by William J. Stewart
Luke 22:35-38 reads:
And He said to them, ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’ So they said, ‘Nothing.’ 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.’
Without doubt this is a challenging text. Especially as we consider the events recorded from Luke 22:49-51, where Jesus healed the severed ear of the servant of the high priest after Peter had cut it off (cf. John 18:10). Peter acted without authority, asking whether to strike or not (Luke 22:49), but not waiting for Jesus’ response. His response was clear when he restored Malchus’ ear.
We can understand Peter’s zealous defense of the Lord. Had he not just been told by Jesus minutes before to bring a sword? Why then, having used it was the apostle rebuked? The Lord urged Peter,
Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me? (Jn 18:11)
Did Jesus change His mind? Had He initially thought to mount a defence, but then in the moment decided against it? Or could it be that Peter and the other apostles misunderstood what Jesus had said to them?
If Jesus’ words in Luke 22:35-38 were a command for His disciples to prepare for a fight that night, it was too little too late. They were minutes away from the mob led by Judas. There was no time for the disciples to go exchange their coats for swords. They took a quick inventory of what was on hand and declared, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” But what would two swords accomplish against a mob with several swords and clubs? Surely two swords was not a sufficient fulfillment of His instruction. And yet He declared, “It is enough.”
When Jesus cautioned His disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees,” they “reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘It is because we have taken no bread.’” He rebuked their lack of faith and understanding, and explained that He warned them about the teaching of the religious leaders (Matthew 16:1-12). This was one of the several times when Jesus’ disciples failed to comprehend His teachings.
In Luke 22:36-38, we have come upon another such occasion. Jesus’ disciples did not understand what He had revealed to them. His words, “It is enough,” is not a confirmation that two swords would be sufficient, but rather a dismissal of the subject—it was time to go. Though they did not understand yet, they would in time. It would be interesting to know the timing of our text and that which is recorded on the same evening in John’s gospel:
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority; but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will tell you things to come. (Jn 16:12-13)
He had introduced the thought, but they were not yet ready to understand it. After the Spirit came, they would be fully equipped and then know what the Lord had revealed. So, what was it? What was He talking about? If He wasn’t telling them to buy swords and fight, what was He saying?
He contrasted the relative ease and peace they had enjoyed with the trying times which were ahead. He’d been warning about such already (Luke 12:11; 21:12), and indeed, these things came to pass, as He said (Acts 5:40; 12:1-4; 21:27-26:32; etc.). Their former ministry was local, and their needs were met along the way. Now they would go to the ends of the earth, and must prepare themselves to do so. The sword was an allegory, not literal. Difficult times were ahead. They needed to arm themselves; not with a physical weapon, but with that which is far greater—faith! A previous admonition had been given:
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (Mt 10:16)
He didn’t want them to bear arms, but to be alert, to be wise, to be cautious. Know that there is danger, and prepare yourselves to endure and overcome. A beaten and bruised Paul exhorted the saints to continue in the faith, saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). May we be prepared to do so also.