What does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?

Does Jesus come to bring, not peace, but a sword? According to Matthew 10 this is exactly what he says:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

Of course, Jesus is not speaking of a physical sword—a weapon; he is talking about a metaphorical sword of division. But why would Jesus do this? Why would he create strife and division within families? Why would he tear them apart? Why would he cause all this hurt and suffering?

Why? What purpose does it serve?

If there is any solid evidence that Jesus was violent, this is it. And because of Jesus’ statement here many believe Jesus did have a violent side, and some conclude that we who follow Jesus should also exhibit violence at certain times.

But I think they are mistaken, just as they are mistaken to assume Jesus’ violence in the cleansing of the temple.

sword-pixabay

Pixabay

Why Following Jesus is Sometimes Divisive to Families (and Friends)

Jesus does not come with the purpose and intention to divide families, but it can happen when we accept Jesus’ message of the good news of the kingdom of God. Identifying with the kingdom often involves abandoning old values and priorities. It often replaces old belief systems and old ways of seeing the world.

Following Jesus can conflict with family traditions, and this is sometimes taken as disloyalty.

Even though Jesus does not require us to give up our families, cultures, or groups, sometimes his teachings conflict with elements within those structures. And in those cases our first allegiance is to Jesus and the kingdom. We must sometimes choose the way of Jesus over the expectations, desires, and demands of our family; so families sometimes reject us for leaving family beliefs or culture behind.

This can cause real problems:

  • Condemnation for not following customs or heritage
  • Strained or broken relationships
  • Rejection, ostracization, or expulsion from the group
  • Severe punishment or death

This division is not Jesus’ objective but results from conflict between his teaching and old customs and traditions. I am sure you can think of specific situations where this applies. But Jesus does not wish these conflicts to occur; he only points out that they sometimes will. Sometimes, the new believer has a positive impact on their family and brings them to Jesus, but this is not always the case.

What if Our Family are Christians Who Believe Differently?

Sometimes the family or culture that rejects us is not of another religion. Even if our family is Christian, division can occur when we follow Jesus and the kingdom. Christians can have very deep-set beliefs even if they are mistaken beliefs, and often when one of their own begins to believe things differently–the family, and the church community, react violently against them.

This can really hurt!

An example from my life is when I determined that, because of Jesus’ teaching, I could not join the military to hurt or kill people. I was willing to face any consequence of my decision—even jail or death, but I could not go against the teaching of Jesus. My dad was military and took it personally, and he was not the only one. During the Viet Nam war I took a lot of heat at my Christian college.

Matthew continues to quote Jesus:

Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

I loved my father dearly, and I loved my nation. But I could not follow their demands and violate the message of Jesus and the kingdom. A major part of Jesus’ teaching and example is for us to love others, and this is not always popular. Families and cultures have traditional enemies, and refusing to harm those enemies often causes push-back and conflict.

When we begin to question and discard harmful, misguided beliefs we are often condemned and ostracized by those most dear to us.

The Nature of Commitment to the Kingdom of God

Identifying with Jesus’ good news of the kingdom of God comes with significant commitment: The kingdom takes precedence. This does not mean we must reject everything in our old life and culture—far from it; but the kingdom is first. When demands of government, the expectations of culture, and the desires of the family conflict with the kingdom, our allegiance is to the kingdom.

This is why so many early Christians were killed because they would not acknowledge the Roman Emperor as God.

This allegiance always creates tension in families, cultures, and governments. Each of them demand first allegiance for themselves, but our first allegiance is to the kingdom even when we otherwise honor our family, culture, and government. So those competing for our first allegiance become angry and combative, and we often find ourselves excluded and persecuted.

Jesus warns us of this possibility so that we can be prepared for it. When he says he brings not peace but a sword, he is not being divisive; he is just giving us a heads up as to what we might expect if members of our families are upset about our following Jesus and the kingdom of God.

But even if Jesus does not actually bring a violent sword in this passage, some believers point out that Jesus DID tell his followers to carry swords. We will talk about that next time.

Articles in this series: Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence?
Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So
Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree?
What Does It Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?
3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords
Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment?
Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion

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30 Responses to What does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?

  1. Pingback: Does Jesus Bring Peace—or a Sword? — Jesus Without Baggage | Talmidimblogging

  2. Pingback: Does Jesus Demonstrate Judgmentalism, Threats, and Violence? | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. Pingback: Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. Pingback: Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree? | Jesus Without Baggage

  5. Kevin Reese says:

    Great piece, Tim. I’m new to Peace Theology. I am seeing such a disconnect between the nonviolent Gospel of Jesus and today’s church.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Kevin, I agree. So many believers say they follow the teaching and example of Jesus, and yet they are filled with judgmentalism, hate, and sometimes violence. It doesn’t add up.

