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So of course this phrase, that is found nowhere in the Bible, is in reference to Matthew 26:52 which actually says

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all [πάντες] who take the sword will perish by the sword.
-The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 26:52). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Normally when I hear this verse referenced it is treated as a proverb enduring for all ages.
So, Instead of a proverb, would it make more sense to interpret it as a highly contextualized statement really only applicable to the circumstances that Jesus and his disciples faced? (Especially since so many Biblical characters who took up the sword did not themselves die a violent death)

Should this verse instead be interpreted as something along the following lines?

Put back your sword.
For all (of you/my disciples) who try to fight your/their way out of this with a sword,
will only manage to get yourselves/themselves killed with a sword.


Update based on responses received so far
In addition to the above, answers should address the following scriptural matters in responding to this question:

  1. Why specifically must "all" in Matthew 26:52 relate to all humans or all Christians or simply the disciples to whom he was speaking when we acknowledging that sometimes "all" means "all" and sometimes Jesus will only use the word "all" in Greek while translators will add "of you" (those he is speaking to) even though those specific words aren't found in the Greek (see John 13:11 & Mark 7:14)
  • Mark 7:14 14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you [πάντες], and understand:
  • John 13:10-11 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you [πάντες].” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you [πάντες] are clean.”
  1. If you interpret this to apply to all humans or all Christians how do you square that interpretation with Romans 13:3-4.

Romans 13:3-4 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.

  1. Would your interpretation imply that it would be wrong for Christians to serve as God's servants in law enforcement or the military?
  2. Will all those in law enforcement or the military who make their living with the sword necessarily die by the sword?
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  • a good question, but a big problem with the passage (couple of examples) - “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34); Luke 22:36 - 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Sep 9 at 12:06
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The "all" in "all who takes sword" must relate to all mankind, rather than contextual direct disciples. But, of course the immediate context also matters, for had the disciples fought for Him, they would be fully outnumbered by enraged Jews and Roman police and put to death either during fight, or executed after the lost fight. It also applies to all the Jews who were always prone to revolt against the Romans, which revolt would have been disastrous for them, and was proven indeed disastrous in 70 AD when Jerusalem was razed by Romans.

However, this phrase has also universal and eternal significance, for it means that when we are wronged, it is because of some spiritual malady of our harmers and wrongdoers - either their ignorance, or their hatred, or their cruelty, or a selfish interest, or all that together - and it is impossible to cure this spiritual malady by a physical violence, but only by compassion. Otherwise the Lord Himself could call thousands of angels, each single of whom could destroy hundreds of thousand of armed men (1 Kings 19:35), and eliminate not only His enemy Jews, but also the entire Roman regiment in Israel, and the very Roman Emperor himself, easily. But He teaches not to hate evil persons, for the only thing they deserve is a compassion for their being oppressed by evil passion and demons who immediately light upon our evil passions as flies on a honey. Yes, our sinful dispositions are honey attracting demons and how many of us are luxurious homes for those fallen and malicious spirits, even if we try to look happy and broadly smiling on selfies, yes, very happy and very smiling. As one said, "the modern epoch is an epoch of happy selfies of unhappy people", and jubilant demons, I would add.

Thus, not "sword", that is to say, hatred and physical vengeance, but compassion is necessary, for unless we disentangle an evil person from evil that oppresses him, we shall not enter the eternal Kingdom of Christ, because He has compassion on all evil people and desires nothing but their repentance which would enable Him to cleanse them from all iniquities. Thus, how can we be in His eternal Kingdom, if we shall nurture hatred towards evil people and wish not them to repent. Of course it is impossible for us to do, but only by depriving ourselves of the sweetest of all passions, sweeter than even the passion of greed for money and sweeter than even sex, I mean, the passion of vengeance. How many of us, me included, say big NO to the Lord in order to keep this self-damaging sweetness in our souls, or at least we say to Him: "Not yet!"

