Not peace, but a sword

One of the most intriguing ideas that I have come across so far in Simon Gathercole’s The Pre-existent Son has to do with Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” It is for Gathercole another example of how the formula “I have come + purpose clause” indicates something about Jesus’ heavenly status, based on similar language on the lips of angels and other heavenly beings in the Old Testament and later Judaism. The “I have come” sayings of Jesus speak about the purpose of Jesus’ entire mission here on earth, not just his “coming on the scene,” so to speak. In this particular case, Jesus sets up a contrast between peace and divine judgment. Gathercole notes three textual examples in which a heavenly figure uses the “I have come” language while brandishing a sword of judgment:

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the road, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed down, falling on his face. The angel of the Lord said to him, “…I have come forth as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me…” (Num. 22:31-32)

Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand…He said, “…As commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Josh. 5:13-14)

David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem… (1 Chron. 21:16)

Gathercole notes in relation to these texts:

Jesus’ coming with a sword might well reinforce the idea that he is portrayed in Matthew 10 as a heavenly figure, perhaps even–although the idea remains in the realm of mere possibility–that Matthew is portraying Jesus as the Angel of the Lord.

Hardly a “mere possibility” in my opinion, especially in view of the work that Charles Gieschen has done in Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence in which he shows quite conclusively that the Angel of the Lord is none other than the pre-incarnate Son of God. Nevertheless, it is a striking similarity, and may indeed tell us something of Jesus’ heavenly identity, even his pre-existence.

Just as remarkable is the potential “Elijah-Christology” that these words bring up. Gathercole notes that in Jewish statements about the advent of the future, heavenly Elijah, this figure will bring peace to the world (m. ‘Eduyoth 8.7). Is it possible that Jesus is drawing a distinction between Himself and the Jewish idea of the heavenly Elijah, as if to say, “You have heard it said that the future Elijah will bring peace, but I say to you…” Thus Jesus says: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”

I highly recommend obtaining this book, as I think it opens up a world of possibilities with regard to how we understand certain formulaic sayings of Jesus, and the Biblical roots of Jesus’ identity.


About Rev. Paul L. Beisel

Graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN in 2001 (M Div.) and 2004 (S.T.M.); LC-MS Pastor and Adjunct Instructor for John Wood Community College; Husband of Amy and father of Susan, Elizabeth, Martin, and Theodore.
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