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Brandon Andress is the author of AND THEN THE END WILL COME! (April 2013) and Unearthed: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World (2010). He lives in Columbus, Indiana and writes for his popular blogs Brandon Andress and A Joyful Procession. Brandon earned his MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University and his BA in Psychology from Hanover College. He loves the outdoors, hiking, camping, and traveling. For more information visit: www.andthentheendwillcome.com

i did not come to bring peace…but a sword

this past week we spent some time dissecting one line of the beatitudes, “blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God.”  through the lens of the Old Testament tradition and some rabbinical writings, in addition to studying the original language, we understood that Jesus was giving divine authority or approval for his disciples to, not just abstain from conflict, battle, and war, but was telling them to actively pursue peace and reconciliation in broken and strained relationships.  the foundation of pursuing shalom (oneness, wholeness, completeness in relationships as God intended) is the truth of God through Jesus Christ, who is our reconciliation, and through whom…we become ministers of reconciliation in the world.

several people began asking a question almost immediately after our gathering on sunday…and then subsequently in their house churches…about a very controversial saying of Jesus, in Matthew 10:34, “do not think i have come to bring peace on the earth.  i did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”   here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

on the surface…it seems as if we have a contradiction in the words of Jesus.  how can Jesus, in one breath, say that a characteristic of his discipleship is that of peacemaker (matthew 5:9)…but then in another breath say that, “[he] did not come to bring peace, but a sword”?

this seeming contradiction has caused all sorts of pain and heartache within the Christian community for hundreds of years.  this line has been used and abused by Christian religious zealots and fanatics as evidence that Jesus does, in fact, condone violence. this kind of thinking raises all sorts of questions.  is Jesus condoning violence?  and if he is, then does this give Christians the authority to use the sword against who and what we view as evil? even further, in what instances should the sword be used, and in what instances should the sword be put away?  how do we determine the evil that we use violence against?  does the language Jesus uses imply that instead of seeking peace, it is appropriate to use violence in any form no matter how insignificant or destructive?  how about bombs?  guns?  torture?  is “using the sword” a black and white issue…or are there gray areas?  if there are gray areas…then how do i know the instances to employ violence and the instances not to?

or maybe it wasn’t meant to be so complicated.  is it possible that this line from Jesus has been misunderstood and taken out of context when measured against the rich language of the old testament prophets in their understanding that God is working for shalom (oneness and wholeness of all things as God originally intended), when measured against Jesus’ own words and actions documented in the Gospel accounts, and when measured against other new testament writings?

Jesus had every opportunity to wield the sword…but did not.  why would he say that he came to bring a sword…yet never use one?  it’s odd.  why did Jesus tell his followers to “never resist an evil person,” and further, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?  why would he come to bring a sword if he was giving instruction to never resist an evil person…and to love ones enemy?  who would he use the sword on?  who would his disciples (who look and act like their Rabbi) use the sword on?  the answer is no one.

unless you are talking about Peter…and the time in the garden of Gethsemane when Judas was about to betray Jesus.  after Judas kissed Jesus…the guards stepped forward to arrest Jesus…and the militant-minded Peter pulls out his sword and cut one of the guards ears off.  was Jesus cheering him on?  why didn’t the other militant disciples join in?  did Jesus tell Peter to keep attacking?  no…he said, “put your sword back in its place.” and further, “do you not think that i cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  what is Jesus talking about?  a legion was a military term that was used by the Romans to describe a military unit (like 4000 to 5000 troops).  Jesus was making a military statement to describe how he could respond militarily (by calling on the 60,000 strong angel militia to kick some Roman booty)….but then says, “but how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must not happen this way?”  should not happen what way?  by the way of the sword?  exactly.  the way of Jesus was not the way of the sword…it was the way of the towel (of self-sacrificial love).  always loving…always pouring himself out…always giving self-sacrificially…without responding the way the Kingdom of the world responds.

even early in Jesus’ ministry he had the opportunity to use the power of the sword.  for hundreds of years the jews were anticipating the Messiah, the chosen one in the Davidic line who would restore Israel (once and for all) as God’s chosen people…His holy nation.  they were expecting that one would come that would bring peace and justice as a governmental ruler.  with all of this expectation surrounding the Messiah, does it seem odd that when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert after fasting for 40 days, he would not accept Satan’s offer to have all the kingdom’s of the world?  he could rule with the sword….an iron fist…he could enforce peace through legislation and the law (which we know only changes attitudes…not hearts).  this could have been the easiest and fastest way to bring the power of the sword.  no…Jesus said that he was going to do it God’s way.  not by force…not by violence…not by redemptive violence…BUT BY THE WAY OF THE CROSS.  the one act that stops the vicious cycle of violence…and is validated by the resurrection (not death and violence winning…but life through sacrificial love)!  love always wins and triumphs over evil…but not with the sword.  and the way of the sword was not the way of Jesus.

so what was Jesus getting at with his odd statement about not bringing peace, but a sword?  with so much evidence to suggest that Jesus did NOT come with a sword to conquer and rule…how can we understand what he is saying.

here is how i undertand it.  if a sword is what Jesus came to bring…but we do not have any evidence that Jesus ever used a sword violently…then it is possible that it may be symbolic.  are there other instances in the new testament where the word “sword” is used?  yes.

