If these verses were taken literally and in isolation, it would seem to promote violence. However, Jesus never contradicts Himself. Compare the Matthew passage with His words in John 18:16, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight….” Also Matthew 26:52 (NLT), “ ‘Put away your sword,’ Jesus told him. ‘Those who use the sword will die by the sword.’”
Christ’s apostle, Paul, explains that God’s sword is symbolic. Ephesians 6:17, “And take the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” He further elaborates this symbol in Hebrews 4:12 (NLT), “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
When the sword of the Word of God is used, it often brings division among those who agree and disagree. Jesus knew this would be the result. He also knew that sharing these truths, wielding this sword, might cost a Christian his life.
Christians rejoice to tell others about God’s loving plan for all. We are willing to suffer and even to lose our life spreading God’s truth, rather than to be silent. Thus, we are not “saving” our human lives. Instead, we lose our lives in His service. Revelation 2:10, “Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Christians imitate Christ’s life of sacrifice and cross-bearing. “He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me,” Matthew 10:38. To follow Jesus is to live the life He led. He spent His entire ministry in the service of others and in the preaching of the Gospel. He preached love, not violence. But His gracious words did ultimately cause others to hate Him and to crucify Him.