      Like

  6. newtonfinn says:

    I think it likely that some of these sayings about family divisions reflect the tensions caused by increasing Roman persecution of Christians at the time the gospels were written. Luke’s language about “hating” one’s family members as a precondition to discipleship jarringly conflicts with Jesus’ message of universal love, even if one construes this language as hyperbole. But Tim is correct in pointing out that following Jesus, even during his lifetime, inevitably caused conflicts of loyalties and resulting ruptures within social structures, all the way from the family unit to the imperial empire. As I understand them, the mini-parables about new wine bursting old wine skins and a new patch of cloth tearing away from an old garment point to such inevitable clashes between the kingdom of god and that of this world, culminating, of course, in the crucifixion. Interesting, is it not, how the whole gospel story hangs together (pun intended)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, I think you make several good observations here. I think it is very likely that the way this passage is phrased reflects the experience of believers at a time later than Jesus, though some of his own followers probably experienced this as well. I also think the use of ‘hate’ is hyperbole–which Jesus used often for emphasis. Jesus did not expect his followers to hate anyone.

      If we could hear Jesus’ tone and see his expression when he spoke, we would have a clearer idea than just having written words.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. sheila0405 says:

    I can’t understand why a Christian would mistreat another believer over a Christian-based objection to military service. My own family is absolutely fractured over doctrine. It is not only within Christianity, either. Look at how badly things turn out when sectarian divisions get out of control in any religion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I agree, Sheila. But some of the upset students were veterans; others said I was unpatriotic, should leave America, or accused me of sending someone else to fight in Vietnam in my place. I didn’t ask anyone to send them.

      On the other hand, the few student and staff conscientious objectors gave me strong support.

      And you are right: sectarian conflict is a problem with all religions.

      Liked by 1 person

      • sheila0405 says:

        That’s the bottom line…no one asked you to send them. Or anyone else, for that matter. I think you were brave, no matter why you were a C.O.. It takes courage to stand on principles. Good for you. My whole very devout Christian family has many veterans & one currently serving. My husband served. But I support those whose consciences refrain from serving.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. tonycutty says:

    Superb piece, Tim. I have always understood that Jesus’s ‘sword’ would divide friends and families, but I always thought it was because the Kingdom came first and therefore unbelieving families would have a barrier between me and them. Only lately have I come to realise that actually it’s more common for other Christians to reject someone because of doctrinal differences, rather than the even more decisive kingdom/non-kingdom state. The ‘penalties’ you name:

    Condemnation for not following customs or heritage
    Strained or broken relationships
    Rejection, ostracization, or expulsion from the group
    Severe punishment or death

    are actually the sign of a dysfunctional family group…

    John Pavlovitz put it really well in his blog a few days ago with this article: http://johnpavlovitz.com/2016/09/08/when-people-call-you-a-christian-christian/

    …and Jeff Turner did a Facebook post recently on a similar theme: http://tinyurl.com/jcnetrf

    …maybe Father is saying something to us? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I agree that today we can be rejected by our own Christian family for changing our beliefs, and not just by unbelieving families. You are right that these hostile responses indicate a dysfunctional family group and I would say it can apply to other differences than religious ones.

      I like the Pavlovitz article, but the Jeff Turner link did not lead anywhere. I Googled Jeff Turner and could not locate the article you mentioned. Can you supply another link?

      Like

  9. mark says:

    I mostly feel the Sword HE brought was for me. What I mean is this sword is used to separate the old man from the new…the body of death (Spiritually) from the body of life. That is the Re-Birth….to be born (transformation) anew without the trappings of the World and it’s systems of manipulation and rot.
    And just as a child is not conceived and instantly born into this world…neither is a Man instantly saved or born again. There will be a struggle to “come forth” into this new life. That sword is symbolic of the struggle. Where as the struggle will be with family or friends..religious institutions,or mere public and private affairs. This “fight” will be on all avenues of life insomuch as were are all at enmity with GOD, as we are not yet one with nor walking with..the SPIRIT of life. Not completely anyway while we reside in this meat suit of ours.
    For we do WAR with the carnal.

    YMMV

    Liked by 1 person

    • mark says:

      I also feel this sword is with other believers. Insomuch as the Scriptures are concerned.
      Many take the Bible too literal and use it as a set of hard and fast rules…The Letter of the Law….as opposed to the Spirit of the Law. There is great conflict in that

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, I think in this passage, the sword addresses family conflict, but I really like your imagery of the sword as an instrument in our dividing our new from the old. I think it applies well to our maturing as believers.

