The following was excerpted from Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s book, Jesus for President–from their online “Appendix 3: Subordination and Revolution: What about Romans 13?” which can be downloaded in its entirety from the JesusForPresident website or by clicking here.
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
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 our 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.
This is part of a larger conversation about power at the last supper. Jesus’ disciples had apparently been unable to understand the meaning of his discussions on suffering and nonviolence. Over the course of this dinner conversation, Jesus had been trying to tell them that the kingdoms of this world wield power and demand service, but his kingdom was about serving others and self-sacrifice. As in many cases where Jesus would draw out props to make a point (e.g. the coin in the fish’s mouth), Jesus here needs to draw out a dangerous prop: the sword.
To prove his point, Jesus helps his disciples remember that they don’t need anything—which they acknowledge. With that in mind, he will help them understand that they also do not need a sword.
Very explicitly, Jesus equates the carrying of a sword with being a “transgressor.” This phrase references the beautiful passage of Isaiah 53 on how God’s glory is best known through humiliation and suffering and not apparent strength or majesty. To teach one of his most radical lessons on nonviolence, Jesus will incur the embarrassing reputation of going down with terrorists and insurgents, and not the potentially meaningful status of a blameless martyr. “He will be numbered with the transgressors.” Jesus even stripped his self of the ennobling innocent appearance of nonviolence. While he could go down with his unblemished personal character intact, to teach a lesson he will risk the misguided and violent wills of his disciples marring his reputation. (His final healing miracle will then be to clean up after the mess of his disciples’ violence by healing an arrestor’s ear.) This makes radical, counter-intuitive claims about the very nature of God and even what we mean by the word “God.” Is not humiliation and suffering the very opposite of God? Now he will appear before court as being one of the insurgent terrorists who cut people’s ears off*.
If calling the sword the transgressor’s tool is not obvious enough, the outcome of the lesson is unequivocally clear. The very next scene is in Gethsemane where the disciple will use those swords. His disciples ask, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” As one disciple strikes an arrestor, Jesus yells, “No more of this!” and heals the wound. This is the commonly known time when Jesus also states, (in other gospels) “put your sword away,” and “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” After healing his arrestor, Luke’s gospel shows Jesus punctuating this lesson of nonviolence with a question, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).
Nowhere in all of the New Testament is a disciple of Jesus found carrying a sword again.
*When the disciples find the swords that will mark their very sinfulness, Jesus says “enough.” John Yoder comments: “ ‘Enough,’ cannot mean that two swords would be enough for the legitimate self-defense against bandits of twelve missionaries traveling two by two. He is (in direct parallel to Deut. 3:26, where YHWH tells Moses to change the subject, LXX hikanon estin) breaking off the conversation because they don’t understand anyway” (The Politics of Jesus, p. 45).