Jesus tells his followers to buy a sword. Why does Jesus say that? I thought Jesus was the Prince of Peace.

Pastor Chris,
In Luke 22:35-38, Jesus tells his followers to buy a sword. Why does Jesus say that? I thought Jesus was the Prince of Peace.
~ Don

Thank you for your question. This is a passage that is easily misunderstood because we have such a different culture than first century Israel. A look at the Jewish cultural background is helpful to interpret these verses. It is also useful to study the “sword” that Jesus is referring to.

To put The Pulpit Commentary (an old standard, scholarly, multi-volume set, with somewhat archaic English) into my own words, Jesus was focused on the fact that He would soon be leaving this earth and the disciples would now be facing intense trials in the form of persecution. Whereas, before, when Jesus was physically with them, they were favorably received by the populace. After He (Jesus) leaves, they would need to be prepared for tough times. This commentary also says, “Of course, the advice as to the sword was not meant to be taken literally. It is one of those metaphors the Lord used so often in his teaching. For a similar metaphor still more elaborately developed, see Eph. vi. 17, and following verses” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 16, Luke, p. 201).

The MacArthur Study Bible says on a footnote on page 1527, “When Christ sent them out before, He had sovereignly arranged for their
needs to be met. Henceforth they were to use normal means to provide for their own support and protection. The money bag, knapsack, and sword were figurative expressions for such means (the sword being emblematic of protection, not aggression). But they mistakenly took
His words literally” (v. 38).

The disciples misunderstood Jesus. They took His words literally when He meant them figuratively. Jesus’ use of the word “sword” should not be taken literally because the Greek word used here means a short, dagger like instrument that was like an everyday knife. It would not be much of an offensive weapon. It was not the long battle sword we usually think of that conjures up pictures of knights going at each other during the Middle Ages. This small “sword” would be used more for practical purposes like slicing bread or even applying a condiment to your slice of bread. There was nothing unusual about carrying such knives in that culture. I remember my Grandfather always carried a small pocketknife. It was a useful tool for him, not really a weapon, although it could be used that way if needed. Also, Jesus Himself spoke out against Peter when he used his small knife to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in the Garden of Gethsemane. You find it in this same chapter of Luke in verses 49-51. Therefore Jesus was not thinking about swords for offensive purposes. Jesus was thinking of the practical things the disciples would need when He was gone. The disciples missed the point, so Jesus says in effect “Enough of this” because they were not getting His intended meaning.

I wonder how much we continue to misunderstand Jesus today.

~ Pastor Chris