In last week’s post I started with Pontius Pilate’s interrogation of Jesus. There was one line in there that struck me as worthy of pondering, also in light of current events, but since it was not on the subject of Truth, I didn’t emphasize it. It’s time to go back to it today.
When Pontius Pilate gets to his ‘Aha!” moment: ‘So, you are a King!’ Jesus’ response is this: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Which brings me to the question: Have you ever found yourself fighting to defend Jesus?
And the second question: What would Jesus say about that?
Is there a scenario in which Jesus would condone our taking up arms to defend Him? The most relevant passage that comes to mind is near the end of the Gospel, when Jesus is arrested in the Garden:
Matthew 26:47-54 And while he was yet speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great crowd with swords and sticks from the chief priests and elders of the people. Now he that delivered him up had given them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, he it is: seize him. And immediately coming up to Jesus he said, Hail, Rabbi, and covered him with kisses.
But Jesus said to him, [My] friend, for what purpose art thou come?
Then coming up they laid hands upon Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and smiting the bondman of the high priest took off his ear.
Then saith Jesus to him, Return thy sword to its place; for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword. Or thinkest thou that I cannot now call upon my Father, and he will furnish me more than twelve legions of angels?
How then should the scriptures be fulfilled that thus it must be?
Jesus’ reaction, with that broad statement “for all who take the sword…”, sounds like a serious warning against taking up the sword in general. But we could argue that it was specific to this moment. We could argue that Jesus’ point was that His mission, His destiny, required Him to be arrested then and there. Only thus could the trial follow; and only thus could the death on the cross, by which He saved the whole world, come about.
The uniqueness of the moment cannot be denied.
After all, when He says “the scriptures be fulfilled,” He must be talking about that moment; since, as John records it, John 18:11 Jesus therefore said to Peter, Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?
And then Jesus followed that up by pointing out, that if He needed defending, if He wanted to avoid capture, He could have called on twelve Legions of angels.
Yet, if this is all directed at that singular moment in time, why qualify it with the admonition that all who take the sword will perish by the sword? That seems to leave the door open to this occurring again… that there would come future opportunities where his disciples could be moved to draw a sword again.
In that case, if these comments extend beyond that moment, we would expect that Jesus telling them, ‘I don’t really need you to defend Me’, would also come to apply beyond that singular event. We can then bolster this argument by pointing out that we know the fulfilment of the scriptures did not end at that point, with his arrest.
We see scripture after scripture being fulfilled during His trial and indeed throughout His crucifixion. And certainly, there are many scriptures that were to be fulfilled after His resurrection, in the age of the Church. So, is it possible that the rebuke to Peter’s wielding of the sword is addressed not at that one moment but – through him – at all of us who now, after 21 centuries, still call Jesus, Lord?
To explore this issue, we need to ask more questions.
How did Peter end up carrying that sword?
At the end of the Last Supper, Jesus has this conversation with Peter and the other apostles:
Luke 22:31-38 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to have you, to sift [you] as wheat; but *I* have besought for thee that thy faith fail not; and *thou*, when once thou hast been restored, confirm thy brethren.
And he said to him, Lord, with thee I am ready to go both to prison and to death.
And he said, I tell thee, Peter, [the] cock shall not crow to-day, until three times, that thou shalt deny that thou knowest me. And he said to them, When I sent you without purse and scrip and sandals, did ye lack anything?
And they said, Nothing.
He said therefore to them, But now he that has a purse let him take [it], in like manner also a scrip, and he that has none let him sell his garment and buy a sword; for I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned with [the] lawless: for also the things concerning me have an end.
And they said, Lord, behold here are two swords.
And he said to them, It is enough.
If you had been an eyewitness to that conversation, what would you conclude? What would be your interpretation? If this were a just conversation between a controversial Rabbi and his disciples, wouldn’t we hear the worry in Jesus’ voice? Wouldn’t we hear in it a sense of imminent danger?
When Jesus sent the twelve (and after them the seventy) to proclaim the Good News, He had given them very special instructions, to take no money, to take nothing extra with them but what they carried on their person; and to rely for sustenance on the kindness of those that received them in every city.
That was a ‘burn the ships’ kind of directive. Because if I don’t have a back-up plan that I can implement myself, by which I can rescue myself, then I have to trust in God that He will – actively – watch over the mission he has given me. Or like my boss used to tell us: ‘Nothing clears the mind like an absence of alternatives’. The Great Commission requires that kind of attitude. That is what Jesus had taught them.
