These are not the words of a pacifist.” Could you please explain this passage in light of your strong stance against Christian participation in war?
A: Luke 22:35-38 reads in context:
“And He said to them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ [God took care of them.] Then He said to them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” For the things concerning Me have an end.’ So they said: ‘Lord, look, here are two swords.’ And He said to them: ‘It is enough.'”
This passage cannot be used to justify participation of a Christian in war. In fact, the passage teaches the exact opposite. Firstly, “two swords” would be hardly enough to defend themselves against the coming Roman persecution. Secondly, Christ Himself makes clear why they were to buy swords — so that prophecy regarding Him could be fulfilled. What specific prophetic saying had to be fulfilled? “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” What transgression did the disciples — who had swords — become guilty of?
Note, first, that sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). We read, in Matthew 24:51, that Peter took the sword and struck the servant, in order to “defend” Christ. When he did that, he became guilty of the transgression of the spirit of the sixth commandment (Exodus 20:13; 1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:21-22; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-36). Notice Matthew 26:51-52: “And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword in his place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'”
Christ does not advocate that His disciples take up weapons to defend themselves, or others, in war. Note His clear statement, “ALL who take the sword will PERISH by the sword.” When Peter took the sword to harm or kill another human being, he became a transgressor of the law. The other disciples had undoubtedly similar feelings as Peter, supporting his conduct in their minds. They were all with Christ, so Christ was “numbered with the transgressors.”
We must also realize that at that time, neither Peter nor any of Christ’s disciples were converted. Their attitude and conduct changed, however, after their conversion (compare, for example, 1 Peter 2:21-23). We also read in James 4:1-3 that the origin of wars comes from “our desires for pleasure that war” in our members. Verse 4 continues, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” James tells us here that we become “enemies” of God, if we were friends with and join the war machine of this world.
Returning to Matthew 26, Christ goes on to explain that His protection does not come from men, but from God. Verse 53, “‘Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” He continues, however, “‘How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?'” (Verse 54). The point is, God would have protected Him, but it was not God’s time for His intervention. Jesus made a similar comment in John 18:36, “‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants [twelve legions of angels whom the Father would have sent Him for protection] would fight, so that I would not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Christ was not talking here about His eleven disciples who had two swords — they could have hardly prevented Jesus’ arrest by “a great multitude with swords and clubs.” (Matthew 26:47).
Christ’s disciples are not to participate in war. Our Master tells us, “Put your sword in his place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” We, who believe in Christ and His Word, are not to perish, though, but to have everlasting life (John 3:15).
We read a similar warning and admonition in Revelation 13:10. The context is a coming persecution of the saints by the beast power (Verse 7). Christ introduces His warning in this way, “If anyone has an ear, let him hear.” (Verse 9). Then, He says, “He who leads into captivity [including through the means of war], shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword.” Christ warns HIS END-TIME CHURCH NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN WAR. He continues, “Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”
Christ’s true disciples will have the patience to endure even war, without resorting to violence and responding in kind. They will have the faith that GOD can and will protect them, even in the face of adversity, and that they must never transgress His law.
Luke 22:36-38 does not teach us that we must arm ourselves to protect ourselves in war. Rather, if we do that, we are “transgressors” in the eyes of God.