This is a classic portion pointing to a nonviolent ethic in Scripture, and it happened the very night Jesus was crucified, and in light of the last Holes post, it is sensible that we follow to this story. From Matthew 26:
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
This portion has a small amount of oddity to it I suppose. Just a few hours before this, far as the disciples were concerned, Jesus just told them to go out and buy swords, then yelled at them when they produced two of them. Now, when one of them (John tells us that it was Peter) draws the sword and strikes out, Jesus stops him, and heals the man who lost his ear in the altercation. The whole event shows that the disciples, despite somewhat blatant predictions of his own death, still fear letting him go on to do what God has called Him to do. However, Christ would not allow anyone to interfere with the will of His Father, even those trying to defend him. He knew that what was prophesied had to come to fruition.
For most biblical scholars, this is, more or less, where the interpretation of this passage ends. However, based on how these men who were with Christ at this point progressed, especially Peter, we find that even this moment in their time with Jesus had lasting impact. When Jesus says “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” he is echoing passages in Genesis and Ezekiel which mark the severity of bloodshed and the killing of other men. Christ knew that those who struck out in violent self-defense would quickly find themselves not satisfied, not fulfilled by actions, but left with a piece of them gone. Killing only hollows out a man with each round spent and every bayonet lunge. Cold indifference for life will leave a man inhuman, and no one will show him mercy when his time comes.
Speaking to Peter about going on to do the will of His Father, Jesus spoke clearly that violence was counterproductive to the Gospel. With Peter striking out with the word, had Jesus not stopped Him, he potentially could have disrupted God’s plan, as well as ended Peter’s life and his subsequent influence on the church. This moment of opposition to violence here echoes a consistent opposition as well, not just a one time thing as some have attempted to say. I’ve said before that Jesus’ plan of forgiveness leaves no room for the elimination of any human being; to do so is to claim them unworthy of and inaccessible to forgiveness. No one, not even the most evil man on death row, deserves such a designation.
The disciples clearly took this to heart long after Christ rose from the dead and ascended to the Father. Beyond this moment, we find them not reacting violently to the authorities that persecuted them, but rejoicing loudly that they suffered as their Lord did! Paul and Silas REMAINED in the prison broken open by the earthquake to save the life of the jailer, who would have lost his life if they left. Many of them met horrible deaths willingly rather than resist, and they bestowed on their own pupils the willingness to see death in Christ’s name, such as Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, and many others. St. Athanasius spoke about how Christians raised their hands in prayer, rather than take up swords. Tertullian spoke of how Jesus, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier. Justin Martyr spoke of how Christians had turned from murderous ways to the ways of love. In all of this, they furthered the will of God.
In many ways, when we as Christians come to Christ, we put down our weapons to take up God’s way. The love of Jesus can turn an abusive husband into a loving, faithful man; a short-tempered gangster into a man who reaches out his hands to help those around him rather than take from them. The changing love of God destroys the violent sinful nature and turns it into the shining light that no man can deny comes from Christ. This is where we give up our violent ways; when we leave them at the base of the cross where our savior died.
How are you working to further the will of God? Are you inclined to take up a fight, or do you extend your hands in prayer? Has Jesus disarmed you somehow?