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THE ONE WHERE JESUS TELLS US TO GET A SWORD
MEADOWVILLE, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, December 1, 2021 – God’s Commandments are inviolable. That means there are no asterisks (*) next to them denoting exceptions to the rule. If you break a Commandment, you will suffer for it – not because God is punishing you, but because you will cause others pain, which will come back to you in kind. Jesus tells us that the measure we mete out is the measure we get back. So when you break a Commandment and suffer for it, God isn’t causing your suffering: you’re doing it to yourself.
Killing people is a humongous no-no. It’s so big, it’s a Commandment. Killing someone (including yourself) for any reason is a violation of the Commandment. No exceptions. No asterisks. Just plain don’t do it.
If killing under any circumstance is a no-no, then why did Jesus tell us to get a sword?
Keep in mind that Jesus didn’t say to get a knife or a spear or slingshot or some other form of weapon: He very specifically said to get a sword. In Jesus’ day, swords were considered lethal weapons. Unlike knives or spears, which could be used for other purposes (e.g., hunting), swords were almost exclusively used to kill people. So, when you picked up a sword or carried one, it was assumed you were planning to kill with it.
But here’s the problem – if we kill someone, we’d be violating the Commandment, and we know with 100% certainty that Jesus would never advise us to break a Commandment. So how does Jesus telling us to get a sword align with God’s Commandment not to kill?
Over the centuries, most people have taken Jesus’ advice to get a sword to mean he’s giving them license to kill, with his blessing. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A closer reading of scripture shows us that Jesus advised his followers to get a sword under certain circumstances and for a certain reason, and that reason was not to kill or even to wound. This we know for sure from scripture, for three main reasons.
First, God’s Commandment not to kill is inviolable. Jesus knew this and he also taught us that we are to keep God’s Commandments – all of them. It would be contradictory for Jesus to teach us not to kill, and then for him to turn around and give us his blessing to kill, and Jesus never contradicted himself. He also stood firmly on God’s Word, stating several times that scripture cannot be broken, and elevating scripture to a much higher position than “doctrines of men”. There are no instances in the gospel of Jesus killing or counseling to kill, and we are to live as he lived. That’s what it means to be his followers.
Second, Jesus immediately heals the soldier whose ear is chopped off. If Jesus meant for us to use a sword either defensively or offensively, he would have let the soldier suffer the wound. But he healed it instead. He did not want his followers even to wound someone, let alone kill them, and certainly not in his name.
Third, Jesus warns us that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Here, again, we see Jesus reminding us that the measure we mete out, we get in return. He warned his followers against using a sword to kill, and reminded them over and over again to put their faith in God, not in their own devices.
Why, then, did Jesus tell us we needed a sword?
Note that Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to get a sword at the beginning of his ministry, but at the end. At the beginning of his ministry, there were no restrictions on Jesus’ movement or on what he could say. He was not considered a “transgressor” at that time. But as his ministry proceeded and he started to get in the faces and up the noses of the religious ptb, he became a marked man, and his movements were more and more restricted. He eventually couldn’t go to certain areas unless he wanted to be arrested (which he didn’t want to be, so he didn’t go to those places). And yet, even under these ever-worsening restrictions and threats, he still didn’t counsel his followers to arm themselves.
It was only at the very end of his ministry, just before he permitted himself to be arrested and crucified, that Jesus advised his followers to get a sword. He explained that while earlier they had no need to be armed or even to carry any money (as everything was given to them and they were welcomed in most places they went), now things would be different. Now they would not be welcomed and would in fact be considered enemies of the state and enemies of the people. They would live as outlaws – transgressors – and be persecuted wherever they went.
Outlaws live on the fringes of society, without the protection of the state. They usually travel at night and off the main track, and live as surreptitiously as possible. To get what they need to survive, they have to rely not on people living within the bounds of mainstream society, but on shady characters who will very happily get them what they need, for a certain price. So Jesus’ followers would need money to deal with these characters and a sword to show them they weren’t to be messed with.
In other words, the sword is meant as a deterrent. Jesus never intended for his followers to use the sword to kill, but to appear as if they would. Otherwise, without a sword, they wouldn’t survive the rough world of outlaws that they would be plunged into as his followers.
I do not believe that we in Western society are yet at the point where we need to carry a weapon as a deterrent. As Christians, we can still move freely in society; we are not under threat of arrest for being Christian. Yes, many Christians have violated health protocols and have gotten arrested or restricted for doing that, but again, the arrests weren’t because these people were Christian, but because they were violating health protocols.
While we are still free to move around AS CHRISTIANS and don’t have to live on the run because we’re Christians, there’s no reason for us to carry a weapon. Jesus didn’t. Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus never carried a weapon, even when he was threatened with arrest in certain areas. It was only at the very end of his ministry that he counselled his followers to get a sword, as at that time they would be treated as criminals simply for being his followers.
Do I believe the time will come when we, as Christians in the Western world, will again be persecuted for being Christians (not simply for violating health protocols)? Yes, of course, the time will come. Scripture is very clear that it will. Whether or not it comes in our lifetime remains to be seen.
But for the time being, while we’re still free to move around AS CHRISTIANS, we have no need to arm ourselves. And if the time does come for us to arm ourselves because we’re being persecuted AS CHRISTIANS, we need to remind ourselves that our weapon is for the purpose of deterrence only, not for killing under any circumstance.
Jesus’ teachings and God’s Law should be our guide on weapon use, not the laws of the land. As born-again believers, we are Christians first and foremost and only. If the laws of the land give us permission to carry a weapon or to kill in self-defence, we are obligated by God’s Law not to do either, even though the state gives us permission. In Western society, we are not currently being persecuted AS CHRISTIANS, so we cannot justify before God carrying a weapon. Again, what the laws of the land permit us to do is irrelevant; before God, we cannot currently justify carrying a weapon. We are to live as Jesus did, and Jesus never carried a weapon: he only advised carrying one under extreme circumstances of persecution.
I know this teaching will not sit well with most Americans, but you have to decide whether you want to follow God’s Law or American law. I pray that you choose God’s Law, because being American does not make you exempt from the Commandment not to kill. There is no circumstance where killing a human being (including yourself) is justified before God. Killing is a violation of the Commandment, full stop.
If the time comes for us, as Christians, to carry a weapon, we will do so with God’s blessing, but only if we use our weapon as a deterrent.