Yet… here, He says: “But now he that has a purse let him take it…”
Is Jesus reversing Himself? Is He erasing the teaching regarding how we are called to carry out the Great Commission? Or is he addressing that specific moment in time? Is Jesus telling them, ‘From now on carry a sword to defend yourselves’? Or is he preparing them for the chaos that is about to ensue from his arrest?
To me it really sounds like he is giving them a back-up plan. He knows He is going to be arrested, and He wants to protect His disciples down to the very end. He wants them to be able to escape, in case that mob gets out of hand: swords, if necessary, money to buy their way out, if necessary.
It is eminently practical.
But does it bother you to consider that Jesus would need such a back-up plan? The Son of God needed a back-up plan?
Who was it who said: But now he that has a purse let him take it…?
Often, we color our reading of the Gospel with what we think we know now, after the fact. We say (we believe) that Jesus, as Son of God, is Himself God, and therefore we can have a tendency to see His actions and decisions in the Gospel as those performed by an all-powerful, all-knowing, being. But He wasn’t that, not there and then.
This is something Kierkegaard insisted on, in his Practice in Christianity. When the Son of God entered the timeline of humanity, He became fully human: born like us, with a body like ours, subject to all the physical weaknesses, psychological challenges, and spiritual temptations to which all of us are subject. That is what the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us (Hebrews 4:15). The one difference: He never sinned.
Paul says the same thing about Jesus in Philippians 2:6-8 …who existing in the nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be seized, but emptied himself, taking upon himself the nature of a servant; having being made in the likeness of men, and in every appearance having being found as a man, he humbled himself, having become obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
When Jesus walked upon this Earth, during every event of the Gospel up to the Resurrection, He was the humbled one, the abased one, the ultimate servant; not the King of Kings! He, on purpose, limited Himself when He stepped down from Glory into our human reality. This is why He replied to His disciples’ questions about the end times with ‘only the Father knows the time…’
It is that Jesus who said: But now he that has a purse let him take it…
And it is that Jesus, abased, rejected, scorned, even hated by so many, that called his disciples to follow in his steps. That Jesus, indistinguishable to the senses from any other human being, is the one that made claims like “Before Abraham was, I AM”, that said, “I and the Father are One”, that told the Pharisees, “you will die in your sins unless you believe that I AM.” All those words would certify any other man as insane, and yet those very words led the disciples to believe that He was indeed the Son of God.
Did they believe in Him because they saw His Divinity? No!
Jesus said, over and over again, that any one who listens to the Father, anyone who listens to the Truth, is able to believe in Him. If I am willing to listen to my Father in Heaven, I will recognize His Voice on this Earth and I will know Jesus speaks with that Voice.
But if I don’t want to listen to the Father, if I don’t recognize His Voice, then when I hear the claims Jesus made about himself, they will sound preposterous…
How can a man forgive sins? Only God can do that.
How can a mere carpenter pretend to teach the masses about what God really is like? He has never been educated in those things.
How dare he pretend he can know what we are thinking? Only God can know the hearts of men.
How can he speak of God as if He were his own personal Father? That implies he is Divine. But we know he is just flesh and blood, like us. I have seen him sweat. I have seen him hunger. I have seen him injured, and he bled.
And how dare he insinuate he is the Messiah? Is this the best God could do? To pick a carpenter, followed by a rabble of laborers, sinners, and tax collectors? That makes no sense. God would pick someone stronger, more powerful, more worthy… maybe someone like me. But this Galilee scum…?
No, God would not make such a choice. Those miracles that he supposedly performs… A man can’t do that. He must be doing it by the power of the devil…
God’s choice to send His Son to us in human form, forces every one of us into a unique Either-Or choice: To either Believe or be Offended. Which is why Jesus said to the crowds and John’s disciples: Matthew 11:6…blessed is whosoever shall not be offended in me.
It is a choice we all must make on our own.
It is like taking an exam, and no one else is going to give us the answer to this all-important question. In fact, no one can. Because – on purpose – there is no physical proof, no human argument we can rely on to point to the right choice.
The very existence of a Universe governed by precise Natural Laws, in which it is utterly impossible for Life to arise by chance, is all the Physical proof we need to know that there is a Personal God who created it all. But there is no Law of Nature, no Physical proof that Jesus was who he claimed to be: the Son of God, the ultimate one and only and sufficient sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.
This is why the writer of the book of Hebrews defines faith this way: Hebrews 11:1 Faith is [the] substantiating of things hoped for, [the] conviction of things not seen.
To believe in Jesus requires a decision made by my spirit:
The decision not to be offended at God’s Plan.
