Those words of Jesus are found in Matthew 10:34. The entire text of verses 34 to 36 reads as follows:
Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be those of his own household
Jesus spoke about peace, a sword, and enemies. For some, these words of our Lord are hard to understand. Others find them difficult to accept. Yet others consider them challenging to apply.
So, the Master said that He did not come to bring peace. And yet, He is called “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Again, the Bible says that “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Through His servants “He came and preached peace” (Ephesians 2:17). His message is described as “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Furthermore, His kingdom is a kingdom of peace (Romans 14:17).
The above truths show the obvious connection between the Christ and peace. He wants people to be at peace with their Creator. He wants people to be at peace with one another, even declaring that those who are peacemakers are happy/blessed (Matthew 5:9). He also wants every human to have the peace of God that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). “Yes,” a hundred times, “Yes,” Jesus is “for” peace.
If that is true, then why would He say that He did not come to bring peace but a sword? Great question. In fact, the purpose of His coming was to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) – by so doing, He provides saved people with genuine peace. However, the consequence of His coming is that in some cases, there is turmoil, division, and conflict. Make this note to yourself: there is a huge difference between His purpose in coming and the consequence(s) of His coming.
That brings us to Jesus’ “sword” statement. He said that He came to bring “a sword.” That language is used as a symbol of division/conflict. In fact, because of Jesus and what He did for humanity, we could say that His coming brought about both peace and conflict. For those who follow His teachings, there is peace. When non-followers oppose His teaching or faithful servants, there is conflict. There was conflict between Stephen and the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 7). That conflict led to Stephen’s death. There was conflict between the apostle Paul and idol worshippers, Paul and prejudiced Jews, and Paul and false teachers within the church.
It is clear, though, that the “sword” issue about which we read in Matthew 10:34-36 involves conflict or division within a family unit. Jesus talked about children being against parents, as well as mother-in-law being in non-peaceful relations with a daughter-in-law.
What exactly is the cause of such conflicts? Some people are committed to following Jesus; others are not. There can be daily tension in such family settings, with exchanges of words which leave neither “side” happy and satisfied with the situation. We have witnessed cases of it – some non-Christian family members antagonizing, berating, and despising God’s children and their choices. The conflict is unmistakable. Such division is real, and it is not pleasant. It can escalate to the point of physical abuse or causing family members to choose not to live together.
In another passage, we read that Jesus gave a specific illustration of the division/conflict which He had in mind, saying, “For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three” (Luke 12:52). These statements simply emphasize that in those families in which some are Jesus’ disciples and some are not, there will be real division. In fact, back in our original text, we find that Jesus said a person’s enemies will come from His own household (Matthew 10:36).
Does our Lord want us to love our families? Sure. We are to treat them with kindness and respect. But, the reality is, they may in some fashion oppose our efforts to serve King Jesus and put His Cause first in our lives (Matthew 6:33). When such opposition comes, our allegiance must be to our Lord, loving Him above any and all earthly ties (Matthew 10:37) and being prepared to submit to His will, regardless of the consequences that we might have to face with unhappy family members.
The Christ did not come with the intent of making enemies. Nor should we seek out trouble and conflict in our relations with family and friends. At the same time, though, let us be committed to seeking peace with God and serving Him without compromise. He will bless us for such devotion!
— Roger D. Campbell