fight as He was led to the cross, any more than a lamb fights the priest who kills him as a sacrifice. Isaiah 53:7 says,
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth [i.e., He did not object or protest].
There were two main uses for swords: war and sacrifice. The Greek word for sword is macheira, “a large knife used for killing animals and cutting up flesh; a small sword, as distinguished from a large sword.” The same word was used of a long straight sword that is used in battle.
It is plain that the twelve were not prepared for battle, so their two “swords” were really just large knives that were normally used only to cut meat. The priests used such knives to kill the sacrifices and to cut up the meat to be roasted on the altar. Though such knives could also be used for self-defense, the prophecy in Isaiah 53 gives no indication that Jesus expected the disciples to defend Him when He was soon to be arrested. The context makes us question the use of this passage to justify self-defense, as some have done.
When the two swords were shown to Jesus, He said “It is enough” (Luke 22:38). The way it is translated gives the impression that Jesus was saying, “two swords are enough.” But we must remember that Luke was using Greek words to express Hebrew ideas and practices. While the Greek word hikanos (used here) might mean “sufficient,” it was actually a common Hebrew expression: “Enough!” This is seen in passages such as Deut. 3:26, where Moses says,
26 But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the Lord said to me, “Enough!” Speak to Me no more of this matter.
Another example is seen in Elijah’s conversation with God while he was fleeing from Jezebel. 1 Kings 19:4 says,
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.”
The phrase “it is enough” is better translated, “Enough!” to express the discouragement of the prophet. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon comments on Jesus’ use of this expression, “Enough!” saying,
“Jesus, saddened by the paltry ideas of the disciples, breaks off in this way the conversation. The Jews, when a companion uttered anything absurd, were wont to use the phrase…”
In other words, when Jesus told the disciples, “let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one,” He was speaking prophetically and spiritually, not literally. However, the disciples took Him literally, so they presented Him with two swords. With a pained expression on His face, Jesus responded, “Enough!” The English equivalent is “Shut up!”
It was obvious that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was really saying. So Jesus asked the disciples if they remembered how they had been sent out earlier with no physical provisions and no means of defense. They did indeed remember. The implication is that they did not need such things to do their calling. All they needed was spiritual preparation—spiritual purses and spiritual swords.
But then Jesus seems to contradict Himself. But in reality, this was not a contradiction, for He was building upon the things that they had learned previously. He spoke to them, using physical terms that were to be taken spiritually. “Are you ready for the final battle? Grab your spiritual purses and swords.”
The disciples thought Jesus was speaking carnally, so they showed Him their two swords. I can picture Jesus throwing up His hands, saying, “How long will it take for them to understand? Enough of this nonsense!”
Peter Tries to Defend Jesus
When people today use this passage to justify self-defense, they interpret it precisely as the disciples did. This is what caused Peter to try to defend Jesus when He was being arrested. Luke 22:49-51 shows us Peter’s action as well as Jesus’ reaction,
49 And when those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And a certain one of them [Peter] struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.
The use of violence and force only results in cutting off men’s ears—specifically, the right ears. It impairs men’s ability to hear the Word. The right ear itself is significant. In Scripture, the right side depicts mercy, while the left side depicts judgment. When we use violence and force to defend Jesus, we end up cutting off men’s right ears, so that they can hear only a word of judgment. They lose the ability to hear about the mercy of God.
Many people of all religions—including Christianity—have thought that they please God by defending their founders, prophets, and holy men by using physical swords. Some are ready to kill anyone who speaks a negative word about their founders. Their perception of God tells them they must defend His honor. In so doing, they cut off the ears of their perceived enemies. But Jesus went to the cross with no protest, for His purpose was to save His enemies—not to kill them.
The love of God is demonstrated in the fact that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son,” even as we were justified while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8, 9). Instead of killing the so-called enemies of God, Christ tells us to follow His example, showing love to those enemies. We are to conquer them by the Sword of the Spirit, which is His Word. The essence of that word is Love. Nearly everyone knows how to love others in some way, but the love of God is rarely understood and seldom put into practice.
This makes no sense to the carnal mind, but it is clear that Jesus’ death was according to a divine purpose that was understood only later.
Numbered with Transgressors
Jesus said that He was to be “numbered with transgressors.” He was fulfilling Isaiah 53:12, which says,
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered [manah] with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.