Now, why and how shall we be destroyed by "sword", i.e. our own vindictive disposition? Because we shall be paid by the same coin by others and lose a chance to be treated compassionately by those whom we also have treated mercilessly. More than that, even if we eliminate all our wrongdoers by sword, still we shall be destroyed, because, we shall not be able to forgive ourselves when we shall fall into the same sin and wrongdoing, for which we have punished others mercilessly, for our conscience will not allow us to forgive ourselves saying to us: "you want easily to forgive yourself having watched pornography, but do not you remember how have you publicly ridiculed and publicly killed reputation of your neighbor for doing just the same?" And such a pang of conscience will drop you to a despair, that metaphorically can be called "being destroyed by sword".

In short, the context of those words of the Lord is eternity and universality.

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  • Why must "All" relate to all of mankind? You simply assert this but don't support this which underpins the entire question. Note that Jesus uses "all" to mean all of you in John 13:10-11. You plural is added in most every translation even though it's not there in the original Greek. Same thing in Mark 7:14.
    – Austin
    Aug 13 at 17:04
  • @Austin In this particular passage only grammatically it can be a) either only disciples or b) in a broader sense, all humans; it cannot be decided on simply grammatical grounds. Thus, as St Augustine says, in such cases you can venture any theologically plausible interpretation, for the inspired text is pregnant with many meanings. If my interpretations are truthful, then it was divine providence that they were born through my comment and so this by itself well proves that the Lord’s words have larger outreach than just contextual, having relevance only for the 12+ perhaps also 70 disciples. Aug 14 at 11:18
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    Ok. Thanks for walking me through that.
    – Austin
    Aug 14 at 15:25
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How to interpret “All who live by the sword, die by the sword…”

The Chief Priest Caiaphas sent soldiers in the cover of the night to arrest Jesus, Jesus aware of this contemptible scheme, asks his apostles to get some swords.(Two swords were enough to teach them a lesson. Luke 22:36-38) When the mob of soldiers came later in the night to arrest Jesus, Peter incensed by the injustice, used a sword to cut the ear of the slave of the High Priest. Jesus said to him. "Put your sword into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)

Conclusion.

1/ Fighting injustice was to be left to God.."

John 17:16 NET

"They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world

John 18:36 NET

36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

2/ Put back your sword.

For all Christians --"not just the disciples"-- who try to fight their way out with a sword, will only manage to get themselves killed with a sword. Jesus indicated that Christians are not to resort to weapons or physical violence.

Matthew 28:16-19 NET

The Great Commission

16 So the eleven disciples went to Galilee to the mountain Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you[ad] always, to the end of the age.”

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How to interpret “All who live by the sword, die by the sword…”

The Watchtower January 1, 2005 article entitled "Hold to the Pattern Jesus Set" gives us an explanation of this scripture:

18Jesus’ apostles saw the world’s intense hatred when Jesus was arrested and executed, and they saw how Jesus handled that hatred. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ religious opponents came to arrest him. Peter tried to protect him with a sword, but Jesus said to Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52; Luke 22:50, 51) In earlier times, Israelites fought with the sword against their enemies. Now, though, things were different. God’s Kingdom was “no part of this world” and had no national boundaries to protect. (John 18:36) Soon Peter would be part of a spiritual nation, whose members would have their citizenship in heaven. (Galatians 6:16; Philippians 3:20, 21) Henceforth, then, Jesus’ followers would handle hatred and persecution the way Jesus did​—fearlessly but peaceably. They would confidently leave the outcome of matters in Jehovah’s hands and rely on him for the strength to endure.​Luke 22:42.(bold mine)

