During the Last Supper, Jesus revealed that Judas would betray Him. Jesus also shared bread and wine with His Disciples, calling them His body and blood respectively, and told the Disciples to repeat this meal gathering in the future in remembrance of Him. In John, Jesus then explained that seeing Jesus was the same as seeing God, and that people were guilty because they had heard and seen Jesus' magnificence, and yet still did not believe. Instead in Luke, the Disciples argued about who would be the greatest among them. Sometime around then, Jesus also revealed that Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times that same evening, despite his passionate claims of loyalty.
In Luke 22:35-38, Jesus tried to prepare the Disciples for the harsh realities they would face after He was gone.
Jesus began by reminding the Disciple how, during their First Mission, God had worked to provide everything for them, despite the fact that they started their mission without money, or even shoes on their feet (Luke 22:35). Yet that modus operandi was about to change, as we see in Luke 22:36:
[Jesus] 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." NIVThat seems pretty clear, right? Your cloak, which would keep you warm at night, or help insulate you from the rain, would be of little use for you in a situation when you would need a sword. So if you have to choose between a cloak and a sword, sell your cloak and get a sword. The implication is that there are dangerous times ahead; times when a sword will keep you alive.
So it is clear, but do not worry. The message will become muddied. In fact, it already is, because you cannot reconcile turning the other cheek and giving to anyone who takes from you with standing your ground; sword in hand. Yet before we get to the part where Luke himself muddied the water of life within this same section of verses, Jesus provided some prophesy that He would soon fulfill.
In Luke 22:37, Jesus partially quoted Isaiah 53:12, referencing the prophesy that He would be "numbered with the transgressors. Isaiah 53 is the one Old Testament prophesy which seems closest to actually being about Jesus. Long-time readers of this blog may remember that the detailed study on Isaiah 53 revealed that prophesy as a whole to be unlikely to pertain to Jesus, but that it took some digging into its context to really see that. Although, there were certainly clues within particular verses, like how Isaiah 53:12 begins with "Therefore I will give him a portion among the great". This speaks of honor on the same level as other Jewish heroes, not an elevated position above all, such as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Nope. Just a "portion" of the glory of the great ones before him. Please refer to the detailed study of Isaiah 53 for more information.
OK, back to the point of the message... preparing for the dangers ahead. The Disciples took Jesus at His word, and so in Luke 22:38 we see:
The Disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords."Hmmm. Two swords... enough for eleven people? Is that right? Something seems amiss... First, let us take a quick look at what some classic Christian commentaries say about this, and then we will discuss the real meaning. ;-)
"That is enough," [Jesus] replied. NIV
Most of the classic Christian commentaries, such as John Darby, and John Gill, suggest that this is obviously meant as a figurative message. Some of them, such as McGarvey and Pendleton, and John Gill, support this case off of the fact that two swords would not literally be enough for eleven people. What was this figurative message, according to them? That depends on who you refer to.
Matthew Henry, and McGarvey and Pendleton, suggest a more spiritual arming; as in the "sword of the Spirit", i.e. the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). However, to suggest this spiritual perspective is to rip the sword from the stone of its context, which is obviously a prescription for physical preparations. Having a sword was just one of those preparations.
John Gill and John Wesley both agree that Jesus was really just trying to express that they were entering a dangerous time, but had no intention of them literally buying swords. Yes, indeed, this was a warning to prepare yourself against dangers; dangers like those mentioned in 2 Corinthians 11:26. However, the message was also very literal. It would not make sense for Jesus to instruct them to buy swords, when He did not mean for them to buy swords. So what was going on here?
Well, one commentary did get it right. Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown did recognize the correct literal meaning in Jesus' words, as well as the figurative part. That figurative part was "now". Jesus was not providing instruction for that particular instant, but rather for the future time; the time after Jesus would no longer be with them. So two swords were enough... for now.
As always, it has been humorous to see how various Bible experts interpret the same passage differently, and wrongly at that, but the big question is why is this anecdote even here? Why did Luke include it?
I believe that it was because Luke was forced to face reality. The fledgling faithful Christians were likely experiencing some tough times by the time that Luke got around to writing his Gospel. The trouble was that there was nothing in the Gospel story about defending yourself, and rightfully so. After all, if you are defending yourself, you are relying on yourself, not on God. God had promised to protect and prosper those who obey Him (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but Luke was not seeing any evidence of that, so he adjusted the message to prepare the believers for the rough ride on their own... without a real God.
(Well, Luke probably still believed in God, but the net effect was the same.)