Get the Right Sword

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." (Luke 22:36)
Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)

These verses used to really puzzle me as I suspect they have done for millions of people. This first verse was something Jesus said as He opened up His heart to His disciples for the last time in the upper room just before His death. We are not alone in puzzling over this, for the disciples who heard Jesus say this were just as baffled about what He must mean. In fact, they responded by informing Him of how many 'swords' they already had to which Jesus responded that it was enough.

So, was Jesus actually talking about physical swords when He said these words? Did Jesus really want them to go out right then and try to buy some swords from their Roman occupiers so they could be prepared to fight in the upcoming confrontation just a few hours from then? If that was Jesus' thinking, He certainly was very inconsistent with that sentiment in everything else He said and did in the ensuing crisis. In fact, that was part of what caused His disciples so much consternation when it seemed to them that Jesus was contradicting Himself just a short time later when Peter whipped out his sword to defend Jesus.

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matthew 26:52)

I have started seeing that Jesus often used language that seems conflicting to anyone entrenched in the world's way of thinking about reality. When Jesus spoke of someone sleeping, humans would say they had died. When Jesus talked about getting a drink, a woman argued about how He could get physical water out of a well. So it should be no surprise then that this Jesus who had spent His ministry teaching non-violence and enemy-love would have something strikingly different in mind than what might first come to our thinking when He spoke of a sword. I think it should be abundantly obvious to anyone familiar with and serious about embracing the teachings of Jesus, that the term sword must have great significance but is not to be associated with aggressive infliction of harm on others.

I took the time to look up many references to this word throughout the Bible and in my research I found myself discovering much more than what I had expected. But let me give a little advice: if you only follow this reasoning as a mental exercise you may well miss the point altogether even if you think you got it. Because everything Jesus talks about is directed at heart transformation, not just information collection and assimilation. Salvation, the kind of spiritual transformation needed to safely dwell in the presence of God and holy angels, requires that one be born again. And that new life involves learning a new language. Paul put it this way.

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God's Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NRSV)

When Jesus makes reference to a sword, attention must be paid to the circumstances and context in which He was speaking. He and the disciples were just about to be confronted with the most dramatic event in the history of the universe. Now that is a very big claim, but the more we become familiar with the larger picture of what was transpiring in the supernatural realms, the clearer that truth becomes. Therefore it is vital that we keep the bigger context ever-present in our thinking as we seek to understand or discern the real truth of what Jesus was seeking to share with His disciples. He was trying to prepare them as much as possible for the intense testing that was about to come on all of them, and the words He spoke were intended for that purpose. Whether or not they 'got it' was a condition as to whether or not He said these things, for later they could look back and have much greater appreciation of the true meaning of His words and could still be effective in their growth.

Here are a few more verses to make it plain what Jesus was not trying to say about a sword. Then we will explore much more in depth what He was wanting them, and us to perceive in His earnest words on this subject.

When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, "Stop! No more of this." And He touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against Him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? "While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours." (Luke 22:49-53)
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (John 18:36)

It is vital that we disabuse ourselves of all notions about Jesus intending His followers to indulge in the methods and spirit of the enemy to accomplish the work of God. Jesus did not come to set up a kind of kingdom remotely similar to the kingdoms of this world with which we are so familiar. It is this confusion caused by the mingling of principles between two radically different systems that keeps so many of us in the dark as we try to ascertain what the teachings and words of Jesus really convey.

Now let me share a series of verses that give us significant clues as to the definition of sword that we need to see for us to appreciate what Jesus was trying to say to them. What did Jesus have in mind when He said they needed a sword even more than a coat?

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. (John 14:10)
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. (Hebrews 4:12)

This last verse begins to introduce another element intimately connected with the concept embedded in the Bibles use of the word sword. A very valuable clue can be found in a prophecy spoken over Jesus when He was just a baby. Carefully consider what it really is saying.

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- and a sword will pierce even your own soul--to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)

Did you see what this is implying? When God talks about a sword it is very often linked with the idea of judgment. But it is also important to understand the true definition of that word as well or again we can become very confused about what God wants us to understand in all of these messages. This last verse is actually one of the clearest definitions of judgment you will find, for judgment is about revealing what is hidden, particularly in the deep recesses of the heart and the motives. So from heaven's perspective – which is how Jesus viewed everything – reference to a sword conveys the idea of exposing what is hidden, what is normally unable to be seen publicly. And that is the same concept found in the word judgment.

