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. (Luke 22:36–37 ESV)
However, before we all go out and start a Christian arms race, it might be worth noting that about an hour later Jesus said to the disciples: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52 ESV).
So which is it? Swords good or bad?
For this and many other reasons most commentators understand Jesus as speaking metaphorically in Luke 22:36-37. Matthew Henry for example says:
This is intended only to show that the times would be very perilous, so that no man would think himself safe if he had not a sword by his side. But the sword of the Spirit is the sword which the disciples of Christ must furnish themselves with. 1
John Calvin was even more direct:
It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron. 2
This interpretation is further confirmed when we look at the exchange that immediately follows. The disciples, apparently, took Jesus literally.
“Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:38 ESV)
Leon Morris understands Jesus as saying here:
“It is enough” (Luke 22:38 ESV). As in: ‘Enough of this kind of talk!’ He dismisses a subject in which the disciples were so hopelessly astray. 3
On balance it seems that Jesus is not telling the disciples to buy actual swords. He is saying that they are about to enter into very perilous times and they will need to keep the sword of the Spirit “half drawn” at all times.
Wise words – in his day and in ours.
1Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Unabridged), Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2004), paragraph 34246.
2John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King, Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 71192.
3Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. IVP/Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 329.