Luke 22:35–38: Scripture Must Be Fulfilled in Jesus
So this is a weird passage, that I’m not fully sure how to interpret. Luckily (for my ego), the ESV Study Bible doesn’t seem 100% sure how to interpret it either, so I don’t have to feel dumb.
Here’s the passage in its entirety:
And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (verses 35–38)
Jesus seems to be preparing his disciples for life after he’s gone, but on the surface some of the things he says sound a bit… worldly. Earlier he’d sent them out with no money, which we could interpret as requiring them to have faith, but now he’s telling them that they should start bringing their money with them—not to mention swords to protect themselves with! Does that mean they don’t need to have faith anymore? And do Jesus’ followers need to be prepared to literally fight? (The aforementioned ESV Study Bible notes spend most of their thoughts on this passage listing out various points and counterpoints as to whether Jesus is being literal or figurative when he talks about a “sword.”)
I think this passage is another instance of Jesus trying to get his followers used to the idea that Jesus was mistreated and maligned, and his followers will be too. The religious leaders of the day didn’t take Jesus’ message seriously, and most people today, 2,000 years later, still don’t. Jesus was accused of many false things, and 2,000 years later is still accused of false things, as are His followers. (Lest we start feeling self-righteous, Jesus’ followers are also guilty of many things, too; harm has been done to the world in His name, and continues to be done. We’re far from blameless, regardless of the world’s motives for calling it out.)
The main point Jesus seems to be making is that Scripture about himself must be fulfilled; he specifically quotes part of Isaiah 53:12, but I think the entire verse is applicable to Jesus:
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.
(Actually the entire chapter of Isaiah 53 is pretty relevant to Jesus. Remember that the Scriptures didn’t have “chapters” or “verses” in Jesus’ day, that came hundreds of years later, so Jesus wouldn’t have thought of himself as quoting “part of a verse,” he was just quoting part of the Scriptures.)
There’s a sense in which the Scripture Jesus quoted was directly fulfilled on the cross: He was numbered with the transgressors. When he was crucified there were two men crucified with him who were actually guilty of the crimes they were accused of. But there’s another sense in which this still happens: when people talk about the problems that “religion” causes in the world, Christianity is lumped in with that. And it’s true, as I mentioned above, that Christians throughout the last couple of thousand years have been guilty of doing terrible things. But even though the ones doing those things were claiming to be doing them in the name of Christianity, they were wrong; those things were actually perversions of Christianity. Christianity is different from religions and belief systems that exist across the world. But it will always be numbered with them, whether it should be or not. We’ll have to deal with that.
So my take on this passage is that Jesus is not literally telling the Apostles to start getting their money together and buying swords, this is just his way of saying that trouble is coming, and we should be prepared for it. “Moneybags” and “swords” are metaphors for the fact that Christians need to be prepared, they’re not literally the way that we’re prepared.