35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?”
So they said, “Nothing.”
36 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. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’[a] For the things concerning Me have an end.”
38 So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”
And He said to them, “It is enough.”
Why did Jesus command His disciples to get two swords and how are we to interpret this passage in light of Jesus' other teaching on the topics of physical warfare in passages like the Sermon on the Mt.?
There are two things within the context to bear in mind. First, Jesus is contrasting his current instructions with those he had given earlier in the Limited Commission (Luke 9:3). During the Limited Commission Jesus taught His disciples to live by the Gospel and that the hearers were to take care of the preachers. Yet now the tide has changed. Jesus now warns his disciples that their needs will no longer be taken care of; they are entering into hostile territory. Why? This brings us to the second point of the context: Jesus is about to be “numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus’ quotation references Isaiah 53:7 and speaks of His impending death. The Shepherd is about to be struck and the sheep will be scattered (Zechariah 13:7).
With the context now before us, why does Jesus command his disciples to get swords? There are three possible explanations we must consider in light of God's word.
The first explanation interprets the swords literally and views them as weapons of self defense. Those who take this position use this passage to justify Christians carrying weapons of self defense (not swords mind you - guns). The difficulty with this position is that when the disciples attempt to use swords in their personal defense they are rebuked by the Savior (Matthew 26:52). After the Lord's rebuke, never again do we see the disciples carrying a sword or defending themselves in any way. Rather, they suffer physical harm, the loss of property, and the loss of freedom as Jesus had instructed them to do in the Sermon on the Mt. (Matthew 5:38-41). Some will argue the reason Jesus forbid Peter from fighting in the garden was because He had to be arrested to fulfill the will of God. Such an explanation is not however the explanation given by Jesus. Christ stated, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus echoed Genesis 9:6 in His rebuttal and reminded His disciples that they were not to be in the life taking business. Christ backed his rebuke by healing the servant of the high priest to demonstrate both His mission and deity.
The second position interprets the moneybag, knapsack, and swords figuratively. The Moneybag stands for financial support, the knapsack for personal provision, and the sword of entering a hostile environment in which the disciples must defend themselves. Each disciple was told to “get a sword” because each must individually prepare for an impending battle. The disciples did indeed enter into hostile environments following the death of Christ, and they did engage in battle, but the battle was of a spiritual nature and their weapons were not physical (2 Corinthians 10:4).
If the swords are figurative, why did they bring Christ two swords? The reason would be because they misunderstood the teaching as they had on many other occasions (Matthew 16:5-12). If this view is correct, Jesus’ reply “It is enough” would thus be better rendered “Enough of that” as in 1 Kings 19:4 and Deuteronomy 3:26.
The third position interprets the swords literally and presents Jesus as setting up a teaching situation in advance. Though Jesus had commanded each of His disciples to get a sword, when they produced only two Jesus replied “It is enough.” Two swords were apparently enough for the purpose that Jesus had in mind. When Jesus and His disciples encountered Judas and the soldiers in the garden, Peter drew a sword, and struck the servant of the high priest cutting off his ear. Jesus sternly rebuked Peter and permanently put an end to His disciples using physical force in self defense. Such a rebuke and permanent exclusion of bearing arms was only possible because of Jesus’ command to “get a sword”. Jesus thus, through his foreknowledge, prepared an object lesson in order to teach His disciples that all such use of arms was incompatible with christianity.
Of the three positions possible, the latter two seem to be the most likely and the final one the strongest. The first position is untenable and in need of rejection; it is an example of approaching Scripture with a preconceived idea searching for any thread of support. In no way should the Lord's teaching in Luke 22 be used to support the concept of Christians bearing arms. May we never accuse the Lord of contradicting His own teaching and may we always seek to harmonize Scripture with Scripture.