This essay will argue that by framing the Last Supper, the prayer, and the arrest narratives in light of Isaiah 53, Jesus in Luke 22.36 does NOT command his disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords (see Chiastic B, 3, b, (1) below). In fact, those who resort to “swords and clubs” are shown to be transgressors.
Under no circumstances are Jesus’ disciples to resort to self-defense, instead, they are to emulate Jesus, eschew self-defense, and embrace self-sacrifice.
Setting the Stage
- For some time, Jesus had been teaching the people openly in the temple without any overt resistance from the Jewish leaders.
37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. (21.37-38)
53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. (22.53)
- Now in Chapter 22, with the approach of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the Passover), the Jewish leadership are actively investigating ways to put Jesus to death, because they feared the people.
1 Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. (22.1-2)
- Satan then incarnates himself in Judas Iscariot and looks for a chance to betray Jesus when a crowd is not present.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. 4 He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. 5 And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. 6 So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd. (22.3-6)
- On the day of Unleavened Bread, Jesus told Peter and John to prepare the Passover for him and the disciples in a large, furnished upper room that had been made available to them. (22.7-13)
- Jesus institutes what has become known as the Lord’s (Last) Supper, employing two elements representative of Jesus’ sacrifice: wine (fruit of the vine) – the shedding of his blood, and bread – the killing of his body. (22.14-20)
- Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him and suffer great woe as a result. (22.21-23)
- While participating in the Lord’s Supper, the disciples quarrel about which of them is the greatest. (22.24)
- Jesus rebukes them by explaining that the one who serves is greater than the one who is served, and Jesus is one who serves.
25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (22.25-27)
- Jesus tells the disciples that because they have stayed with him in his trials, he has delegated to them a kingdom in which they may fellowship with Jesus and rule with him over the twelve tribes of Israel.
28 “You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, 29 and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 30 that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (22.28-30)
Unique elements in Luke vs the other Synoptic gospels
- The Final Temptation – Luke frames this narrative as a Final Temptation (great temptation) in which not only Jesus, but all the disciples will be tempted. In Matthew and Mark, only Peter is tempted.
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you (plural), that he might sift you (plural) like wheat,” (22.31)
Satan incarnates himself into Judas, setting up a cosmic confrontation with Jesus and the twelve.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. (22.3)
In Matthew and Mark angels came to minister to Jesus after the temptations, but a sole angel doesn’t show up in Luke to strengthen Jesus until he is praying in agony on the Mount of Olives.
In the two other Synoptic gospels, after Jesus overcomes the third temptation, angels come to minister to Jesus (Matt 4.11). But after each temptation in Luke, it says [the devil] “departed from him until an opportune time.” (4.13) Until then Jesus was alone. The opportune time is the Last Supper narrative.
2. Isaiah 53 Theme – For the purpose of the narrative, Luke interprets the Last Supper, the prayer, and the arrest story in light of Isaiah 53, as opposed to Zechariah 13.7 for Matthew and Mark. This accomplishes two things:
a. The servant of Isaiah 53 intercedes on behalf of the transgressors, and
b. Both the disciples and Peter are identified as transgressors.
3. Two Swords Fulfillment – That scripture is fulfilled in the immediate context accomplishes these things:
a. Links both the disciples and Peter as transgressors,
32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (22.32)
b. As soon as Jesus says, “For what is written about me has its fulfillment,” the disciples produce two swords in accordance with Jesus’ foreknowledge (22.36)
37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (22.37-38)
The fact that two swords appear immediately clearly show that Jesus had not commanded the disciples to buy a sword—there was not enough time to do that.
c. Jesus’ expression, “It is enough.” is perhaps a cryptic double entendre.
