By Jim Allen, Editor, NuVote Reach
Photo Credit: Albrecht Altdorfer, Saint Peter cutting off the ear of a Roman Soldier
Jesus of Nazareth, then a fugitive, sure was busy on the day he was arrested. He dined and was anointed for burial at the home of Simon the leper—he had days earlier come to Bethany, against his disciples’ wishes, on very short notice, to raise his friend, Lazarus, from the dead (how many times have you said that about someone?). He washed the feet of his disciples, in an effort to show them that true leadership was being in the service of others. He also had the “Last Supper” with them, during which he established the “body and blood” communion memorial. Before Jesus prayed to God, in the Garden of Gethsemane, for a Plan B for the salvation of mankind, sans the cross, he had an interesting exchange with the Apostle [Simon] Peter that ended with a directive from Jesus for him to arm himself, beginning at Luke 22:31:
31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Yikes! “Sift as wheat.” Sifting, to me, sounds much worse than does ‘kicking’ someone’s backside. And, this was not the first example of this kind of parlay between God and Satan. Satan made an arrangement with God to test Job (See Job Chapter 1), and in that case, God basically told Satan, ‘have at it.’ Going back to Luke 22:
33 But he [Simon Peter] replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Jesus’ reaction to Peter’s claim to having his back was basically, ‘Child, please!’ But here comes the set up for our subject, as Luke 22 continues:
35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
The above passage speaks symbolically about the provisional nature of God when one is in His service. If God sent them on a mission, wouldn’t He make provisions for its fulfillment? Of course! Do we really think the disciples were literally sent out two-by-two without shoes? No. In fact, look at Mark 6:
7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Jesus had instructed them to “wear sandals,” so we know he was speaking symbolically, not literally, in Luke 22, about sending them out with no sandals—because that just didn’t happen—thus, establishing the need to rightly divide the truth regarding the true nature of the conversation between Jesus and Peter, which contained the sword talk. Luke 22 continues:
36 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 your cloak and buy one.
Jesus again was using symbolism to instruct his disciples to get ready to fend for themselves and to do what was necessary to be properly armed. But we will circle back to better establish this assertion later, in order to first fully establish the context in which Jesus spoke.
Jesus then started to talk about why things would almost immediately change so radically. Luke 22 continues:
37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’;
Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah about the coming of, fate of and Kingdom-establishment of the Messiah: “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)
He was indicating to his disciples that he was about to leave them to complete his mission on earth, and again, for a time, they would have to fend for themselves. Jesus continued in Luke 22, verse 37:
37(cont’d)…and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
Which can be interpreted: “I have to do what I have to do, and it will not be pleasant for me in the short run. But this is not about me, right now. It’s about your future. I will lay down my life, as the Messiah of God, as my destiny was set in the stones of the Ten Commandments, to deliver the world from the inability of The Law and the blood of animals to sanctify mankind as holy before God, in exchange for my own blood and subsequent personal extension of eternal grace, in a new covenant with all who believe in me, and through which I will reign forever.’
Luke 22 continues, with the blissfully spiritually naïve response of the disciples:
38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied.
It’s almost as if Jesus sarcastically said ‘OK, ahhh, that’s enough, riiiiight, two swords. I just told Peter that the devil had his number, a Roman cohort is on the way to arrest me, there are 13 of us, and you’re asking me about two swords—yeesh!,’ while shaking his head.
To fully make the point, we must agree to stipulate that Jesus grew up in or nearby the Roman-occupied territory of Judea, had knowledge of the history of various violent Jewish insurrections against Roman tyranny (and many others over the Old Testament history of the Jewish people, about whom Jesus was expert, as established at the Temple at age 12), and was fully knowledgeable about the earthly power of the Roman Empire, even mentioning it in the context of Jews submitting to taxes, “Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.” (Mark 12:17)
In fact, Jesus Barabbas, who was released by Pontius Pilate, instead of Jesus the Christ, was on death row for armed insurrection against Rome, as recorded in the gospel of Mark Chapter 15: 7 A man called [Jesus] Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.
If we can agree on that context, let’s look at the series of events, leading up to Jesus’ arrest, as recorded in the gospel of John chapter 18:
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment [originally interpreted “band”] of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
That was a very large, heavily armed group. Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible says: “A band – Την σπειραν, The band or troop. Some think that the spira was the same as the Roman cohort, and was the tenth part of a legion, which consisted sometimes of 4200, and sometimes of 5000 foot. But Raphelius, on Matthew 27:27, has clearly proved, from Polybius, that the spira was no more than a tenth of the fourth part of a legion.”
In any case, let’s stipulate that a lot of armed people came to arrest Jesus. If Jesus was talking about literally preparing his disciples for a physical armed battle, his saying “two swords” were “enough” would be idiotic. Can we also stipulate that, whatever you believe, Jesus was no idiot?