Compare that to what actually happens with a physical sword when it is used in war. A sword pierces, slashes open and when very sharp can lay open everything that normally is covered up under the skin and flesh. Consider how this is presented in the verse from Hebrews.

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. (Hebrews 4:12)

Now recall the circumstances in which Jesus was speaking when He instructed His disciples that they needed a sword. They were all about to enter into a most intense time of exposure. Everyone involved was going to be exposed like never before: the religious leaders, the Romans, the crowds, the disciples and especially Jesus Himself – all were about to have their real characters and secret motives forced into the open by the circumstances that would be swirling around them as the great struggle between Christ and Satan came to its peak.

Jesus wanted His disciples to be as prepared as possible for that showdown so that what would be exposed in them would not be so devastating. Sadly they were too preoccupied with wanting to impress Him with their loyalty and value in order to earn good spots in the earthly kingdom they expected Him to set up. Thus they found little true meaning in the words He was using when He spoke of their need for a sword. They completely misapplied the idea of sword because their frame of reference was so foreign to the reality that heaven saw and that Jesus lived in.

But are we any wiser than those disciples who's thinking was so distorted by popular views about the Messiah? Are our opinions about end-time events so entrenched and colored by our views of God that we are in just as much danger of misapplying instructions from heaven and teachings of Jesus as they were? We still try to force Jesus' words to fit into our desires for power, for control, for recognition and we may be just about as uncomfortable with the things Jesus says about dying and taking up a cross or loving enemies as they were. We are possibly just as unprepared for the final crisis as were those disciples for the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus.

Let's look at more passages about sword and judgment and listen for what the Spirit may want to impress on our hearts in addition to what we may discover with our minds.

If you say, 'How shall we persecute him?' And 'What pretext for a case against him can we find?' Then be afraid of the sword for yourselves, For wrath brings the punishment of the sword, So that you may know there is judgment. (Job 19:28-29)
For My sword is satiated in heaven, behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom and upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction. (Isaiah 34:5)
For the LORD will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the LORD will be many. (Isaiah 66:16)
'A clamor has come to the end of the earth, because the LORD has a controversy with the nations. He is entering into judgment with all flesh; as for the wicked, He has given them to the sword,' declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 25:31)

We are very familiar with the widespread use and abuse of swords in the Old Testament. But notice how from heaven's perspective it is often tied directly to the idea of judgment. Again, we must be serious about staying very close to God's definitions of these words if we want to be discerning as Jesus wants us to be. It has already become clear that the sword God speaks of is linked closely to the Word. And judgment is very closely linked with the sword. Consider the implications of these words of Jesus.

And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me." (John 12:44-50)

I believe it is vital that we always keep this understanding of sword linked with the Word of God and to Jesus Himself if we are to safely analyze what the Bible is really saying to us. In this last passage Jesus makes it clear that it is His words that will be our judge. And while there certainly is coming a great Day of Judgment when this is fully realized, the words of Jesus are a continual judge for all of us as we come under conviction of how out of harmony we are with the truths that He spoke and the picture of God that He presented in stark contrast to every other opinion about Him from any other source.

Consider the explicit imagery linking the idea of sword with the words of Jesus in these next verses.

In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. (Revelation 1:16)
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. (Revelation 2:12-16)

Many in their excitement of studying the vivid imagery in the book of Revelation mingle in worldly assumptions and come up with all sorts of violent scenarios supposedly carried out by the Almighty God thundering down 'judgments' on an unrepentant world in great wrath. This fits nicely with our own human desires for revenge and punishments against those who have hurt us, but is quite foreign to the clear picture of God presented in the life and teachings of Jesus. We must be extremely careful how we handle the potent Word of God, for it really is very sharp and can easily be abused and even come back to expose those thinking to use it against others.

