Scripture & Self Defense: Live By The Sword

In an on going series (Bible and Self Defense Part 1 and Part 2, Thou Shalt Not Kill Part 1 and Part 2), let’s discuss what the Bible really says about self defense. This time I want to focus on one of the primary scriptures used by gun control advocates and pacifists – Matthew 26:52.
(All scriptures cited here from and the New International Version)

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.


One of the problems that happens often, on both sides of any argument, is taking a scripture verse in isolation. I urge everyone to read the appropriate passages in full  — Matthew 26 , Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 18. So to make sure we have proper context; let’s back up a bit. I’m sure most people realize that God had a plan for Jesus and His time on Earth was drawing to an end. Jesus was well aware of this:

Matthew 26:17-18

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’”

Jesus knew the details; every detail of what was going to happen; who was going to betray him and when.

Matthew 26:21-24

21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him.

Remember that phrase ”The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him”; God had been foretelling His plan for a long while. Think about that; Jesus had all eternity to think about what was to befall his physical form; a body that felt hunger, tiredness, aches and pains. Even knowing why it was necessary didn’t make it easy to face.

Matthew 26:37-39
37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Another phrase to keep in mind “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” He was facing a time of such agony that few of us want to contemplate, much less experience in part. Luke describes his physical and mental state

Luke 22:44

44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

A rare condition surfacing where people are facing incredible stress – Hematidrosis.

That brings us up to the time of his betrayal by Judas and sets the stage for consideration on the focus of His thoughts and views. Everyone knows the start of the story; Judas with his 30 pieces of silver leads the thugs and guards to the Garden of Gethsemane; betraying Jesus with a kiss.  In response, one of the Disciples reacts:

Matthew 26:50

50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”[d]

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

And that is where Jesus responds and most pacifists stop:

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 

Ignoring the next several verse  completely:

53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

So why would a ‘pacifist God’ even think in terms of “legions” – a Roman military definition or be willing to put Angels to the defense of Jesus? But let’s skip that small matter and move onto something that really means something; just who was Jesus talking about.

Not talking to. Most people realize that Jesus was talking to Peter and in extension the soldiers and guards sent to arrest him but was the focus of the comment really about them. Or was it about Jesus?

What most Jews of the time expected in a Messiah was a military commander, a King or leader who would establish God’s Kingdom (remember the Jews were a conquered people) on Earth.  The Jewish people had seen several other “messiahs” who lead revolts ; for the most part it didn’t end well for them.  The Roman Legions were very, very good at putting down revolts and rebellions; few survived the experience.

And that is who Jesus was talking about — Himself

Matthew 26:54

54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” 55 In that hour Jesus said to 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. 5But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.”

Look at how John recorded it:

John 18: 11

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

It wasn’t pacifism or rejection of self defense that motivated Jesus, it was love and acceptance of what needed to be done. He had to freely and willingly accept the full measure of the bitter cup that was awaiting him.  That cup He prayed so desperately to avoid; that He was sweating blood had to come to pass and He knew it. Jesus was not going to let anything or anyone interrupt His destiny. To die on the point of a sword as just another  rebel, another false Messiah wasn’t His Plane. He came to die on the cross for our sins as the perfect sacrifice; our true Savior.

Please join the discussion.



7 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by CM Dutch on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    Luke 22:36 …”and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one…. 38 And they said. “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

  2. Posted by Bob S. on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    CM Dutch,

    Yep, another confirmation that Jesus didn’t believe people should walk around without a means of self defense. He knew they would need a means of self defense after He was gone.

  3. Posted by RabidAlien on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    Agree with your interpretation of this passage. Jesus wasn’t telling Peter to stop because swords were bad…He was telling Peter to stop because Peter was interfering with God’s plan…which is NEVER a good thing to do.

  4. Posted by Greg Tag on 23.10.13 at 07:29


    As has been discussed before – Jesus as Lamb of God was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. He was also functioning in His office of High Priest.

    Peter, in attempting to defend Jesus, was unwittingly interfering with the high priestly sacrifice, an act of blasphemy. Jesus was excercising his spiritual and priestly authority when he ordered him to “stand down”.

    Saint Polycarp of Smyrna did not defend himself when he was arrested and then burned alive for the sake of the Gospel by the Romans – his acquiescence was itself, a gospel witness. Circuit riding Methodist Bishop and evangelist Francis Asbury, while preaching throughout the American frontier of the 1780’s and 90’s, reportedly always carried a pair of large horse pistols on his saddle. The reason ? He could not preach if he was killed by brigands.

    Different times and places, different witness. The Christian Scriptures clearly allow the excercise of self-defense.

  5. Posted by Daddy Hawk on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    Your analysis is spot on Bob. I have nothing to add. There is not a minister in my church that would argue with you. In fact, they would applaud your study technique of synthesizing understanding based on complete passages and multiple accounts of the same event.

  6. Posted by Braden Lynch on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    Of lesser note, but still consistent with self-defense, don’t forget the scripture (parphrased) about a man who does not take care of his family is worse than a non-believer. Also, capital punishment for murderers. Clearly, God values innocent life and will have justice delivered to violent evil-doers.

    I cannot understand (or excuse) pacificists who refuse to oppose evil. They believe they are morally superior while in truth they are cowards and parasites. They live in societies protected by the blood of the police and the military.

    Finally, taking a look at Revelations and one can see that Jesus will return with a holy decimating vengenance against His enemies. Clearly, force against evil is something God finds acceptable.

  7. Posted by CM Dutch on 23.10.13 at 07:29

    A lot of misunderstanding about the Savior and his use of force against evil. What about driving the money changers out with the whip. ( Present day Bankers?) That had to hurt.