Two Swords

Then Jesus said to them, "When I sent you out with no money bag, or traveler's bag, or sandals, you didn't lack anything, did you?" They replied, "Nothing." He said to them, "But now, the one who has a money bag must take it, and likewise a traveler's bag too. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted with the transgressors.' For what is written about me is being fulfilled." So they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." Then he told them, "It is enough." (Luk 22:35-38)

This verse always puzzled me. It didn’t make sense why Jesus would tell the disciples to “buy a sword” and then say only two swords were enough. The commentaries (for the most part) don’t help at all. Some of them even say it’s not meant to be taken literally. But that doesn’t make any sense. They certainly think the part about money bag and sandals is “literal” so they have no valid reason to claim “sword” is not literal. They then have to change Jesus’ statement that “It is enough” into “That’s enough of that talk about swords” – or something equally silly. So, the obvious interpretation is that Jesus meant it to be taken literally. That leaves me to ponder to question: Why swords, and why only two were enough? The answer, I think, is in the preceding sentence, which is a quote from Is. 53:12.

“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

The point is that the prophecy needed to be fulfilled. Having his disciples start wearing swords would give the impression that they were about to start a rebellion against Rome. During the first century A.D. there were many who claimed to be Messiahs, mainly with the goal of throwing off Roman rule. The general view of the Messiah was that he would be like David, or the Maccabees, and would establish a kingdom allowing the Jews to be free of foreign domination. That appears to have been the (mis)understanding of the disciples as well. Consider this from Acts:

“But a Pharisee whose name was Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the council and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to the council, "Men of Israel, pay close attention to what you are about to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and nothing came of it. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census, and incited people to follow him in revolt. He too was killed, and all who followed him were scattered.” (Act 5:34-37)

The writings of Josephus also talk about the various Messiahs who tried to lead a rebellion against Rome and failed. The typical Roman response to rebels was to crucify them. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus to be perceived as yet another failed Messiah, and to do so would need to get the Romans to crucify Jesus. So, it begins to add up….

Jesus knew that he needed to give the Jewish leaders an excuse to bring him before Pilate, and that is why he told his disciples to get swords. Two was enough to give the impression that something was going on, so it was enough. It wasn’t the intention to have the disciples go out and hack people up, as shown later when Jesus was arrested and he told Peter to put his sword away. It was all part of the plan – Jesus had come to be a sacrifice for many and he “played” the leaders to get them to do what he wanted without actually doing anything that was illegal or immoral. He new he could rely on the false perceptions and misunderstandings of the religious and political leaders, in other words. He remained an innocent victim, while forcing the hand of his enemies.


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