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  • What about Romans 13:3-4 ? Do you really interpret Matthew 26:52 to mean that Christians are not allowed to join law enforcement and the military? That seems to be the logical conclusion of your case here.
    – Austin
    Aug 13 at 17:07
  • I personally would not join law enforcement or the military. Each individual has to make their own decision on these kinds of matters. But for reference, see the article "Army" in the Insight on the Scriptures for more information.
    – agarza
    Aug 13 at 17:16
  • Thanks for that. I find it hard to square the idea that Christians should not be law enforcers whom the Holy Spirit describes as God's servant for good. I could understand not being involved in the corrupt governments along with the early Christians during their time, but I think that the American law enforcement principles have been sufficiently "Christianized" such that I can't see a Biblical problem with Christian involvement with most local law enforcement. I do have my problems with law enforcement on the national level.
    – Austin
    Aug 13 at 17:46
  • Jesus was an enforcer - John 2:15 So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle. He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. & “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and kill them in front of me.” (Luke 19:27) Sep 9 at 12:14
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This verse is similar to Gal 5.13-14 (ESV):

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

To understand the similarity, let's look at the passage in context (Matt 26.51-53 LEB):

And behold, one of those with Jesus extended his hand and drew his sword, and striking the slave of the high priest, cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place! For all who take up the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot call upon my Father, and he would put at my disposal at once more than twelve legions of angels?

Christ was saying that he could have used his own prerogative as the Father's son to destroy his enemies. But he chose instead to be obedient to the will of the Father, understanding that what was happening to him was a trial, a test of his obedience, and that his suffering was the will of God. This is the pattern that his disciples are to follow. The warfare is spiritual, not physical. Our home is not in this world, but in Heaven. When we take up arms (e.g. physical swords) to defend our prerogatives, then we are showing that our home is on earth, not in Heaven, and so we are subject to the fate of those who live on earth, which is to be destroyed by the sword that comes out of Christ's mouth.

Col 3.1-11 LEB:

Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory. Therefore put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire, and greediness, which is idolatry, because of which the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which also you once lived, when you used to live in them. But now you also lay aside all these things: anger, rage, wickedness, slander, abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, because you have taken off the old man together with his deeds, and have put on the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all, and in all.

If we truly believe that Christ is all and in all, then what purpose could we possibly have for taking up a sword?

Rev 8.13 KJV

And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the other voices of the trumpets of the three other angels, which are yet to sound!

So if we are still fighting earthly battles, that means we are denying the Lordship of Christ over all things, and are thus at war with him. Then we are doomed to die by his sword:

Rev 19.19-21 ESV

And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presencee had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

That is, the earth, and all who dwell on the earth, are doomed to destruction. So do not live on the earth, which means, as a consequence, not to get entangled in the battles of the earth, even when this means resisting a legion coming to arrest you unjustly.

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Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. (Matthew 26:52, KJV)

Jesus' words apply to all, and all will die by the sword: the question is, which sword?

Remember, God's Word is also likened to a sword and even called a sword.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (Ephesians 6:17, KJV)

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12, KJV)

Now consider the message God gave His prophet Elijah.

And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. (1 Kings 19:17, KJV)

Elijah, to whom this prophecy was given, killed 850 prophets of Baal and prophets of the groves (see 1 Kings 18:19,40) by the sword, in accordance with God's will and for God's honor. But whom did his successor, Elisha, slay?

We have no record of Elisha having ever slain anyone, nor even having used a sword. To what sword, then, does this cryptic text refer?

It can only be the sword of the spirit. Remember, to Elisha was given a double portion of the spirit that Elijah had had (think two-edged sword).

And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. (2 Kings 2:9, KJV; see also vss. 10-15).

Elisha clearly had "the sword of the spirit."

Hazael was a foreigner who brutally killed many of the Israelites; representing those who follow the principles of violence and force. Jehu was an Israelite who turned his sword against his own people and their leadership; representing those who are rebellious and critical. Elisha had a sword of a different spirit than theirs; representing the meek which shall inherit the earth.

Those who die by the sword of the spirit are those who die to self, like Paul, who said ". . . I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31, KJV).

Whichever sword we choose to live by will be the sword by which we die. However, we get to choose which one it will be.

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