Jesus came to bring truth, and He did it with a sword.
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, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34, TNIV)?
This seeming contradiction has caused great confusion. This scripture has been used and abused by some Christian religious zealots as evidence that Jesus condones violence. I’ve often wondered if it’s possible that this line has been misunderstood and taken out of context when measured against the language of the Old Testament prophets in their understanding that God is working for shalom (oneness and wholeness).
Jesus had every opportunity to wield the sword, but never did. It’s odd. Why did Jesus tell His followers, “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39), and further, to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:34)? Whom would He use the sword on? Whom would His disciples use the sword on? The answer is no one, except Peter, once.
After Judas kissed Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (following his betrayal) the guards stepped forward to arrest Jesus, and Peter cut the guard’s ear off by sword. Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place” (Matthew 26:52); then, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). Jesus made a military statement to describe how He could respond, then says, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:54). 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 and without responding the way the kingdom of the world responds.
Early in Jesus’ ministry He had the opportunity to use the power of the sword. Jesus said He was going to do it God’s way. Not by force, not by violence, but by the cross—the one act that stops the vicious cycle of violence and is validated by the resurrection. Love always wins and triumphs over evil, but not with the sword.
And the way of the sword was not the way of Jesus.
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. Scripture describes God having a double-edged sword for a tongue (Revelation 1:17); it tells of His words being even sharper than a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) and His words being the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). If we are consistent, you get this idea that a sword, symbolically, refers to truth, the Word of God.
Jesus came to bring truth. The Word of God is sharp; it divides, even to the point of dividing people who are close to each other. Why? Because the truth is not accepted or pursued by everyone, and many stand against it. By Jesus just “being,” He created conflict because He is truth. The paradox as we know it 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. Jesus did not come to bring peace; He came to bring the truth of God, and through that comes peace.