In his right hand he held 7 stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp double-edged sword. (revelation 1:17)

The word of God is active and alive, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to divide soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (hebrews 4:12)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17)

if we are consistent…you get this idea that a sword, symbolically, refers to truth…the word of God.

Jesus did not come to bring peace (for peace’s sake)…he came to bring truth (the word of God).  the word of God is sharp…it divides…even to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joint and marrow, thoughts and attitudes, and even people who are close to each other, “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, your enemies will the members of your own household.”  why?  because the truth is not accepted or pursued by everyone…many stand against the truth.  by Jesus just “being”…he created conflict…because he is truth.  the paradox…as we know…is that the truth of God brings peace (shalom) to those who seek reconciliation through Christ.  peace is founded on the truth of God revealed in Christ.  maybe we could understand it better this way, “ought we ever compromise truth for the sake of peace?”  the answer is no.  Jesus did not come to bring peace (as everyone understands it…giving in…compromising…etc.)…he came to bring the truth of God.  and man…that is not the kind of peace that some people want.

brandon

16 Comments on “i did not come to bring peace…but a sword”

  1. Judi Cox October 12, 2007 at 1:29 pm #

    Very nice job!!!

  2. Sara Beth October 12, 2007 at 2:03 pm #

    Awesome Blog! As I was reading the first part of the blog I was definitely thinking about how the word of God is also refered to as a sword! Definitely puts a new perspective on the idea of Jesus bringing “peace”– the peace that he does bring us is the peace of mind that we are never alone, and we will be in heaven with him if we accept him as the Lord and Savior of our lives!
    Maybe its also that he has answered the big “Questions” in life with the truth, but the truth is not easy and is not what the general population wants to hear.

    You got me thinking Brandon! Thanks! See ya Soon!

  3. Jon October 18, 2007 at 6:23 pm #

    The Word of God has rocked the very foundation of this world demolishing strongholds and providing the only truth left in this life. Much more powerful than an actual metalurgically contructed sword the Word of God cuts to the heart without violence, but to those who are first time hearers of God’s Word, His truth this can sometimes be a difficult reality of “What comes next”, “Where do I go”, “What about so and so”, “I have to now be what to the world,”How”, “Why”, “What” and so on… Where the Church comes in is in the fact that we encourage and pray for one another to live into this life we are called to live being truth tellers to mankind. The “concept” of Be-doers rings true. First “being” Christ to the world and then “doing” is paramount. Just being without fruit does not work and just doing leaves you burned out looking for more. Knowing the love you have received from Christ and being that same love being restorers of brokeness is our call.

  4. Brad December 5, 2007 at 8:30 pm #

    This is better than the article on Relevant. Thanks.

  5. Stephen Furlani January 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm #

    This is great! I was looking for a reference for someone’s sig, and found this. I like the explaination you provided for the seeming contradiction…
    “Jesus did not come to bring peace (as everyone understands it…giving in…compromising…etc.)…he came to bring the truth of God. and man…that is not the kind of peace that some people want.”

  6. vbx April 1, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    LOL. Very bad interpretation of that verse. He didn’t come here to bring peace, but a sword. Obviously meant war.

    You also failed to mention the other verse, so lets keep going.

    Mat 10:34-36
    Think not that I am come to send peace on earth, I cam not to send peace, but a sword.

    For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
    —————
    The sword in this verse has nothing to do with God’s word. If you read the the entire verse.
    .
    So please stop trying to re-write the bible.
    ——-
    Also:
    Luke 14:25-26
    Basically states you must hate your parents to be his disciples.

    A lot of Christians seem to misinterpret this verse and say it’s about putting Jesus 1st. This is false, since he already stated that in Matthews.

    In Luke, he said is straight out. You must hate your life and your parents. Seems to contradict the 10 commandments doesn’t it?

