“(34) Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. (35) 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 – (36) a man’s enemies will be members of his own household.’ (37) Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (38) and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39, NIV).
I have written a number of articles defending Muslims against false charges based on taking verses of the Qur’an out of their contextual setting and distorting their meaning. Unfortunately, some of the worst offenders in such non-contextual distortions of Islamic texts are Christians, who ought to know better since they frequently complain of the same thing being done to Biblical texts. It is pretty much of a ‘truism’ that one can prove virtually anything from the Bible, when isolated verses and phrases are ripped from their contexts.
The above statement of Jesus (who is forever blessed by God) is one such passage which can be – and frequently is – twisted and distorted in order to ridicule Christianity and Jesus Christ himself. And unfortunately, some of the worst offenders in this are in fact Muslims who ought to know better since they complain against Christians doing the same thing with the Qur’an. And what’s worse: although Christians might be ‘excused’, in a sense, for their ridicule of Islam, its Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace), and the Qur’an – since Christianity has never been known to recognize Muhammad as a true Prophet of God (although some Christians have done so); Muslims have no excuse for twisting and distorting the words of Jesus, since from its inception Islam has acknowledged Jesus as a holy Prophet of God – and in fact calls him the Christ. Islam proclaims that the Gospel Jesus proclaimed came from God. So why in the world would some Muslims stoop to mockery and ridicule of this Prophet/Christ and his teachings?
It is contended that Christianity has no legitimate claim to be a religion of peace, and Jesus to be the “Prince of Peace” who came to bring “peace on earth, good will toward men” – because Jesus himself said he did not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. Jesus supposedly, according to this interpretation, came to make his followers rabble rousers and instigators of violence; perhaps even a military force to bring the kingdom of God with physical violence.
How could that possibly be the teaching of the one who taught his disciples in Matthew 5 (New King James Version): “(38) You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. (39) But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. (40) If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also… (43)You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (45) that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” He sent out his disciples to preach the gospel of peace, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even raise the dead; but he did not tell them to take up arms and physically fight their enemies in order to establish the ‘Kingdom of God’ on earth – or in any way deliberately provoke dissension and fighting. In fact, when Jesus was being tried by Pilate, and Pilate asked him if he was the King of the Jews, Jesus made this rather famous reply: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
The obvious meaning of Jesus’ statement about bringing a sword, and turning members of families against each other, is that this would be an unavoidable effect of his coming – particularly in that wicked ‘last times’ generation who were ‘filling up the measure of the sins of their fathers’ and on whom the ‘wrath of God’ would finally come in their destruction both by their own hands and by the Roman army. Those whose hearts were ‘hard as stones’, and who had closed their eyes and stopped up their ears against God’s messages, would inevitably turn in anger against those whose hearts were aflame with the love of God, sought to obey Him, and spoke the Good News which that great Prophet of God – Jesus – had given them. The followers of Jesus Christ could even expect that members of their own families would turn against them. They must be prepared to accept the rejection of their own families in order to stand firmly for the truth of God as taught by Jesus, God’s anointed one. Anyone who would abandon God and His messenger in order to preserve peace with his or her earthly family was not worthy of the Kingdom of God. Anyone who was not willing to accept the enmity of the ‘world’ by taking up his cross as Jesus would take up his own cross, was not worthy of the kingdom. Whoever would save his life by abandoning God and His Christ, would in actuality be losing his life.
[In the one passage, Luke 22:36, in which Jesus actually told the disciples to carry a sword, Jesus plainly had a symbolic meaning – as many or most of his statements were cloaked in metaphor and symbol. Jesus himself explained, in verse 37, why he told them to carry a sword now: “For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning me have an end”. Jesus had them bring swords at that time as a symbolic representation of the fact that he was about to be arrested as a militant transgressor, a threat to the Roman Emperor. That he had no intention his followers would actually use their swords is evident in that he said that two swords was sufficient – how would only two swords possibly be sufficient if he intended his disciples to actually fight for his cause against the Roman soldiers? And when one of the disciples actually used his sword and cut off someone’s ear, Jesus immediately responded by healing the ear. John, in chapter 18 verse 10, said that the sword wielder was Simon Peter; and both Matthew (26:52-54) and John (18:11) say that Jesus rebuked him for his violent action. According to Jesus, his death and resurrection were prophesied by the Hebrew Prophets, and he knew he must submit to his Father’s will as revealed by those Prophets. The sword carrying was only intended for a symbolic purpose. *For an update on my understanding on this passage, please see my article Did Jesus Abrogate Some of His Instructions Before His Arrest?*]
Muslims should certainly be willing to recognize this as the correct meaning of this passage (Matthew 10:34-39), since they have the same thing stated in the Qur’an. “The Jews have said, ‘God is tight-fisted,’ but it is they who are tight-fisted, and they are rejected for what they have said. Truly, God’s hands are open wide: He gives as He pleases. What has been sent down to you from your Lord is sure to increase insolence and defiance in many of them. We have sown enmity and hatred amongst them till the Day of Resurrection. Whenever they kindle the fire of war, God will put it out. They try to spread corruption in the land, but God does not love those who corrupt… Say, ‘People of the Book, you have no true basis [for your religion] unless you uphold the Torah, the Gospel, and that which has been sent down to you from your Lord,’ but what has been sent down to you [Prophet] from your Lord is sure to increase many of them in their insolence and defiance: do not worry about those who defy [God]… We took a pledge from the Children of Israel, and sent messengers to them. Whenever a messenger brought them anything they did not like, they accused some of lying and put others to death” (Qur’an 5:64, 68, 70; Abdel Haleem translation). Notice that verse 64 has God saying “We have sown enmity and hatred…” Yet Muslims will steadfastly maintain that Islam is a religion of peace. If those verses are not incompatible with Islam being a peaceful religion, then Muslims should not accuse Jesus of being a militant rabble rouser because he said he came to bring a sword: his message would stir up the enmity of unbelievers.
God’s messengers – especially Jesus and Muhammad (God’s blessing on them both) – brought a message of reconciliation with God, peace with God, and peace from God for all believers. But it will no doubt remain true that as long as there are spiritually blind, deaf, and stone-hearted people the message of peace will actually provoke antagonism among the unbelievers. Believers will keep on proclaiming the message of peace, though, knowing that God can open blind eyes and deaf ears, and soften hard hearts. God can do whatever He will.
I would like to encourage anyone reading this to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. You know it irritates you when someone takes your words, or the words of the Scripture you respect, and distorts their meanings; be sure you don’t do the same thing yourself. And when someone does that to you or the Scripture you accept, then you return good for evil. Who knows but that in doing so, God will cause the good you do to turn your ‘enemy’ into a close friend!