Questions From Readers
● According to Luke 22:37, Jesus was to be “reckoned with lawless ones,” in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. Are Christ’s disciples to be viewed as the “lawless ones” because some were carrying swords?—A. F., U.S.A.
No, it does not appear that Jesus’ followers, even though they had two swords at that time, were the “lawless ones.” Rather, this portion of Isaiah 53:12 was fulfilled when he was impaled between two criminals. By examining the context of Jesus’ words we can better understand the point he was making. Luke 22:35-38 reads:
“He also said to them: ‘When I sent you forth without purse and food pouch and sandals, you did not want for anything, did you?’ They said: ‘No!’ Then he said to them: ‘But now let the one that has a purse take it up, likewise also a food pouch; and let the one having no sword sell his outer garment and buy one. For I tell you that this which is written must be accomplished in me, namely, “And he was reckoned with lawless ones.” For that which concerns me is having an accomplishment.’ Then they said: ‘Lord, look! here are two swords.’ He said to them: ‘It is enough.’”
The Lord was spending his last night with the disciples before his death. He realized that, once he was arrested and executed, conditions would change for them. When he had sent them out before, they had been welcomed and provided for by the people, but, in general, things were going to be more difficult now. (Mark 6:7-11) From this time forward they would not be welcomed by the majority, but would be rejected and scorned. Consequently, they would have to make some provisions for themselves.
After stating what their situation would be in the future, Jesus explained to his disciples why things were going to change; he gave them the reason. It was because he was to be killed, taken away like a transgressor and executed with lawless ones in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12. The “lawless ones” were not the disciples to whom he was speaking, but, instead, were the evildoers between whom Jesus was impaled. (Matt. 27:38) Some manuscripts have a verse inserted in Mark 15 directly linking these evildoers with the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12; but older and more reliable Bible manuscripts omit Mark 15:28.
After Jesus provided the explanation of why the disciples could expect problems ahead, Jesus’ followers commented: “Lord, look! here are two swords.” Not that Jesus’ followers customarily carried swords, but on this occasion they were provided. In mentioning a sword to them, Jesus was not recommending that they arm themselves for attack. Quite the opposite! His next words showed he had something else in mind and that he was using the swords to teach his followers an important lesson.
Shortly he was going to be arrested by an armed band, including Roman soldiers; and the circumstances could provoke armed resistance. (Matt. 26:47; John 18:12) In order to accomplish what was prophesied, however, Jesus chose not to resort to armed resistance but voluntarily allowed himself to be seized. The two swords would not be enough to defend the group victoriously against the mob, but they would be enough for the purpose of teaching a lesson, to emphasize that Jesus was submitting of his own will, freely, and not violently resisting, as his group was equipped to do. (John 18:11, 36) When Peter impetuously drew his sword and cut off the ear of the slave Malchus, Jesus reprimanded him. He said that “those who take the sword will perish by the sword”; besides, if he wanted to he could have called on the angels for help. (Matt. 26:52, 53) But that was not what he wanted. As shown by his not engaging the two swords for defense, Jesus was willingly giving himself to die on the stake between two “lawless ones.” As for Jesus’ faithful followers, they had learned their lesson well, so that Justin Martyr wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew (155-160 C.E.): “We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage.”