Theme: The source of true courage.
This week’s lessons show us the importance of depending on Jesus.
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Jesus taught Peter and the others three things.
1. Peter’s use of his sword was dangerous. Not to Malchus. Jesus healed him. It was dangerous to Peter since “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (v. 52). That is not precisely true, of course. Not all who take up arms die in battle. But it is a general principle and was a reminder to Peter that he was called to a different way of life.
2. Peter’s use of his sword was unnecessary. Jesus asked, “Do you not think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (v. 53). The arresting party could have been no more than a hundred people. A Roman legion was six thousand men. Twelve legions of angels would have been 72,000 angels. Clearly, Jesus did not need to be defended. He was arrested because he was willing to be arrested. He suffered a voluntary death for our sins.
3. Peter’s use of his sword was mistaken. For “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way” (v. 54). I do not think it was easy for Jesus to say this. He had wrestled in prayer about what was required of him as God’s servant and mans Savior just moments before. But this was what the Bible taught. Isaiah had written of the Messiah, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). That is not describing a warrior. It is describing a person who would die willingly for us.
The words of Psalm 22 also point to one who would suffer for our sakes:
Dogs have surrounded me, a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing (vv. 16-18).
Those verses predict details of the crucifixion. They are not about bringing in the kingdom with a sword.
Jesus would also have known the words of Psalm 69:
I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none. They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst (vv. 20-21).
For Jesus it was more important that Scriptures like this be fulfilled than that he should escape suffering. Indeed, this was the critical point for him because he states it again when he addresses the crowd. “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (vv. 55-56). That was the important thing—that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. And they were! They were fulfilled in each detail.
Lets go back to Peter’s attempt to save Jesus with a sword. Sometimes Christians have appealed to this text in defense of pacifism, as if Jesus was teaching that his followers can never bear arms. This interpretation fails because it neglects to distinguish between what Augustine termed the city of God and the city of man. The city of God is God’s kingdom, the Church. The city of man is the world with its institutions. Christians are citizens of both kingdoms. They function in the world, and as citizens of the world they can bear arms. Christians can be soldiers. What is forbidden is attempting to advance Christianity by forcing other people to be Christians.
Whenever Christians have used force to advance the gospel, the Church has always suffered for it. These have been the most terrible periods of Church history. Christianity became worldly when it was made the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. The crusades were a horror and disgrace. The worst age of Puritanism was when the ministers of Christ gained political power under Oliver Cromwell. Our power is in the Word of God and the gospel, not the sword. Henry Smarts powerful hymn “Lead on, O King Eternal” (1836) expresses it rightly:
For not with swords loud clashing, Nor roll of stirring drums, But deeds of love and mercy, The heavenly kingdom comes.
What three things did Jesus teach Peter about his use of the sword on Malchus?
What was more important to Jesus than escaping suffering?
What approach to converting unbelievers is clearly forbidden?
Read Psalm 22 and Psalm 69. List everything you find in these two psalms that happened to Jesus at the crucifixion as described in the gospels.
He was arrested because he was willing to be arrested. He suffered a voluntarily death for our sins.