    Well, the old Testament did warn us of a false prophet…

    • brandonandress April 2, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

      vbx…thanks for your comment…but i respectfully disagree with your position on matthew 10.

      as you pointed out in your response, i did not mention in the blog matthew 10:35-36 (which immediately follows the “peace and sword” verse)…however…i did not write the blog without considering the larger context of matthew 10 in its entirety. when you read matthew 10 as a whole…you understand that the larger idea is that the follower of Jesus should not be afraid to speak about Jesus to other people…even when it is difficult and controversial. chapter 10 is Jesus speaking to his disciples who are about ready to go into the surrounding areas to speak specifically to Jews about the Kingdom of Heaven…and how that message will be received by the Jewish people. it will be received by many Jewish people as controversial, as a challenge to what they believe, think, or had been taught, and will certainly result in people turning against each other as a result of this truth.

      you are mistaken in your interpretation that this particular chapter advocates violence in any capacity. a proper understanding of the “Kingdom of Heaven” in Matthew would not advocate violence but rather non-resistance to evil (or passivity in the face of aggression).

      thanks for the comment…and i hope that we can continue the dialogue.

      peace and grace…

      brandon

  7. Pete April 3, 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Nice post and very insightful blog. I agree with you about the contextual understandning of scripture and specifically on this issue of sword and peace.

  8. JB October 21, 2009 at 8:01 am #

    or maybe when jesus said that, the sword he was talking about was the bible, in ephesians 6 when it says… ‘and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.’

  9. brandonandress October 21, 2009 at 8:21 am #

    JB…

    maybe…but at the time Jesus said that…there wasn’t a Bible…at least in the form that we have it today. the hebrew bible (or old testament)…and that would have been on scrolls.

    the word, or logos, is interesting. John 1 talks about the Logos in the beginning, being with God, and being God. the Logos was made flesh, manifest as Jesus. so one could certainly take the approach that Jesus himself was the sword (based upon the passage in ephesians 6).

    i appreciate the verse that you shared…because it definitely makes us think more about the word sword being figurative rather than literal.

    peace…

    brandon

  10. CC November 19, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    Awesome message! Thank you for your willingness to share and teach the word of God.

    Bless you :)

  11. Larry Isbell November 23, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    I once used my mother’s loving, Christian manner as an illustration of how Jesus brings a sword of division. My mom forgave and took a man who had dreadfully wronged her family into her home. Her loving action caused divisiion among the other “Christians” in the family, none of whom wanted the man to be loved. Everybody in the family disowned my mother for several weeks because of this. They even refused to sit with her at Easter Sunday worship to which she took the man who had wronged her and her family. How does Jesus bring the sword of division? Just watch when he embraces the total outcasts and you have the answer to that question

  12. Andrea February 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    I’m glad you reposted this…I had never read it before! It makes this verse so much clearer, and like someone else said, you already had me thinking in that direction, of the sword being the Word, even before you actually got there.

    I’ve seen this verse misused so much. Now I know how to respond to it’s misuse.

    Congrats on 15,000 views!

  13. carbon191 November 21, 2010 at 2:11 am #

    I wrote a 200 word comment because I thought I disagreed with you, but I was wrong! After reading your blog thoroughly, I realized I agreed with you completely. I should have read your post first before judging since God already knows the heart.

    Yes, you are right. Jesus did not come to bring “peace,” for the peace of this world is completely different from the peace that comes from God. To follow God means to use the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God. The current social order will be against it because it rejects God’s ways.

    Thank you very much for your blog. It has added to my wisdom. You have also encouraged me to eventually open my blog to the public.

  14. TERESA WICKS January 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    I THANK THE LORD FOR YOU BRANDON. YOU HIT THE NAIL RIGHT ON THE HEAD WHEN YOU HELPED PEOPLE KNOW GOD’S TRUTH ABOUT MATTHEW 10:34. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK. THOSE WHO DO NOT AGREE W/ YOU, REMEMBER THE HOLY SPIRIT IS THE TEACHER AND “HE” WILL REVEAL GOD’S TRUTH TO THEM WHEN THEY ARE RECEPTIVE AND CAN HANDLE THE “TRUTH.” I GET SO EXCITED ABOUT GOD’S TRUTH AND LOVE HIS TRUTH, BECAUSE IT HAS TRANSFORMED MY LIVE OVER THE 30 YRS THAT HE HAS BEEN MY SAVIOR. KEEP BEING THE VESSEL FOR YOUR/OUR SAVIOR AND I WON’T SAY HE WILL BLESS YOU, BECAUSE I KNOW HE IS BLESSING YOU. I AM SO PLEASED THAT THERE ARE THOSE WHO KNOW THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND HE IS NOT ABOUT VIOLENCE. GODS WORD IS POWERFUL AND YOU LET HIS WORD SPEAK FOR ITSELF. ATABOY!! KEEP UP THE GODLY WORK BY BROTHER IN CHRIST JESUS!!!

  15. mightyfooda May 10, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    If it’s really the word of an all powerful god than why is it that people have so much trouble interpretting it? You would think a perfect being could create a perfect way to commuincate with man and get his message across without being so confusing. I say this with all due respect, I came across your site by accident, but I just can’t keep my mouth shut when I see things that don’t ring true.

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