      Thanks for sharing this imagery with us!

      Like

  10. newtonfinn says:

    When World War I unleashed it carnage, virtually all Christian organizations on both sides of the conflict (save the Quakers) eagerly embraced the so-called “war to end war.” Albert Schweitzer, who had followed Jesus into the African jungle as a medical missionary, was devastated by the lack of religious protest against this ominous global escalation of violence and made the following observations which remain, to me, as relevant as ever:

    “The Christian ethic has never become a power in the world. It has not sunk deep into the minds of men. What has been presented as Christianity during these nineteen centuries is only a beginning, full of mistakes, not full blown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus.”

    For Schweitzer, Christianity was about Jesus and Jesus alone. Paul and the rest were important only insofar as they embodied and communicated Jesus’ spirit. But because of his unorthodox theology–focused on reverence for all life, not merely for human life–Schweitzer’s devotion to his Lord and Master is often missed by readers of his “Quest of the Historical Jesus.”

    One may well disagree with Schweitzer’s overwhelming emphasis on Jesus’ eschatology (as I do), but this book painstakingly pieced together a portrait of Jesus in the context of his time and thus opened the door to all subsequent New Testament scholarship. Easily overlooked is that the hauntingly beautiful conclusion of the “Quest ” is a subtle yet profound confession of faith.

    “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.” Absorb the implication of the capital letters in the references to Jesus, and one’s eyes are opened to Schweitzer’s deeply Christian mind and heart.

    Should anyone out there be in need of a spiritual lift–and has the time and energy to read and ponder an extraordinary book–I heartily recommend James Brabazon’s biography of the good doctor. Schweitzer said that his life was his argument. When all is said and done, when we have parsed out every saying and parable and teaching of Jesus, couldn’t the same be said of Him?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Newton, thank you so much for these excellent observations from Schweitzer, It has been a long time since I read the ‘Quest’ and it is dim in my memory. I agree that WW I had a tremendous impact on Christians everywhere turning them to war. The same can be said of WW II. Even some from peace churches felt compelled to join in the wars. I would add Mennonites to the Quakers in their strong resistance to the war fevers.

      You are right that the Christian ethic has never become a power in the world, and I don’t think we should expect that it would among the general population. But it is a shame that Jesus’ ethic is not even widespread among believers! And this has been true at least since Constantine combined the church with the Roman political structure.

      I think the central emphasis on being ‘saved’ and avoiding hell has taken the place of the message of the kingdom of God to the point that very many believers have little understanding of what it means to be part of the kingdom.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Alan C says:

      Imagine how the history of the past century might have been different if Christians en masse had refused to kill their brothers in neighboring countries just because their king or president told them to.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. fiddlrts says:

    I like your take on this. In my personal experience, the source of strife is indeed between “tradition” and conscience. For you, military service. (In an interesting reversal, my ancestors were Mennonite, while it is my own generation that has served in the military – several of my cousins.) For my own extended family, conflict has been between cultural traditions and what my wife and I believe we are called to. Specifically, there have been conflicts over feminism, particularly gender roles. We chose not to have my wife stay home full time with the kids, and this has been a source of (unnecessary in my view) conflict. Other disagreements have been political, and it is disheartening to realize how many things are considered to be “the only position a *true* christian could ever hold.” Perhaps this might be related to another teaching: new wine doesn’t go well with the old wineskins, and God’s calling on the younger generations doesn’t necessarily look a whole lot like the cultural preferences of the older generations. (I know I am generalizing a bit here, but it there does seem to be a genuine generation gap on many issues of conscience these days…)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Fidd, I very much agree that “it is disheartening to realize how many things are considered to be “the only position a *true* christian could ever hold.” And this can be along so many lines.

    I don’t judge believers who choose to serve in the military, but I am constantly sad that our country keeps sending them off to war. You mention different issues in your family. I think all believers should ask whether the things they have been taught are consistent with Jesus and the kingdom of God. We will not all arrive at the same answer.

    Like

  13. Pingback: 3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. michaeleeast says:

    Well done Tim.
    I agree entirely that this is a metaphorical sword.
    Commitment to Jesus will often cause conflict in families.
    I admire your commitment to non-violence during the Vietnam war.
    Many Christians did not.
    Jesus also told his disciples to put away their swords (Gethsemane).

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Pingback: Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion | Jesus Without Baggage

  17. Pingback: Hypergrace – is it ‘Biblical’? | Flying in the Spirit

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