God's Word – identified as Jesus Christ Himself by the apostle John – is the appointed judge that exposes everything and everyone. The very act of being exposed by the presence of God always causes judgment, for the light of truth – truth about what is real, truth about what God is really like and truth about ourselves in stark contrast to the first two – always exposes what has been hidden by the darkness of deception, lies, fear and hypocrisy.

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Revelation 19:11-15)
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Revelation 19:20-21)

Remember what Jesus spoke to Peter when Peter thought he was doing God's will by whipping out his sword and engaging the enemy? Jesus explained one of the eternal principles that we must grasp if we want to understand spiritual things with discernment. There are spiritual principles of reality that too often go unnoticed even though Jesus explicitly states them for us. And this particular principle shows up again in Revelation where it is repeated nearly word for word from what Jesus said to Peter.

If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:10)

If we embrace the belief that God's kingdom must resort to using violence to be established, then we are still infected with Satan's lying accusations about the true nature of God. Violence was an invention of Satan as part of his alternative form of government that is reflected in all the kingdoms of this world. We must be extremely careful to seek God's cleansing from all these confusing beliefs that have been mingled into the truth about God's kingdom. God's kingdom is based securely on the foundation of agape love, the very essence of who God is. To dilute this truth in any way is to try to infuse the principles of Satan into God's system of perfect love that casts out all fear. That is completely untenable. Heaven is in the process of purifying our perceptions about God's kingdom and we must cooperate with that cleansing process in our thinking. God can overcome evil with good and good alone – not the good from the Tree of Good and Evil, but the true goodness of God's pure love.

Let me share one more surprising find that I came across as I followed this thread through the Bible. In the previous reference from Revelation the term brimstone was used in describing the final painful experience of the lost as well as the demise of Satan and his angels. This has been a spot of confusion for millions and has fueled all sorts of speculation about a dark side of God, often referred to as 'His strange act.' But will God be forced in the end to resort to using some of Satan's methods to overcome evil? Or will God be able to overcome evil with good as He instructs His followers to do? Take a closer look at the origin of the word translated as brimstone or sulphur in most English versions of the Bible.

Brimstone – theion = probably neuter of theios (in its original sense of flashing); sulphur:--brimstone.
Theios = godlike (neuter as noun, divinity): - divine, godhead.

Based on these original Greek words and going beyond the obvious bias of translators harboring very dark views of God popularized during the Dark Ages; a much more revealing rendition of this term in place of using the word brimstone would be, flashing of divinity. This is very much in harmony with extensive studies of the truth about the nature of God's wrath, the fire of God and all related topics that are becoming much better understood in recent years. It is becoming evident that the real suffering and demise of the lost is due to their dissonance and incompatibility with the flashing purity and intensity of the divine agape love which is the essential power of God's presence. To come anywhere near that intense presence of passionate love is to be exposed very painfully to anything hidden within our souls that resists or rejects such truths about God's character.

Think about this in the light of the following verse which may be the punchline of a book considered as the most sacred text in Scripture by Hebrew scholars.

Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. (Song of Solomon 8:6)

Our paradigm of religion will determine how we interpret these cryptic words of Jesus to His disciples at a most important time in their experience. If we are saddled with the traditional views of a God who resorts to violence and force to get His way when things get difficult, then we will assume that Jesus is recommending doing similar things in our own situations. The disciples had that very perception of God based on the Old Testament writings, the only Scriptures they had at that point. Their confused views of how God deals with sin and sinners based on those Scriptures permeated everything they thought and every opinion they had about the role of the Messiah. These views of God, which are still embraced today, were also the root of many of the fears that kept them blind spiritually and made them vulnerable to the manipulation of exploitive religious authorities.

Jesus came to liberate us from all bondage except the bondage of responsive love. Listen carefully.

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin and the fear of death. He came to expose and refute the myriads of lies about His Father that prevents people from trusting Him fully. And distrust of God is the very essence of sin. Jesus' life on earth was the only clear revelation of truth about what God is like and how He relates to sinners. The book of Hebrews makes it plain that Jesus' authority is supremely higher than any other prophet, teacher or apostle who has or ever will live. Jesus is the only reliable source we have for discerning the real truth about God in the miasma of darkness and confusion and fears that blankets our minds from all other sources or opinions.

Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:7-8)
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. (John 6:63)
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3)


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