Jesus said at one time: "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Many have misunderstood these words. What do they mean?

Jesus and the Sword

There are many verses from which it is clear that Jesus mission and message was peace, and was to be spread peacefully only. His commands are in no way ambiguous:

Matthew 26:
52  "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, 
     "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword."

Luke 9:
51  As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, 
    Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
52  And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan 
    village to get things ready for him; 
53  but the people there did not welcome him, because he was 
    heading for Jerusalem. 
54  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 
    "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to 
    destroy them?" 
55  But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 
56  and they went to another village. 

[Shortly thereafter, he sends out a larger group of disciples to 
preach the gospel, and gives among others, these instructions.]

Luke 10:
1  After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them 
   two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was 
   about to go.
2  He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 
   Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into 
   his harvest field.
3  Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves."

5  "When you enter a house, first say, `Peace to this house.' 
6  If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; 
   if not, it will return to you."

10  But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, 
    go into its streets and say,
11  `Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off 
    against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 

It is clear from these passages (and there are more) that Christians are not allowed to use force to spread the message of the Gospel. We are to make clear that it is very serious to reject the message of God, but if we are not welcomed, then we should move on to those who are willing to listen.

How then are we to understand Jesus' words in Matthew 10:45?

Let us read these words in their context. Interestingly, this is again a passage where Jesus calls disciples and sends them out to preach the Gospel.

Matthew 10:
 1  He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority 
    to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
 2  These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is 
    called Peter) and his brother Andrew; ...

 5  These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ...

16  "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as 
    shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 
17  Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the 
    local councils and flog you in their synagogues. 
18  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings 
    as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.
19  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or 
    how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 
20  for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father 
    speaking through you.
21  Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; 
    children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.
22  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the 
    end will be saved. 

28  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.    
    Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 

34  Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. 
    I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35  For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter 
    against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - 
36  a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' 
37  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me 
    is not worthy of me;
    anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me 
    is not worthy of me;
38  and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me 
    is not worthy of me.
39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, 
    and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

The first important observation is to recognize that Jesus does not speak about "the sword", but about "a sword". Jesus is not a prophet of the sword. The sword of violence, force and war has no place in his message. What kind of sword is he talking about?

The above passage speaks about the consequence of being obedient to the command of Jesus that we are to preach his message. Some will listen and accept it but many will reject it and react violently.

We will be hated for the message of repentance that we have to bring. We will be hated because we call people from evil to light and because this message exposes their evil deeds.

For many it will mean that even our own family will turn against us.

What kind of sword? It is the sword of division that God's word brings. It is the division of truth from error, and the reaction of the darkness against the light. The sword that Jesus brings, is the sword that his followers have to suffer, a sword that is applied to them, not a sword that they wield against others.

And exactly that happens in many countries. The fellowship of believers, while full of peace, incurs the wrath of the nonbelievers. Christians are gathering peacefully, yet are persecuted.

It is a horrible and sad reality, that in history not all who called themselves Christians were obedient to Jesus' commands and much violence and persecution in the name of Christianity has been committed. We know this, we are grieved by it, and we repent of it. But it is not the authentic teaching of Jesus Christ.

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