God requires his children to be long suffering and patient. It is not righteous to seek vengeance, especially for minuscule affronts that have more to do with vanity, like insulting speech, but it is also not righteous to stand idly by while people assault your wife, oppress sojourners or victimize the fatherless, the widow and the marginalized. Often there is confusion about what God requires of us in the New Covenant. Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace, and yet He says he comes with a sword.
Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Ultimately, in the cosmic war between God and His enemies, the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, for we fight against the principalities and powers of the air. Yet, Christ did not rebuke his apostles for having swords. He did rebuke them for how and why they used them. Converted Centurions were not told to lay down their weapons. Jesus instigates a war within us against sin, while declaring peace between God and ourselves. Jesus provides peace between the nations, but peace that comes at the culmination of the antithesis. Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
It is not a matter of whether violence is Godly, but by whom it is allowed to be committed. The state has been given the sword of righteousness. The sword is never used to promote or defend the faith. It is meant to maintain and protect the innocent. If someone insults you, bear it. If someone assaults a child, your wife or an innocent person on the street whom you could defend, then do not presume that you are not required to give justice to whom it is in your power to give it.
Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
It is not our calling to wield the sword of the state; the sword of justice. We must be long suffering. We must learn the wisdom of knowing when it is time to hold our tongue and withhold our arm and know when it is time to intervene and protect those God has put into our hands to protect.
Sermon on the mount
Matthew 5:38-48“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Christ does not set aside the obligation and command of legitimate authorities to punish evil; instead he is correcting a misapplication of the law.
“God had enjoined, by his law, (Leviticus 24:20,) that judges and magistrates should punish those who had done injuries, by making them endure as much as they had inflicted. The consequence was, that every one seized on this as a pretext for taking private revenge. They thought that they did no wrong, provided they were not the first to make the attack, but only, when injured, returned like for like. Christ informs them, on the contrary, that, though judges were entrusted with the defense of the community, and were invested with authority to restrain the wicked and repress their violence, yet it is the duty of every man to bear patiently the injuries which he receives.” – Calvin Comments on Matthew 5:38.
For a government to turn the cheek in the face of wickedness is to fail in their office and the application of God’s law. Individuals who suffer wickedness are not to seek vengeance. Justice is found ultimately in God, and he has generously provided under shepherds to defend the flock doctrinally and physically. But even if they fail, God will not be mocked and Justice always resides with Him, on his terms and according to His timing.
We do not pray for our personal enemies to suffer, but we pray for the universal justice of God against His enemies. God is not a weapon. We are tools in His hands.
The provision of swords
Luke 22:35–36 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” 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. 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.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
Earlier in his ministry, Jesus sent his disciples out with no moneybag (see 9:3; 10:4). moneybag … knapsack. Now, however, they will need extra provisions and supplies. let the one who has no sword … buy one. Many interpreters take this to be a metaphorical statement commanding the disciples to be armed spiritually to fight spiritual foes (cf. Eph. 6:10–17). In favor of this view:
View (1) In Luke 22:38 the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ command and produce literal swords (v. 38); on this view, Jesus’ response that “It is enough” is a rebuke, saying essentially, “Enough of this talk about swords.”
View (2) Just a few minutes later Jesus will again prohibit the use of a literal sword (vv. 49–51; cf. Matt. 26:51–52; John 18:10–11). Others take this as a command to have a literal sword for self-defense and protection from robbers. In support of this view:
(a) The moneybag and knapsack and cloak in this same verse are literal, and so the sword must be taken literally as well.
(b) Jesus’ response that “It is enough” (Luke 22:38) actually approves the swords the disciples have as being enough, and Jesus’ later rebuke in vv. 49–51 only prohibits them from blocking his arrest and suffering (cf. John 18:11), that is, from seeking to advance the kingdom of God by force.
