Jesus’ teachings often perplexed His listeners, and that hasn’t changed today. The modern Bible reader gets stumped by some puzzling and seemingly offensive statements, such as Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword? What’s going on? We call Him the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus also had a lot to say on loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27–28), forgiveness (Matthew 6:14–15; 18:21–22; Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37), and non-retaliation (Matthew 5:38–39, 44; Luke 6:27–29). He also cautioned Peter when Peter struck a soldier’s servant, telling him, “Put away your sword” (Matthew 26:52, NLT). How do we then understand the words “I came not to bring peace, but a sword”?
This difficult statement becomes clearer when we examine the surrounding verses. Those who use Jesus’ statement that He came not to bring peace but a sword to undermine the Lord’s credibility must ignore the full teachings of Scriptures and take the verse out of context.
Matthew 10 begins with Jesus sending His disciples on a mission, providing them with instructions and crucial information. He tells them to focus on Israel (Matthew 10:6), perform miracles (verse 8), proclaim the arrival of the kingdom (verse 7), etc. He also warns that they will be hated because of Him (verse 22).
In this chapter, Jesus reveals a conflict between those who believe in Him and those who don’t—a conflict that is still evident in our world. The cross reconciles humanity with God, but among humans there will be a divide, as not everyone will sign up for Team Jesus. While we’re called to pursue peace (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14), we must understand the separation Jesus brings.
Jesus is and always has been a polarizing figure. The Pharisees were divided about who He was (John 9:16). Among the crowds who heard Jesus speak, “some said, ‘He is a good man.’ Others replied, ‘No, he deceives the people’” (John 7:12). There was a variety of opinion on His identity, as the disciples reported: “Some say [You are] John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).
Truth, by its very nature, is separate from untruth. The sword of truth that Jesus wields divides even family members: “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—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:35–36, quoting Micah 7:6). Due to people’s acceptance or rejection of the truth, Jesus was correct in saying He came to bring not peace, but a sword.
Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions in 2 Corinthians 6:14–16 that confirm that Jesus had not come to bring peace, but a sword: “What do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24); to pick up one’s cross and follow Christ is to turn one’s back on the world.
The Christian Post once featured an article on the late apologist Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi described his conversion from Islam to Christianity as “the most difficult decision” in his life. He further expressed, “I asked God to kill me because I lost my family. I lost my friends in the mosque. I lost all the people who loved me the moment I became Christian” (Smith, S., “Former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi Prayed for God to Kill Him After Converting to Christianity,” July 19, 2016). This type of shunning is an example of the truth of Matthew 10:34 and is a struggle faced by many ex-Muslims.
In a “Christian culture,” fully committing to Christ can also bring about a sword. The devout follower of Jesus may be taunted, termed “holier than thou,” misunderstood, or embarrassed. Even in the best scenarios, the lifestyle of a genuine Christian differs from that of someone who merely professes the religion.
Identifying with Jesus comes at a great cost. It requires a reordering of priorities, self-denial, and the potential separation from loved ones. Just as a spouse desires full commitment, Jesus demands the same. The best part is, He initiated the covenant by shedding His blood for our sin. He made the first move, and the Holy Spirit empowers us even as we respond.
The statement, “I came not to bring peace but a sword,” should bring comfort to those walking a path similar to that of Qureshi. Nothing catches God by surprise, and the persecutions faced by Christians in this life will ultimately lead to glory. If Jesus already knew the divisive impact He would have, then we can trust that He knows what He is doing. In the meantime, we pray for our unsaved loved ones, seek opportunities to evangelize, and live lives that glorify God.