Just before that sword conversation, the disciples had been engaged in some infighting about who among them was the favored disciple. Luke 22 continues:
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.
Jesus intervened and tried to impress upon them that the Roman idea of greatness and strength, was a false premise. Luke 22 continues:
26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.28
As we said earlier, Jesus warned Peter about Satan wanting to “sift” him “as wheat” and that although he had prayed for him, Peter was going to have to fend for himself, during the period of Christ’s passion, at which point Christ, on the cross, would take on the sins of the world, and, as such, be separated from them.
The context of the entire conversation was the period of time when Jesus would be numbered with the transgressors and out of spiritual connection with the disciples.
Note: Of course, I cannot say with certainty that Jesus was also separated from God, on Calvary’s cross. It says in 2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. And, Isaiah 59:2 says: But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear, which could possibly speak to the meaning of Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” as recorded in Matthew 27:46—as some interpret as a possible indication of a temporary separation from God. But others hear those words simply as a rhetorical affirmation of his choice to lay down his life—that phrase, formed as a question, the answer to which is “Love.” But the doctrine of the two natures of Christ, says the divine nature was never separated and could easily explain away that argument, if one is so inclined, to discount the separation-from-God theory—all of which, to date, I should say, is way above my spiritual pay grade. Now, back to the Luke 22 thread:
Moreover, if Satan was coming after Peter, outside of the spiritual covering of Jesus, which is the context of the conversation, of what good would a metal sword be?
There is a better, post-resurrection recommendation about arming oneself, using the same type of symbolic language as did Jesus with Peter, along with concurrent interpretations, to be found in Ephesians Chapter 6
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Those weapons of spiritual warfare are itemized in Ephesians 6 as a post-Pentecost complement of weaponry, at the ready.
Do we Christians really believe we are on our own, as were the disciples, scattered and fearful during the passion of Christ? Certainly not. Ephesians 6 continues:
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
There we are: the “sword of the Spirit” represents the Word of God, which Peter had received for several years, directly from the mouth of Jesus.
There is further evidence of Jesus’ true intent regarding the sword reference, indicated by what Peter did when Jesus was about to be arrested. Luke 22 continues:
49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”50 And one of them [Peter, as it says in John 18:10] struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Peter and the other disciples obviously misunderstood what Jesus said to them about the sword, or we must then say Jesus was doubled-minded about things, speaking both literally and symbolically within the same sentence, an assertion which we can hopefully stipulate to take off the table.
If one gets stuck on the two swords, consider Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
After Jesus was arrested and his passion began, sure enough, Peter denied even knowing Christ, 3 times, the disciples were spiritually detached, dispersed, running scared, and confused until, three days later, we find most of them gathered together when Jesus rose from the dead and first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to them, as John Chapter 20 teaches us:
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Even before he was crucified, Jesus promised the disciples that he would send a helper to comfort and guide them, and they would not need to be self sustaining anymore. Look at John 14:
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Not orphans, as they were during the passion, but sons and daughters—heirs indeed. You can read about what happened on the Day of Pentecost, when this helper/covering showed up in a big way, in the Book of Acts, chapter 2.
Did Satan end up sifting Peter as wheat? Here’s what some of the well-established (non-biblical) traditions say about the fates of the Apostles:
Paul was beheaded outside of Rome;
Matthew died by the sword in Ethiopia;
Mark was dragged through the streets in Alexandria;
Luke was hanged from an Olive tree in Greece;
John was boiled in oil but survived to be exiled to the Isle of Patmos, where he received in the spirit the Book of the Revelation;
James, the greater, died by the sword, likely beheaded in Jerusalem (The only actual Apostle’s death recorded in the bible, in Acts 12:2);
James the lesser (the brother of Jesus, not really an Apostle) was thrown from pinnacle of the Temple, stoned and beaten to death with a club while praying for his persecutors;
Bartholomew was whipped by seven soldiers, then crucified;
Andrew was crucified on a cross and preached to his tormentors until he died;
Thomas was run through his body with a spear in India;
Jude was killed with arrows; another tradition says he was crucified;
Mathias (who replaced Judas) was first stoned and then beheaded;
Peter was crucified in Rome, upside down, at his own request, because he deemed himself unworthy of the upright crucifixion the Savior suffered, but not before making an indelible imprint on the establishment of the worldwide Body of Christ–as Jesus prophesied, he “turned back to strengthen his brothers and sisters!
To Hell with Satan!
Note: I am not a trained theologian, just an inspired, would-be dot connector and seeker of truth, who is open to, and indeed, encourage discussion about any or all of the aforementioned biblical or traditional interpretations. I do not claim to have any corner on the truth, just sharing the view from my vantage point. I thank God for His Word, which has become a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.