What is meant by this passage in Luke? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was talking with someone yesterday who was curious what I thought of the passage in Luke 22:36-38. I figured I wouldn’t have time for a sit-down conversation so I would write a blog on it. If you don’t know, this is the passage.
36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
Often times, this passage is brought up in the context of answering questions about pacifism or self-defense. The problem is this is a really difficult passage to understand for many what is going on. Usually if you want to argue for a position, you start with passages that are more clear.
So at the start, I do not hold to a pacifist interpretation. I think Jesus is more often talking about private situations and these are situations involving personal insults. He’s not talking about how a government should be run.
I also contend that if you see someone in danger and you are capable of doing something, if that means physical confrontation, then you do that. If you can’t, you at least alert those who can, such as by calling the police. (And really since I don’t want to encourage us all becoming vigilantes, generally if you have time always try to call the police first.)
So what is going on in this passage?
Jesus is getting ready to go to the cross and He knows from this point on that it’s going to be much harder for His apostles, and indeed it is. Persecution will be coming. Thus, he tells them to sell their cloak and buy a sword.
The sword here is not exactly first-rate military gear. It’s said to be a small sword as distinguished by a large sword. It could be used for cutting animals and a number of Jews typically carried one around. Hence, it is not surprising to hear that in the Gospels, the apostles do have at least two of them.
Despite that, it is not likely that Jesus meant this to be taken in a literal sense. After all, if they were trying to defend themselves, two swords are not going to be enough to defend twelve people. Jesus’s exasperation then would be because His disciples were again misunderstanding Him. Jesus has a recurring theme when He is taken literalistically when He doesn’t mean to be.
So in the end, what this is saying is simply Jesus knows hard times are coming and some changes are going to take place. Like the advice given to a scout troop, they need to be prepared.
We still need that advice today.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)