What did Jesus mean when he said he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10:34)?
Given Jesus’ uniform teaching about loving enemies and abstaining from violence, and given that his followers were known for their refusal to engage in violence for the first three hundred years of church history, it’s obvious that Jesus wasn’t saying he came so that his disciples would use swords. The context of Jesus’ comment makes his intent clear. He’s speaking hyperbolically about how following him will (sadly) bring division, even among families. Yet it’s vital disciples not disown Christ, even when their families turn against them.
Here’s the whole passage (Mt 10:33- 38)
“But whoever publicly disowns me I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
“For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law— your enemies will be the members of your own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
The context makes it clear that “the sword” is a hyperbolic way of referring to divisions — especially among people who are normally closely bonded (family members). Because Jesus demands total allegiance, including allegiance over family, he will bring division. Yet, it’s crucial his followers never deny him because of the pain it causes, for this is simply the cost of discipleship.
He’s come to bring a sword. Prepare to sacrifice for your commitment to follow him.
But part of this commitment includes honoring his teachings and example of never using a literal sword.