Early in Jesus’ ministry, he gave instructions for his followers to “take no purse, bag, or even sandals” for the mission field. Rather they are to rely on the benevolence of the community. However, as Jesus is nearing the time of his arrest, he instructs the disciples to not only take a purse and a bag but a sword as well. Why would Jesus, who throughout his ministry advocated nonviolence, tell his disciples to arm themselves?
There are disputes regarding the intention of Jesus in this verse. A plain literal reading of the verse indicates Jesus wants his followers to be armed. Yet there are some clues to suggest that what Jesus meant isn’t so clear. Here are some of the clues:
- In Luke 22:37, Jesus suggests that carrying a sword would help to fulfill the passage in Isaiah 53:12 that, “he was counted among the lawless.” Carrying the sword would be like what Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. It was primarily for symbolic reasons to fulfill prophecy. While this is a compelling argument, it is not convincing for me.
- In Luke 22:38, the disciples say, “Here are two swords” and Jesus says, “It is enough.” This may be Jesus clearing up another misunderstanding by the disciples. When Jesus speaks of taking a sword, he means this in a symbolic way, i.e. be ready for conflict. When the disciples press him about having two swords, his answer is better understood as “it is enough talk about swords.” Again a compelling argument but not completely convincing.
- In Luke 22:50-51, Jesus’ actions speak louder than words. The most compelling case that Jesus didn’t advocate violence is based on his behavior in the Mount of Olives. When one of his followers actively uses violence, Jesus says, “No more of this” and heals the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus himself never takes a sword. He taught his disciples to love their enemies and to not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul. When faced with his impending death, he willingly submitted his life.
Although there were anti-Roman insurgent, pro-violence movements (like the Zealots), Jesus and his followers never aligned themselves with them (outside of Simon the Zealot being one of the 12). The direction of Jesus’ life and teachings support non-violent interaction and confrontation. One section of a gospel that is highly contested shouldn’t encourage the advocacy of violence as a justified Christian method. Based on Jesus’ overall life, violence should never be advocated in his name.