(c) The very fact that the disciples possess swords (Luke 22:38) suggests that Jesus has not prohibited them from carrying swords up to this point (cf. John 18:10–11), and Jesus never prohibited self-defense (see note on Matt. 5:39).
Both views have some merit. See note on Luke 22:49–51. (ESV Study Bible notes)
Jesus seeks to prepare his disciples and ensure that they are provided for, but they quickly take his provision as the material and means of attack. Christians are prone to this; both doctrinally and physically.
Peter strikes and is rebuked
John 18:10-11 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
Jesus does not rebuke Peter for having a sword, but for using it to defy the intent of Jesus to fulfill the Plan of salvation. Having provided for the safety of his disciples, he rebukes the rashness of one of them, and represses the violence of his followers, as he had repulsed the violence of his persecutors, v. 10, 11, where we have, 1. Peter’s rashness. He had a sword; it is not likely that he wore one constantly as a gentleman, but they had two swords among them all (Luke xxii. 38), and Peter, being entrusted with one, drew it; for now, if ever, he thought it was his time to use it; and he smote one of the high priest’s servants, who was probably one of the forwardest, and aiming, it is likely, to cleave him down the head, missed his blow, and only cut off his right ear. The servant’s name, for the greater certainty of the narrative, is recorded; it was Malchus, or Malluch, Neh. x. 4.
The reason for this rebuke: The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it? Matthew relates another reason which Christ gave for this rebuke, but John preserves this, which he had omitted; in which Christ gives us, (1.) A full proof of his own submission to his Father’s will. Of all that was amiss in what Peter did, he seems to resent nothing so much as that he would have hindered his sufferings now that his hour was come: “What, Peter, wilt thou step in between the cup and the lip? Get thee hence, Satan.” If Christ be determined to suffer and die, it is presumption for Peter in word or deed to oppose it: Shall I not drink it? The manner of expression bespeaks a settled resolution, and that he would not entertain a thought to the contrary. He was willing to drink of this cup, though it was a bitter cup, an infusion of the wormwood and the gall, the cup of trembling, a bloody cup, the dregs of the cup of the Lord’s wrath, Isa. li. 22. He drank it, that he might put into our hands the cup of salvation, the cup of consolation, the cup of blessing; and therefore he is willing to drink it, because his Father put it into his hand. If his Father will have it so, it is for the best, and be it so.
Thy Kingdom come
There are repeated attempts to usher in the physical kingdom of Israel which Jesus has to resist (i.e John 6:15). Even in Acts, after the Resurrection, the apostles ask if Jesus is going to usher in the restored Kingdom of Israel.
However, they were probably still expecting the restoration of a military and political kingdom that would drive out the Roman armies and restore national sovereignty to Israel, as had happened numerous times in the OT. Jesus corrected them, not by rejecting the question, but by telling them (Acts 1:8) that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, not in order to triumph over Roman armies but to spread the good news of the gospel throughout the world. In other words, the return is in God’s timing; in the meantime, there are other key things believers are to do (notes from Acts 1:6, from ESV Study Bible).
Christians had not yet attained the reins of the state. Jesus was sending out His apostles to conquer by the sword of His Spirit and word. But the time would come that governments, in the hands of Christians, would serve to Glorify God, which would include the power over life and death; for the sake of justice.
Several Centurions were not told to cease their work, but to act righteously.When the soldiers inquired of John what they should do, he said unto them, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely;” but he did not command them to relinquish their profession, as unlawful; on the contrary, the precept which he added, “Be content with your wages,” supposed them to continue in their situation.–Luke 3:14
The sword of the state is meant to protect the innocent and righteousness, not to gain souls by militant subjugation. nor is the sword to be used to gain worldly goods. The sword is the hands of the state, not private citizens and it was placed there by the King of Kings. This does not eliminate the occasion when violence is required by private citizens, however, and ultimately Justice is to be sought when he can be and for the purpose of serving the commandments of universal justice, not personal vengeance.