Why did Jesus claim that he had not come to bring peace? If his ultimate goal is to unite all things in him, then why did he bring a sword? What did he mean by that?
Go with me to Matthew 10.
In this chapter, Jesus is preparing his apostles to go from town to town, preaching, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 10:7). The moment Israel had long awaited has come. The King is here. He’s ready to build his kingdom, and he’s looking for citizens to fill it.
Notice how he describes the message:
“And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.” (Matthew 10:11-13)
Christ’s disciples were to offer the people peace. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ making peace between God and sinners. But he also offers a warning. Not everyone will accept that message of peace.
You can imagine how excited the apostles were to finally tell people about the kingdom. But Jesus didn’t want them rushing off with false expectations. In their minds, they may have assumed that everyone wants to hear good news. Don’t we?
You might think so, but that’s not always the case. Paul tells us why in Romans 8. He says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (Ro 8:7). The fact is, some will not receive you or listen to your words (Mt 10:14). In those cases, Jesus says, “Shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”
We can’t make someone believe. God alone possesses the power to change hearts.
As if rejection weren’t enough, it can get even worse. Jesus tells the apostles:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-19)
Look at verse 21: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Mt 10:21-22). Even family members will persecute family members because of their belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is on the heel of these warnings that Jesus says:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
The timeline of redemption is moving the world ever closer to the unity of all things, but we’re not there yet.
Paul tells Timothy, “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2Ti 3:1, 2, 4). We contend against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).
Put another way, divisions will remain so long as sin remains. Strife and conflicts will continue until Christ returns to destroy every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign, in heaven, that is, until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1Co 15:24-26).
That is what Jesus meant when he said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt 10:34). The peace he brings is limited in nature. Those who are worthy experience peace in their souls. Outwardly, however, the world will remain as fractured as ever, if not more so.
Plus, believers are prone to encounter the worst of the hostility. Look at Matthew 10:25.
Jesus says, “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,” speaking of himself, “how much more will they malign those of his household” (Mt 10:25). The masses crucified Jesus. We really shouldn’t expect any better treatment.
Why would anyone hate us? Assuming we follow the Bible’s prescriptions, Christians are the most peaceful people on earth. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus taught, “for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5:9).
The world hates us because they hate God. In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
God’s people have a convicting presence because we reflect the light of Christ, exposing people’s sin. When talking to Nicodemus, Jesus explained the problem this way:
“The light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19, 20)
I suppose that if we claimed to be Christians but threw away our moral compass and embraced sins as acceptable, then perhaps the world would love us as their own. But the genuine Christian can’t do that. We are to love what God loves and hate what God hates. As a result, the world hates us.
Believers and unbelievers live on two radically different planes. In Ephesians 2, Paul says that unbelievers are marching to the drum of Satan. They are children of wrath moving toward utter destruction. Believers, on the other hand, are made alive together with Christ (Eph 2:5). We are raised up with him and seated in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6).
In short, the sword of Christ divides believers from unbelievers. Eventually, God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and harmony. When Christ comes again, every last division will be permanently removed. But for now, the world remains broken in the midst of a spiritual battle between good and evil, truth and lies, and righteousness and unrighteousness.