Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

Jesus came to bring violence, to bring a sword. So what does that mean for us today? The question comes from a listener in Egypt. “Good morning, Pastor John. I’m a devout Christian who reads the Bible every day. I struggle with these words of Jesus: ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). I’m wondering what Jesus meant, and what does it mean for Christians today?”

Let’s read what Jesus said in the context of Matthew 10:34–39. Here’s what he said:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [It’s important to keep reading.] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Peace at Any Cost?

Jesus talks in this radical, shocking, one-sided way often. He expects us to be startled, awakened, made serious. And then he expects us to put the proper boundaries around what he’s saying by remembering what he said elsewhere. He also said, for example, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We don’t only hear, “I didn’t come to bring peace,” and then say, “Okay, let’s go make war.” No, we remember that Jesus also said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). There are other examples of this peace:

  • The angel said in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
  • Zechariah prophesied in Luke 1:79 that Jesus would “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
  • James said, “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
  • Paul said, “[Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
  • And of course, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . .” (Galatians 5:22).

So, back to Matthew 10:34. When he says, “I didn’t come to bring peace,” he expects us to be shocked, to wake up, to take seriously what he is saying, and not to generalize to mean things he showed us he doesn’t mean. He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And when he says, “to the earth,” his point is to draw attention to his origin in heaven and his mission on earth.

He’s not your ordinary prophet. He has come from outside earth, outside the world system, and the message he brings is going to cut like a sword. Peace will not be the all-defining mark of his ministry. In other words, those who elevate peace to the all-defining mark — as if to say that nothing can be done if it doesn’t make peace — will go against this text, far from it. There will be peace and unity, but not at all costs. That’s what we’re learning from this text.

King of Every Heart

Now, how will he cut like a sword? That’s the alternative to peace. “I’m going to be a sword; I’m going to cut.” Well, he explains immediately what he’s referring to in verse 35, and it starts with for. Verse 35 is a foundational text that explains what Jesus meant in verse 34. “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

Really? How will he set family members against each other? Verse 37 explains: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In other words, Jesus enters earth, he enters the world, and he lays claim now, as a king from another kingdom, on every human heart. “I am worthy of greater affection, greater love, greater allegiance than any member of your family.” If all the family members respond to Jesus this way, you’ve got peace. But if they don’t, if there is anger because Jesus has become more important than family bonds and family affections, then a sword cuts right through the relationship. We’ve all tasted this in some ways.

And verse 38 moves the division from superior affections for Jesus — first, he says, “You’ve got to love me more” — to absolute following of Jesus. So now he says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So, the family not only does not have the supreme affection; it does not have supreme authority either. The disciple loves Jesus above the preciousness of the family, and the disciple follows Jesus before the authority of mother or father.

Where We Pledge Allegiance

This is what Jesus meant by bringing a sword, not peace. It means he comes into the world as the supreme beauty and supreme joy and supreme value of the universe. And he comes with absolute supreme authority, and therefore, he claims in every family, and in every business, and in every school, and in every church, and in every political party, and in every nation a superior allegiance, a superior love. And so, with the sword of his supremacy, he cuts every affection and every allegiance to family, or business, or school, or church, or political party, or nation, which would compete with him for supreme place in our hearts.

I’m ending here because this is really where the question ended: “Does this text have any relevance for our day?” So, while the focus of the text is on family — that’s the immediate focus — the application is pervasive. Jesus has come into the world to disrupt (this is what sword means) all human allegiances that don’t put him first — to be loved above all other values, and to be followed above all other authorities. You fill in the blank: authority in the nation, authority in politics, authority in church, authority in home, authority in business, authority in education, whatever — fill in the blank. In other words, this teaching of Jesus is vastly relevant in our day everywhere.