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Why did Jesus ask His disciples to buy swords in Luke 22:35-38?

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Luke 22: 35-38 says, “And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Many of us reading this passage often struggle to understand what Jesus was commanding His disciples to do. At first glance, it seems like Jesus is asking to take up arms. But was this actually what Jesus was asking? Let us look at scripture to find out.

To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to look at how Jesus taught His disciples while He was with them in the past and compare it to what He was trying to teach them now. Jesus often spoke in parables and metaphorically. One example is when Jesus miraculously fed the four thousand, after which He and His disciples got into a boat. Jesus then warns His disciples to “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15). The disciples thought that since they did not bring any bread and they would have to buy some, Jesus was asking them not to buy bread from a Pharisee or Herodian. 

Jesus responds to this by saying in Mark 8:17-21, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” 

Jesus rebuked their lack of understanding because they behaved like those with eyes and ears but could not see or hear spiritually. The disciples should have understood that Jesus was the “ultimate Provider” since He just demonstrated how He miraculously provided bread for thousands of people. When Jesus spoke about the leaven of the Pharisees, He was talking about their hypocritical man-made teachings and one that produced unbelief and hardened hearts. Jesus was not talking about physical leaven. 

Likewise, in this instance in Luke 26:36-37, Jesus would have been speaking metaphorically. We know this because of what Jesus taught earlier in verses such as Matthew 5:38-48, where He commanded not to resist, instead to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. In Luke 26:36, Jesus says, “He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”  What does Jesus mean?

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary explains this verse by saying:

“Our Lord gave notice of a very great change of circumstances now approaching. The disciples must not expect that their friends would be kind to them as they had been. Therefore, he that has a purse, let him take it, for he may need it. They must now expect that their enemies would be more fierce than they had been, and they would need weapons. At the time the apostles understood Christ to mean real weapons, but he spake only of the weapons of the spiritual warfare. The sword of the Spirit is the sword with which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves.”

In the next verse, Jesus goes on to explain that scripture must be fulfilled. Luke 22:37 says, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ​’And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” Here, Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 53:12, which predicts that Jesus would be “numbered with the transgressors.” 

Calvin (John Calvin’s Bible Commentary) explains this by saying: “But while Christ encourages and comforts the disciples by this single argument, that all the predictions must be accomplished, the very procedure of the divine purpose contains within itself no ordinary ground of confidence, which is, that Christ was subjected to the condemnation which we deserved, and was reconciled among transgressors, that we, who are transgressors, and loaded with crimes, might be presented by him to the Father as righteous. For we are reckoned pure and free from sins before God, because the Lamb, who was pure and free from every blemish, was placed in our room…”

Now, at this point in Luke 22:38, the disciples obtain two swords, to which Jesus responds, “It is enough.” In other words, Jesus was saying, enough of this kind of talk, alluding that the disciples still did not understand what Jesus was spiritually teaching them. Jesus was not asking to buy swords. Instead, they are about to enter dangerous times, and they would need the “sword of the Spirit.”

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Verse 17 goes on to command us to be armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,”

Again, Calvin explains verse 38 by saying, “It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron. When they say that they have two swords, it is uncertain whether they mean that they are well prepared against their enemies, or complain that they are ill provided with arms. It is evident, at least, that they were so stupid as not to think of a spiritual enemy.”

Luke 22:35-38 is about prophecy fulfilment from Isaiah 53:12, and Jesus teaching the disciples to be prepared to fight a spiritual battle using the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Two swords were not going to protect the twelve disciples. Furthermore, in Luke 22:50-51, one of the disciples struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. Jesus responds in Luke 22:51, saying, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.”

It ultimately comes down to the cost of discipleship. Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-36, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Children would be set against parents, and families will hate those who choose to follow Christ. A true disciple would be willing to give up everything, even his own life, for the sake of Christ. We must take up our cross and follow Christ. We must take up the word of God and stand on it. To do so, Christ must be our ultimate treasure, and we need to put on the whole armour of God so that we may be able to stand against the devil’s schemes, withstand in the evil day, and having done all, stand firm. Amen!

The sword is the truth, and it is the word of God. When we hold up the truth, the world will hate and persecute us. John 15:18-19 says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” 

So let us hold fast to the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, for it will sanctify us and at the same time be powerful to overcome the spiritual battle for the glory of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Amen!

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