Hard Sayings of Jesus by FF Bruce
NOT PEACE BUT A SWORD
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.”
- I came—it is an incidental revelation of something of Christ’s person—it is not an expression that would normally be used of anyone else’s coming into the world. He had an existence prior to His earthly birth, and His coming to earth was for a purpose.
- One thing is certain: Jesus did not advocate conflict. He taught His followers to offer no resistance or retaliation when they were attacked or ill-treated. “Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9). This means that God is the God of peace, so that those who seek peace and pursue it reflect His character.
- Jesus did come to bring peace. It is a peace that means the overcoming of sin and bringing in of the salvation of God. And that means war with evil and accordingly hostility against those who support the ways of wrong.
- The message which Jesus’ followers proclaimed in His name after His departure was called the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15) or the “word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19).
- It was called this not merely as a matter of doctrine but as a fact of experience.
- Individuals and groups formerly estranged from one another found themselves reconciled through their common devotion to Christ. Look at the makeup of the disciples for example.
- Jesus came to bring a sword. The sword is not literal, but it is an obvious symbol of conflict. It is a stern reminder of the fact that to follow one whom His followers delight in calling “The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) sometimes means disunity and conflict.
- A sword divides; so does the truth which Jesus came to bring.
- But when Jesus spoke of tension and conflict within a family, He probably spoke from personal experience.
- There are indications in the gospel story that some members of His own family had no sympathy with His ministry: the people who on one occasion tried to restrain Him by force because people were saying, “He is beside Himself” are called “His friends” in the RSV but more accurately His family in NEB (Mark 3:21). Of course, after His resurrection, Jesus’ family was on board with His ministry—1 Cor. 15:7.
- So, when Jesus said that He had come to bring “not peace but a sword,” He meant that this would be the effect of His coming, not what it was the purpose of His coming.
- Where one or two members of a family or other social group have accepted the Christian faith, this has repeated provoked opposition from other members.
- Paul, who seems to have experienced such opposition in his own family circle as a result of his conversion, makes provision for similar situations in the family life of his converts. See 1 Cor. 7:12-16.
- In this passage, Jesus was warning His followers that their allegiance to Him might cause conflict at home, and even expulsion from the family circle.
- Emotionally, for some who oppose Jesus do so passionately, as do those who become His followers. And where strong and opposed feelings are held, conflict is inevitable.
- It was well that they should be forewarned, for then they could not say, “We never expected that we should have to pay this price for following Him!”
SEEING & NOT PERCEIVING
Mark 4:10-12—When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’£”
- If the saying means what it seems to mean, then Jesus is telling his disciples that the purpose of His use of parables is that His hearers in general (those who are not His followers) may hear Him but not understand Him; and it is difficult to believe that this was so.
- Mark 4:11-12 is properly understood only in the context of the contemporaneous situation set forth in Ch. 3, where unbelief and opposition to Jesus is blatant.
- The fundamental secret, which is common to all of the parables, concerns the one who spoke them. It is the secret that in Jesus the Kingdom of God has begun to penetrate the experience of men. Accordingly, ch 4:11 Jesus was not thinking of the kingdom of God in any abstract sense, but of the Kingdom embodied in His own person.
- Unbelief makes every phase of that mission a riddle, something wholly alien to the perspective of man.
- It is plain that the saying is an adaptation of an Old Testament text, Isaiah 6:9-10. Should this commission be pressed to mean that Isaiah was ordered to go and tell the people to pay no heed to what they heard him say? Was it his prescribed duty to prevent them from hearing and understanding his message, and thus make it impossible for them to repent and so escape the destruction that would otherwise overtake them?
- No indeed; if that impression is given, it is simply due to the Hebrew tendency to express a consequence as though it were a purpose.
- The citation of Isaiah 6:9-10 does not mean that “those outside” are denied the possibility of belief. It indicates that they are excluded from the opportunity of being further instructed in the secret of the Kingdom so long as unbelief continues.
- Jesus presence therefore means disclosure and veiling; it releases both grace and judgment.
- Isaiah volunteers to be God’s messenger to his people, and God takes him at his word, but says to him in effect, “Go and deliver my message, but don’t expect them to pay any attention to it. . .” In the event, this is exactly what Isaiah was to experience for the next forty years.
- Isaiah’s experience was reproduced in Jesus’ ministry. For all the enthusiasm which greeted His ministry in its earlier phase, He had later on to lament the unbelief with which He met in the very places where most of His mighty works had been done.
- Jesus might well have applied the words of Isaiah 6:9-10 to the effect (not, of course, to the purpose) of His own ministry.
- At the end of the Isaiah quotation the verb used is “be healed.” It is so in the Hebrew text and it is so in the Greek version (the Septuagint). The Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew lesson was originally written in the synagogue by word of mouth. Perhaps, then, “be forgiven” is due not to Mark but to Jesus; speaking in Aramaic, He alluded to the Aramaic wording of the Isaiah passage.
- Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and made plain the far-reaching implications of its arrival.
- This was a “mystery” in the sense that it had not been disclosed in this form before: Jesus revealed it in His ministry.
- Among His hearers there were some whose minds were open to His teachings; they grasped its meaning and appreciated the point of His parables. There were others whose minds were closed.
- Others could not take His message in, and so they could not profit from it. The more He spoke and acted among them, the less responsive they became. And they were in the majority.
- Only a few, relatively speaking, embraced the good news of the kingdom, but for their sake it was worthwhile making it known.
- If the saying is understood in this sense, its relevance to the context, immediately after the parable of the sower, should be clear. The sower scattered the good seed broadcast, but only a quarter of it yielded a crop, because of the poor soil on which the rest of it fell—the hard-beaten path, the thorn-infested ground, the shallow skin of earth on top of the rock.
- But the harvest that sprang up from the good and fertile ground meant that the labor of sowing was by no means in vain—quite the contrary.
- The gain derived from those “who hear the word and accept it” more than outweighs the loss incurred through those who turn away.