There are lots of swords in the New Testament. The Word of God is compared to a double-edged sword and Jesus comes back wielding a sword. Maybe the Bible is more than ‘O.K.’ with swords and sword imagery?
Let me throw out two things:
- In the context of the Roman Empire and its occupation of Jewish lands in the 1st century, swords would have been a common item that drawing imagery out of would have been appropriate.
- A well-known pastor in Seattle, Washington is famously quoted as saying “Jesus is a cage fighter with a tattoo on his thigh and a sword in his hand, determined to make someone bleed”. He said this in reference to the fact that he “could not worship somebody that he could beat up.”
Some people dismiss statements like this and chalk it up to testosterone fueled, overly inflated, pumped up hyper-masculinity. I worry that there is something much deeper and much more sinister involved. I think that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and the interpretation of Christian scripture.
What is noteworthy in Revelation 19, is that the sword is not in Jesus’ hand but it comes out of Jesus’ mouth. That seems important in the poetic/prophetic nature of Revelation. This sword is not your average sword. It is not in Jesus’ hand and that makes you wonder if the way in which this sword “strike down” the nations is not in bloody violence but in a kind of destruction that would happen as a result of a sword that proceeds from the mouth of God? Let’s ask ourselves “is there something that comes from the mouth of God that radically impacts or consumes peoples and nations?” Is there something sharp that comes from the mouth of God … something sharper than any two edged sword?
Oh, here we go: Hebrews 4
12 For the word of God is alive 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.
So far so good! ‘It’ judges the thoughts and heart… but here comes the twist:
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Hold the phones! … the Word of God (it) is a person? Yes. Guess who?
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Jesus is the Word of God? (I’m being funny but you may want to check out John 1 for clarification).
In conclusion: the use of sword imagery in both Revelation and in the book of Hebrews needs to be taken with a poetic grain of salt. Yes, the Bible uses sword imagery. The thing is that if Jesus’ (S)word, from part 1, is a non-sword or an un-sword and in Revelation is comes from Jesus’ mouth and in Hebrews it is a person … then none of these passages, thus far, can be utilized to justify what so many Christian (s)words are used for.
I’ve obviously been having fun here, but the bottom line is that just because the Bible uses swords as analogies – it isn’t a wholesale validation of swords nor a justification for using them as the world does.
I would love to hear your thoughts – I just have one request: please don’t use the word ‘Pacifist’ when speaking of Jesus. That set of commitments belongs to a distinct school of thought that did not exist in Jesus day so it is anachronistic to use in that way. He was certainly into non-violence and radical peace-making but Pacifism is a unique configuration of convictions.