Q: “I have been studying what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. There are a couple of parts that I have stumbled over. I realize that this may be a two-part question, but I hope you will answer both of them. The first one is found in Luke 9:60. What did Jesus mean when He instructed the one man to, “let the dead bury the dead,” and then exhorted him to go forth to preach the kingdom of God? The other question is about what Jesus said in Luke 22:35-36. When He first sent out His disciples it was without purse, supplies, and shoes, but before His crucifixion Jesus made this statement, “But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it and likewise his script: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” These two statements are a bit confusing to me, especially the last one where Jesus also stated that those who live by the sword would die by it. It does not make sense that He would change His instructions.”
A: As always there are different takes on Jesus’ statements. The first one was clearly in relationship to following Him into a consecrated sold out life. Jesus will always put his finger on those things that would cause any of His followers to look back at the old life, preventing them from finishing the course set before them. Often those things that can cause a follower of Jesus to fail his calling or take detours have to do with worldly lifestyles and obligations. These lifestyles and obligations can create misdirected loyalties and cause followers of Christ to miss their high calling, as well as small windows of opportunity to truly be about the Lord’s work.
Your question is in regard to the second statement made to a person seeking to be His disciple. It is important to consider Jesus’ first response to one seeking to follow Him. His first reply was in regard to what some would consider normalcy as far as having your own home. Jesus did not have His own place where He could lay His head, revealing that sometimes the heavenly call requires a person to leave behind what is considered normal and rightfully his or hers to pursue. This pointed out that the disciplined life of a disciple would not be in line with what the world considers a “normal lifestyle,” and would speak of that which would be considered out of the norm.
In the situation that you made reference to, the second individual was asking Jesus whether he could finish up what were considered to be personal obligations before following Him. His request to bury his father was honorable but not practical. Most believe this man’s father was not yet dead. In essence, he would have been waiting around for his death to happen first so he could be assured of carrying out his obligation. It is for this reason Jesus challenged him to be about the kingdom’s business of offering the message of life. Most of the activities surrounding a person’s death are attached to worldly practices, and those of the world are for the most part dead in their sins. Jesus was saying in short, let those who are dead to the things of God oversee the activities of the world, but you need to be about my business.
In the second incident you asked about there were specific instructions to the disciples when they were first sent forth by Jesus. In their three years of following Jesus, He had been the source of His disciples’ training, needs, and leadership, but the cross and His death, burial, and ascension was before Him. Clearly, the dynamics were changing, and I think this was Jesus’ way of bringing a sobering point home to them, mainly that changes were occurring and they had to be prepared.
Clearly, sticking with the literal meaning of this instruction would cause confusion. This brings us to understanding the principles being promoted. A person never leaves home unless he or she has the means to sustain him or herself. It is clear that for the most part, the Disciples of Christ were provided for, because those who lived by the Gospel were to be supported by it; but, no doubt they were being encouraged to carry what they needed to avoid being a burden to others. Paul did tent making so he would not be a burden to the Thessalonians while serving as an example (Acts 18:3; 1 Corinthians 9:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). We also saw in the case of Peter and John in Acts 3 when they encountered the lame beggar that they admitted they had no silver and gold to give, but what they had to offer was Jesus Christ of Nazareth who could heal him. Therefore, the idea of a purse could also point to carrying the real spiritual treasure with them, ever being prepared to offer the Pearl of Great Price to whosoever was seeking for heaven’s true riches.
According to Strong’s Concordance, the script was a wallet or leather pouch in which they could carry food. Once again, these disciples had to travel everywhere on foot. It would be practical for them to now carry food with them as they fulfilled the great commission to take the Gospel to the whole known world. We also must remember that the Apostle Paul instructed Christians to shod their feet with the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15). They were to shore up and ensure their walk in a spiritual way, and be prepared to advance forward with the real bread and meat from heaven.
There is nowhere in Scripture where it is recorded that the disciples actually picked up a literal sword and carried it with them. At this point in time I think it would be safe to say that Jesus was preparing His disciples to realize that a great spiritual battle was before them and that they must be prepared to fight a good fight. He warned them before He sent them forth the first time that He was sending them as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). As the great Shepherd, He would ensure their safety and well-being. However, once Jesus was physically gone, they had to learn how to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves, knowing that they would be delivered up to their enemies where they would be used as witnesses for His sake (Matthew 10:16-19). This shows the attitude of meekness and not the aggression of a warrior with a physical sword to swing.
We know that when it comes to the armor of God, the Word of God serves as the sword. Jesus made reference to the truth being a sharp sword that would even divide family members and the writer of Hebrews reminds us how effective and powerful God’s Word is. It is an offensive weapon and not a defensive one (Matthew 10:34-39; Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).
When we consider confusing statements we need to ask the Lord to give us clarity about the intent and purpose for such statements. The way you can test something as to whether a conclusion is correct is whether the subject lines up with the complete counsel of the teachings and examples found in God’s Word.