Peace, a Sword, or Both?

The ancient prophet, Isaiah, described the coming Messiah as, “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Seven hundred years later, Jesus confirmed Isaiah’s prophecy with, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace.” John 16:33) Indeed, when we think of Jesus, it is easy to connect the idea of peace with His persona. Yet, on one occasion, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) The inspired writer Luke recorded it this way, “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.” ( 12:51) So, which is it? Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword? How do we reconcile Jesus being the Prince of Peace yet saying He didn’t come to bring peace?

As is always the case, the context of a passage must be considered first! The statement Jesus made about not bringing peace, but a sword does not contradict His character at all nor His teachings about a disciple being a peacemaker (Matt 5:9; Luke 10:5-6). It also does not conflict with what the inspired writers taught about Christians living in peace (Titus 3:2; James 3:17). Without question, the New Testament emphasizes we must live in one accord with our neighbors. Yet, Jesus made a distinction between physical peace and spiritual peace. Both are commanded and each carries the implication of seeking harmonious relationships with others.

With that in mind, consider what Jesus went on to say in Matthew 10 after He mentioned bringing a sword. He continued with, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt 10:37). The context of the passage has to do with counting the cost of following Christ, or taking up arms against an opponent. The parallel account in Luke 12 adds more clarity, “From now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be divided against son and son against father, … ” (Luke 12:52-53). So essentially, what Jesus is saying is that following Him will cause disagreements between even the closest family members. One will choose to believe and follow Christ, while another may not. Therefore, are you willing to make such a sacrifice?

Jesus is certainly not advocating violence between family members or His adversaries! That would completely refute His message of loving your neighbor and your enemies or “turning the other cheek” (Matthew 5:38-44, 22:39; John 13:34). Instead, He is simply stating that not everyone will accept Him as their Savior. This harmonizes perfectly with what He taught in the “The Four Soils” parable in Luke 8:4-15, the “Wide and Narrow Path” in Matthew 7:13-14, and the challenge He issued to His followers in John 6:60-69. Those who reject Christ will sometimes vehemently oppose His disciples, creating division that can escalate into persecution. Such a reaction does not happen because Jesus instigates it, but because the world hates the light (Matt 10:22; John 15:18-20).

So, what did Jesus bring? He brought both peace and a “sword.” The word “sword” is not a tangible, physical weapon, but rather, an analogy for the Word of God. It is that Word that causes people to divide into opposing factions: believers and non-believers. Paul calls it the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God in Ephesians 6:17. It was what caused Pharaoh to oppose God (Exodus 8-9) and the world to reject the Christ John 17:6-14).

Jesus is still the Prince of Peace and He continues to offer peace to the world today. It is a “peace that passes all understanding‘ (Phil 4:7). But accepting Him as your Savior may cause others, even possibly your own family, to oppose you. What Jesus offers is worth any trouble that may come. The peace He is concerned about giving is not worldly peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” John 14:27). His peace has far greater rewards! “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom 5:1). His peace provides hope and eternal life!