April 9 – Taking Up the Sword in Vain

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.’ ”

Matthew 26:52


It is wrong to violently take justice into our own hands, even to defend or promote the name of Christ.

The Body of Christ does not grow and strengthen itself by physical warfare. Every time it has endeavored to do so, the name and cause of Jesus Christ have been harmed. Such wars as the Crusades in the Holy Land or later religious wars between Catholics and Protestants in Europe served no scriptural purpose. As Jesus taught many times, and as Paul reiterated to the Corinthians, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2 Cor. 10:4).

Peter, in his usual headstrong fashion, had not yet understood this principle the night of Jesus’ arrest. That’s when Peter used his sword and cut off the ear of one of the high priest’s prominent slaves. But the impulsive disciple’s reaction was all wrong. Peter no doubt took Christ’s earlier statement, “Let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one” (Luke 22:36) much too literally. Our Lord was actually speaking of preparedness for spiritual, not physical, warfare.

Jesus therefore had to instruct Peter to put away his weapon. In effect, He was saying, “Peter, no matter how unjust My arrest is, you must not respond with vigilante action. If you do that and kill someone else, your own life will justly be forfeited as punishment.”

Christ’s power has been demonstrated many times—in person to Peter and through Scripture to us. It is incredible that any of us should think He needs the puny help of a sword, a gun, or any other human device. Christ’s battles are won in the strength of His sovereign power alone, as He pointed out to Peter: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions [72,000] of angels?” (Matt. 26:53).


Suggestions for Prayer: Ask God’s forgiveness for times when you’ve been too quick to seek your own justice during arguments or conflicts.

For Further Study: Read 2 Kings 19:14–37. How did King Hezekiah respond when God’s people and land were threatened? ✧ How did the prophet Isaiah support Hezekiah’s actions? ✧ How did God finally respond to the Assyrians’ threat?[1]

Jesus gave Peter two important reasons that explain why the use of physical weapons cannot be used to defend, much less extend, His kingdom. First of all, to do so is fatal. “Put your sword back into its place,” Jesus told Peter; “for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” Jesus was not philosophizing by declaring that everyone who takes up arms will himself be killed by arms or that a person who uses violence will be killed violently. His point was that those who commit acts of violence to achieve personal ends will face punishment by civil authorities, the sword representing a common means of execution in the ancient world. He was simply reiterating the divine standard set forth in Genesis: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (9:6). To protect the sanctity of human life, God declares that the one who wantonly takes the life of another person is subject to capital punishment.

God has given human government the right to execute murderers. “It does not bear the sword for nothing,” Paul said; “for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil” (Rom. 13:4). The apostle willingly applied that law to himself. In his defense before Festus he said, “If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die” (Acts 25:11).

In telling Peter to put his sword back into its place Jesus was saying, in effect, “No matter how wicked and unjust my arrest is, you have no right to take vigilante action. If you take a life while doing that, your own life will justly be forfeited as punishment.”

Jesus’ arrest and subsequent trials were clearly unjust, but they were nevertheless carried out within the framework of the legal systems of that day Although it exercised its power only by the permission of Rome, the Sanhedrin was a civil as well as religious governing body in Israel. Pilate was the duly appointed Roman governor. Jesus’ point was that personal violent action against even an unjust governing body is wrong. God has the sovereign right to overrule human governments, as He has done frequently throughout history, but no individual has such a right.

Jesus was not speaking about self-defense or the defense of loved ones or friends from an attacker. Nor was he talking about fighting in the armed forces of one’s country. He was referring to violently taking justice into one’s own hands. Under no circumstances does a Christian or anyone else have the right to dispense personal justice, even to defend Christ’s name or Word.[2]

26:52 The moral glory of the Lord Jesus shines radiantly here. First He rebuked Peter: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” In Christ’s kingdom, victories are not won by carnal means. To resort to armed force in spiritual warfare is to invite disaster. Let the enemies of the kingdom use the sword; they will eventually meet defeat. Let the soldier of Christ resort to prayer, the Word of God, and the power of a Spirit-filled life.

We learn from Dr. Luke that Jesus then healed the ear of Malchus—for that was the victim’s name (Luke 22:51; John 18:10). Is this not a wonderful display of grace? He loved those who hated Him and showed kindness to those who were after His life.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 26:50). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1304). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


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