(1) The disciples hear “enough for us to use”, but
(2) Jesus intends “enough to be counted as transgressors,” in other words two swords were sufficient to validate the charge of transgression (Deut 19.15)
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. (Deut 19.15)
4. Healing – Jesus restores the right ear of the high priest’s servant in fulfillment of Isaiah 53.9 (“he had done no violence,”)
49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (22.49-51)
a. Isaiah 53 theme is brought to the surface and interprets the arrest narrative—The path to the kingdom of peace is through suffering:
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Is 53.5)
b. Those who take up the sword are the transgressors, for whom he died and will intercede (Is 53.12)
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Is 53.12)
c. The healing of the ear is absent in both Matthew and Mark.
d. In Mark, Jesus does not even rebuke the one who draws the sword
5. Peter’s Denial – Peter’s denial is repositioned and restructured to immediately follow the disciples’ denial for the sake of Luke’s Final Temptation narrative.
Hints in Luke’s gospel that lead to this point:
- A disciple must take up his cross and follow Jesus (9.23-27)
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (9.23-27)
- The Lord’s prayer (11.2-4)
2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” (11.2-4)
- A disciple must not fear those who kill the body (12.4-5)
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (12.4-5)
- A disciple must acknowledge Jesus before men (12.8-9)
8 “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, 9 but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (12.8-9)
- A disciple must not blaspheme the Holy Spirit (12.10)
10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (12.10)
- A disciple must be awake when his master comes (12.37)
37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. (12.37)
- A disciple must bear his own cross (14.27)
27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (14.27)
The Disciples’ Denial – The Final Temptation
(Proposed Chiastic Structure of Luke 22.31-62 )
A – Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial – 22.31-34
- Satan’s demand for all the disciples – 22.31
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, (22.31)
- Jesus addresses Peter’s status – 22.32
32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (22.32)
- Peter’s positive acknowledgement – 22.33
33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (22.33)
- Jesus foretells his denial – 22.34
34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (22.34)
B – Jesus Foretells Disciples’ Denial – 22:35-38
1. Jesus addresses the Disciples’ status – 22:35a
35 And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” (22.35a)
2. Disciples positive acknowledgement (character positioning/distance) – 22:35b
35 . . . They said, “Nothing.” (22.35b)
The disciples are emphatic that when they (the 72) went out without moneybag, knapsack and sandals they did not need anything else to accomplish what they went out for: to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. (9.1-6)
3. Jesus foretells their denial – 22:36-38
36 He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (22.36-38)
a. Popular interpretations:
(1) Change of time period – “when I sent you out, but now …” – need for self-defense.
(2) Swords are symbolic – general suffering of Church after Christ’s ascension.
(3) Used to defend right to bear arms in the gun debates.
As you read through the many internet articles in support of Christians and self-defense, invariably the authors will cite Luke 22.36 as the only New Testament passage that supports self-defense. Clearly, then, when it is discovered that Jesus is not commanding the disciples to buy a sword (see below), self-defense advocates are without New Testament support for their position.
b. What most commentators do not understand is that Luke 22.36 is NOT a command by Jesus to buy a sword.
(1) Rather, it should be understood that Jesus is saying that he knew that they (probably Peter and another) had already done what he prophesied they would do: sell their cloak and buy a sword.
(2) It’s a prophetic enactment of what the disciples will did.
(3) The proof of this is that as soon as Jesus said “this Scripture must be fulfilled in me. ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” the disciples showed Jesus the two swords they had acquired.
c. “And he was numbered with the transgressors.” is a reference to Is 53.12, the purpose of which is to frame this arrest narrative in the light of Is 53.
(1) Jesus had characterized himself as “one who serves” (22.27) in fulfillment of Is 53.
(2) The servant (Is 53.11-12) of Is 53 does these things:
(a) Makes many righteous,
(b) Bear their iniquities,
(c) Divide him a portion with the many,
(d) Divide the spoil with the strong,
(e) Pours out his soul to death,
(f) Bore the sin of many,
(g) Makes intercession for the transgressors.
C – The Prayer not to be Lead into Temptation – 22:39-46
1. The charge to pray that you all are not led into temptation – 22:39-40
39 And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. 40 And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (22.39-40)
Satan now incarnate in Judas (22.3) had waited for the opportune time (4.13) to betray Jesus. Now it was the opportune time, and the disciples needed to pray to not enter temptation.