Who was it who said to the apostles: But now he that has a purse let him take it…? It was the humble, abased, rejected carpenter. It was not the King of Kings before whom every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. That day will come. But it did not come during the Gospel story. It has not even happened yet in our world.
Until that day, we who believe, have chosen to follow the humble carpenter from Galilee; and we have chosen to abide by the teachings he gave us while in that humble state.
As that man, did he have the power to overthrow kingdoms? Is that why he came? To slay the wicked? Then how come he did nothing about the Roman oppressors of Israel?
Jesus came to do no more, no less, than what God the Father decreed in His Plan. It called for him to humble himself as a servant, even to the dying on a cross.
What does the Father’s Plan decree for us? Jesus said, John 17: 18 As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…
Do we expect our life to be any different from the life of that man from Galilee? If His ultimate battle was waged in Love, if His ultimate gift to us was to bring us Peace, are we supposed to act any different? Matthew 5:3-12…
Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, for *theirs* is the kingdom of the heavens.
Blessed they that mourn, for *they* shall be comforted.
Blessed the meek, for *they* shall inherit the earth.
Blessed they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for *they* shall be filled.
Blessed the merciful, for *they* shall find mercy.
Blessed the pure in heart, for *they* shall see God. Blessed the peace-makers, for *they* shall be called sons of God.
Blessed they who are persecuted on account of righteousness, for *theirs* is the kingdom of the heavens.
Blessed are ye when they may reproach and persecute you, and say every wicked thing against you, lying, for my sake. Rejoice and exult, for your reward is great in the heavens; for thus have they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Does any of this sound like we are supposed to take up the sword?
And yet there is a voice that whispers in my ears… I am sure you have heard it too: “But what about my rights? Surely, I must be allowed to protect my rights… my God-given rights… Surely, for that I can take up the sword.”
Well… What did Jesus say?
Matthew 5:39-40 Ye have heard that it has been said, Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But *I* say unto you, not to resist evil; but whoever shall strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other; and to him that would go to law with thee and take thy body coat, leave him thy cloak also.
Is this too much?
Matthew 11:6…blessed is whosoever shall not be offended in me.
Peace and trust in God are infinitely harder than taking up the sword
Like I said, every one of us gets to make this choice. What I know is that I have chosen to follow Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter from Galilee who preached Forgiveness and Love and unyielding allegiance to the Heavenly Father. And I must follow Him even if that choice leads to my losing everything I have on this Earth, even my life. (After all, that is how it turned out for Jesus.)
Again, who was it who said to his disciples: But now he that has a purse let him take it…? It was this carpenter, this Rabbi; because he wanted to make sure his beloved disciples would not be captured with him.
Why did he need a back-up plan? Because we mortal, feeble, human beings have no guarantee of what the future holds. Yes, sometimes God the Father can reveal the future to us. But, for His own reasons, He chooses not to do that every time… not even to His Son. And all we can do is do our best and trust in our Father.
Let’s look again at that sequence of events in the Garden, but this time from the viewpoint of John: As the mob armed with swords and sticks come upon them…
John 18:4-10 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that were coming upon him, went forth and said to them, Whom seek ye?
They answered him, Jesus the Nazaraean.
Jesus says to them, I am. And Judas also, who delivered him up, stood with them. When therefore he said to them, I am, they went away backward and fell to the ground.
He demanded of them therefore again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus the Nazaraean.
Jesus answered, I told you that I am [he]: if therefore ye seek me, let these go away; that the word might be fulfilled which he spoke, [As to] those whom thou hast given me, I have not lost one of them.
Simon Peter therefore, having a sword, drew it…
Did you notice what happened? Jesus went up and confronted the mob, and God the Father intervened supernaturally: At Jesus’ uttering of the I AM, his enemies fell back. And that shock was enough to put him in control. The next time he asks, and they reply, he doesn’t make them fall down; but they listen to his command: “let these go away.”
The crisis has been averted. God’s plan has been fulfilled… and then Peter draws the sword!
What did he accomplish by that? Only to confirm scripture: Luke 22:37 …And he was reckoned with the lawless.
And so, the crisis averted, Jesus reiterates to Peter what he taught them throughout those three years of ministry: The sword is not the way of Life.
Them’s fighting words…
Here in the US we are living at a time where whole segments of our population claim to be “fighting mad”; in fact, threatening bloodshed and civil war.
We still live in a country with freedom of expression. So, they can say whatever they want. But to claim they are doing this to defend their “God-given constitutional rights” and then, in the same breath, threaten to do harm to their brothers and sisters is a self-contradiction. Either that, or the “God” they are invoking is not Jesus’ Heavenly Father.