He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied. (Luke 22:36-38)

While the overriding message that the Bible presents is one to shun all violence, there are a few passages like the one above that leave room for debate. How do we interpret Jesus’ statement here?

Was he being metaphorical and implying that they would from that point onward face persecution and opposition? To buy a sword was perhaps not a literal instruction, because he does seem to appear exasperated with the disciples presenting him with two swords (v38) and he does go on to rebuke one of his own who used the sword on a soldier during his arrest. But yes, the disciples would need to prepare for a period of intense difficulty following Jesus’ arrest. The period of popularity and public support was truly over. Like Peter, they would all be sifted as wheat (Luke 22:31,32) and only those who had it in them to fight against the temptation to turn back would truly be able to continue onward as disciples.

The statement could also be interpreted to say that Jesus did justify violence in some exceptional circumstances. Buying a sword would be a literal instruction so as to have in possession something that a Christian would require to use at times. When we look at the life of Jesus and the disciples, we see a life of peace, forgiveness, non-violence and submission being the norm. Turning the other cheek and submitting to injustice was something a Christian did consistently and is still expected to only because he trusts in the sufficiency of a God who controls all things

However there are numerous occasions when a Christian cannot stand back and just watch. When Jesus came upon the vendors in the temple of God after he entered Jerusalem, his anger was evident and he used violence to terrify and disperse them. Prior to his ultimate arrest at Gethsemane, Jesus evaded arrest several times because his time had not come. Though in the New Testament we a see a new covenant and a more complete way of looking at the law of God, we should realize that God’s character does not change and the God we know now is also the God of the Old Testament, where he justified violence on several occasions.

The question also arises in the face of universal non-violence about the issue of obligation to others in the face of injustice. Whereas one can trust God and submit to injustice and even lay his life down, what should you do when you see a helpless victim of a violent attack? Are you not obligated to use force to protect your spouse and children when attacked by an intruder? Can you allow an act of violence to go unpunished and in the process encourage the perpetrator to commit more? If the principle of non-violence is carried to the extreme, there would remain no place for the police and the army in a Christian nation.

We live in a flawed world- a world that once was perfect but has been marred by the sin of man. In a perfect world, there would be no need for violence of any sort; the lion and the lamb will indeed lay down together and when they get up, one wont be missing! But in our flawed world, the choices we have are not always between good and bad but between bad and worse. And in order not to gravitate to the worse, there are times we need to adopt the bad, but in doing so also remember with a heavy heart that it is far from the ultimate good that God has prescribed.

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