The Hebrew word manah, translated “numbered,” is translated into Greek as logizomai, “to count, reckon, or impute.” Luke was very familiar with this word, because he was Paul’s scribe in writing the letter to the saints in Rome. Romans 4 uses logizomai fifteen times, where it is defined in Rom. 4:17 in terms of God’s promise to Abraham. The promise to Abraham was that he was to be the father of many nations, though at the time of this promise, Abraham had no children at all. Hence, God imputed many children to Abraham, calling what was NOT as though it were.
As with the Greek word logizomai, the Hebrew equivalent, manah, means “to count, reckon, or impute.” Thus, Isaiah was prophesying that the Messiah would be counted among the transgressors (“lawless ones”) as if He were actually lawless. As a sacrificial lamb, taking upon Himself the sin of the world, lawlessness was imputed to Him. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:21,
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin [i.e., sin offering] on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Jesus was not actually lawless but was condemned as a lawless man in the temple court at His trial before the high priest. In this we see the distinction between legal guilt and actual guilt. Jesus was counted among the transgressors when the priests pronounced him guilty. This fulfilled the law of sacrifice, wherein the priests imputed the sin of the people to the animal and then killed the animal as if it were guilty.
In the Hebrew text, sin and sin offerings are expressed by the single word khawtaw. In other words, the sin offering was a sin. This is how we should understand Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 5:21 that “He made Him who knew no sin to be a sin offering on our behalf.”
The Lesson of the Swords
We conclude, then, that Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, reversing the earlier pattern, was a statement of irony. As for the purse and bag, it implied a long journey ahead, or a long, hard road to travel in the Pentecostal Age to come. The day of Pentecost itself was designed to equip the disciples with the Sword of the Spirit, which was first offered to the House of Israel at Mount Horeb when the Spirit of God came at the original Pentecost.
The House of Israel then refused to hear anything beyond the Ten Commandments, telling Moses in Exodus 20:19, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” In rejecting the word (voice) of God, they rejected the Sword of the Spirit. This left them with only a carnal sword, which they used to conquer Canaan.
There are two swords in the hands of Jesus’ disciples. These represent the physical sword and the Sword of the Spirit. Peter used the carnal sword to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. The unused sword was prophetic of that which was to be given them in a few weeks on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus’ disciples were still under the carnal influence (curse?) of their forefathers when they could not see beyond the physical sword. But Jesus was setting the stage for the day of Pentecost. Although they could not yet understand what He was telling them, they would remember this later. No doubt they remembered these words and discussed it in the week prior to the day of Pentecost, as they rehearsed the Scriptures and the words which Jesus had said to prepare them for that great day.
The Right of Self-Defense
The law was designed to uphold rights. It upholds the rights of the victims of crime and the rights of the lawbreaker. If the lawbreaker must be sold to pay for his debt for sin, the law also upholds the rights of his redeemer.
The law certainly upholds the right of self-defense.
But in each of these cases, a man is not forced to claim his rights. The law gives all men the right to forego his rights, if he so chooses. Hence, the victims of crime have a right to forgive the debt that is owed to them. After the lawbreaker’s debt has been paid, he has the right to continue working for his master, instead of returning to his original home. In each case, the law upholds rights.
Self-defense is a right, but the law never forces people to defend themselves. They may put their faith in God’s defense. In Jesus’ case, He knew it was the will of His Father that He should suffer violence as a lamb going to the sacrificial altar. For this reason, when Peter tried to defend Him, He told Peter to stop immediately.
The law also tells kings to rely upon God for their defense and not to depend upon “horses” (Deut. 17:16). The prophets agree (Isaiah 31:1-3). Under the Old Covenant, Israel had a right to self-defense, as long as they were led by the Spirit, and as long as they subordinated those weapons to the principle of faith in God.
Each person must decide for himself which sword to use in his defense. The physical sword is for self-defense under the Old Covenant. The spiritual sword is a greater weapon that is offered to us under the New Covenant. Most believers are caught in the middle and use both, depending on the situation. In my view, the more we learn to use the Sword of the Spirit, the less dependent we will be upon the physical sword. Ideally, we will come to the level of faith where we will not need physical weaponry at all.
No one, however, can really abide in that position without knowing by experience that God guards them and protects them. Such a level of faith is not attained immediately, but is forged by experience over time.