Jesus had his disciples buy swords, what’s up with that?

How could a non-violent Jesus ask his disciples to buy swords, as he apparently does in Luke 22:36-39?

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.” (Luke 22:35-38, ESV)

It’s important to note that there were at least 11 disciples hanging out and only two swords–hardly enough for a decent self defense of the group. Yet Jesus says in that passage, “it is enough!” The question is, why swords, and why only two?

Prophetic Action

In Luke 22:37 Jesus makes the connection between buying the swords and fulfilling the prophecy “he shall be numbered among the transgressors.”

Although Judas had betrayed his whereabouts, they still could have needed some excuse to make the arrest. An assembly of radical Jews with a couple weapons could have done that, and Jesus had clearly been stirring things up for some time.

Strong Language

Many commentators think that Jesus was using metaphorical language to urge his disciples to prepare spiritually for coming hardships. His statement “it is enough” is actually a rebuke of the disciples bringing literal swords. Just a few verses later Jesus stops Peter from using a weapon.

A basic principle of biblical interpretation is that we use the clear passages to shed light on the less clear passages. “Turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) and “love your enemies” (Matt 5:44) are explicit and easily understood, so they must enter the discussion as we consider the meaning of this passage.

Given the general thrust of Jesus’ clear teaching and example, it seems most likely that Jesus was either deliberately provoking the authorities in order to fulfill prophecy and force a confrontation, or speaking metaphorically.

Up next: Addressing the myth of ineffective pacifism.