2. Jesus withdraws to pray alone (character positioning/distance) – 22:41-42
41 And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (22.41-42)
3. Angel `ministers and agony – 22:43-44
43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. 44 And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (22.43-44)
4. Finds them sleeping, the charge to them to rise and pray – 22.45-46
45 And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (22.45-46)
Jesus becomes the sole intercessor in fulfillment of Is 53.12.
B1 – The Disciples’ Denial – 22.47-53
1. Jesus betrayed – 22.47-48
47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” (22.47-48)
Satan incarnate in Judas sets up a cosmic confrontation with Jesus.
2. The Disciples’ denial—taking up swords (character positioning/distance) – 22.49-50
49 And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. (22.49-50)
3. Healing the enemy – 22.51
51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (22.51)
Only in this Lukan account of the arrest narrative is healing of the servant’s ear mentioned.
In the light of Is 53, healing comes when they give up swords, give up to the enemy, in fact when they heal the enemy.
Anyone, friend or foe, who resorts to the use of swords becomes a transgressor, taking the side of Satan and his ilk against Jesus.
4. Satan brings swords and clubs against Jesus as if he was the robber – 22.52-53
52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53 When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (22.52-53)
They came out against Jesus with swords and clubs and thereby treat Jesus as if he were a robber, and in this case a transgressor like them and Jesus’ disciples. All who resort to swords and clubs are transgressors.
A1 – Pete’s Denial – 22.54-62
- Following at a distance – 22.54
54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. (22.54)
- Peter sits among them – 22.55
55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. (22.55)
- Peter’s Threefold Denial – 22.56-61
56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” (22.56-61)
- Peter weeps bitterly – 22.62
62 And he went out and wept bitterly. (22.62)
Mankind has been created in the image of God. Man is an image-bearer, one who models God to others. A Christian as Christ’s image-bearer is to model Christ to others.
Our primary job is to be a witness. This is our vocation. Everything else in our lives should be supportive of that vocation. To the extent that they are not or cannot be, then they must be removed from our life. This means that there are activities and vocations that a Christian must avoid lest his witness be diminished.
By framing Luke 22.31-62 as the Final Temptation in light of Isaiah 53, Luke highlights the ever-present temptation for Christians to resort to carnal means in response to mortal threats and thereby risk transgressing and taking Satan’s side against God
A dear Christian friend, for whom I have the ultimate respect and esteem, felt that a Christian is justified in defending himself and others with lethal force. As near as I can understand his confidence in this regard is he believes that the motive for self-defense is part of human nature. In my opinion, only if one conflates human nature and fallen nature can one treat the common, instinctive urge to self defense as God-given. The common, instinctive urge to defend oneself is organic to our fallen nature, the one we inherited from Adam and which is under judgment.
The urge to defend oneself does not arise from the new nature that we receive from the Holy Spirit. The fruit of our new nature are Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-control (Galatians 5.22). Our new nature will never put us in conflict with Jesus Christ.
When considering lethal force and coercion, a Christian must consider the following questions:
- Under what circumstances may a Christian use lethal force?
- May a Christian use lethal force to defend his own life and the lives of others?
- May a Christian involve himself in activities and responsibilities in which lethal force may be used. e.g., law enforcement, and the military?
- May a Christian take positions in civil government in which lethal force may be required by virtue of the responsibilities of that civil function?
The answers to these questions and a multitude of others that may be asked will have the tendency to radicalize Christianity. The more Christians engage questions like these the more their lives will diverge from those of the larger culture, and put them at cross purposes to others, including fellow Christians.
 This interpretation and chiastic structure are taken from the paper by David A. Burnett, The Sword and the Servant: Reframing the Function of the ‘two swords’ of Luke 22:35-38 in Narrative Context, given to SBL on November 23, 2015.