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Meaning of "those who live by the sword, die by the sword" Matthew 26:52

Staff Member
Matthew 26:50-54
50 Jesus said, “My friend, go ahead and do what you have come for.”

Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him. 51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear.

52 “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?”

The IVP Commentary Series

We Must Not Fight the Kingdom's Battles Our Way (26:50-54)

World hunger, racism, abortion, freedom to evangelize openly and a variety of other matters are literally life-and-death issues, but the very urgency of these issues sometimes tempts us to fight the battle with human passion or incendiary rhetoric. Protecting Jesus seemed the greatest of life-and-death issues, yet Jesus did not want his disciples to protect him. He came to conquer by way of the cross, not by way of the sword. We disciples are sometimes ready to fight for our cause, but rarely willing simply to be martyred for it without resistance; and once Jesus' disciples realized that martyrdom without resistance was the price of following Jesus, they fled (v. 56). For disciples to abandon their teacher in this way was a betrayal that would have deeply shamed the teacher (Malina 1993:18).

We who cannot love our enemies today (5:44) would have failed this test as readily as our spiritual forebears did. Jesus was doing the Father's will, and the Father still would have granted him twelve legions of angels (one for himself and each disciple) had he asked (26:53); but the Father had called him to face death for us. Angels will assist at the end (compare 13:41-42; 16:27; 24:30-31), but in the present time, for Jesus to depend on them for deliverance would be giving in to Satan's test (compare 4:5-7).

A disciple (named only in John) cut off the ear of the high priest's servant (presumably aiming for the man's neck, he missed, probably because the man moved). Jesus' response to the disciple—and to Matthew's community, which has probably survived the crisis of a Judean-Roman war—provides three reasons for rejecting violence (26:52-54; compare 5:39-42): violence destroys those who employ it (26:52); Jesus trusts the Father's ability to protect him (v. 53); and Jesus recognizes that his Father's will for him includes suffering (v. 54; Meier 1980:328).