“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
It is a difficult passage to understand. Jesus Christ doesn’t talk peace he talks about a sword! Here we will examine what two of the greatest Bible expositors of all times, Adam Clarke and John Gills have to say what this passage found in Matthew means. But the most fascinating aspect is what they don’t talk about which is time! But we will!
Peace and a Sword
The great 18th century Bible expositor Adam Clarke focuses on the word “Peace” in this passage. Clarke says, “The meaning of this difficult passage will be plain, when we consider the import of the word peace, and the expectation of the Jews”.
Clarke goes on to explain that the word peace or “Shalom” used by the Jews expressed, “All possible blessings, temporal and spiritual; but especially the former. The expectation of the Jews was that, when the Messiah should come, all temporal prosperity should be accumulated on the land of Judea.
Clarke continues on to explain that Jesus didn’t come for “temporal prosperity” as the Jews of the time thought the Messiah would do. Jesus had come to send forth a Roman sword to, “cut off a disobedient and rebellious nation, the cup of whose iniquity is already full, and whose crimes cry aloud for speedy vengeance”.
The expositor notes that from the point the Jews rejected Jesus Christ, “they were a prey to the most cruel and destructive factions; they employed their time in butchering one another, till the Roman sword was unsheathed against them, and desolated the land” (Adam Clarke).
John Gills, another 18th century Bible scholar and student of Charles Spurgeon focuses on the word “sword” in the passage.
“By the “sword” may be meant the Gospel, which is the means of dividing and separating the people of Christ from the men of the world, and from their principles and practices, and one relation from another; as also of divisions, discords, and persecutions arising from it: not that it was the intention and design of Christ, in coming into the world, to foment and encourage such things; but this, through the malice and wickedness of men, was eventually the effect and consequence of his coming” (John Gills).
John Gills takes into account Luke’s telling of the same verse where the word of God would divide and separate man.
“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Luke 12:51)
The difference these two great bible scholars make in interpreting this passage from Matthew goes beyond which word they both chose to focus on. Clarke expanded upon “Peace” while Gills focused on the word, “Sword”. But the primary difference between the expositions of these two is that Clarke dealt with Forth telling and Gills dealt with Foretelling.
Understanding forth telling and foretelling is essential to understanding the Bible in its entirety. For the Bible will deal in two basic time periods. Therefore each message has an application for each of these times. More specifically, forth telling deals with “telling forth” of some event or happening within the time frame of it being told. Foretelling is a prophecy of a future event. Often times, such as the passage from Jesus Christ it is both. What was not intended by our expositors is that Adam Clarke gave an interpretation of forth telling (the Romans) and John Gills gave one as foretelling (How the word will divide). Adam Clarke’s interpretation doesn’t apply today while John Gills does.
Whenever we read the Bible, be it Old Testament or New, we need to keep in mind the concepts of forth telling and foretelling. When understood we realize that the Bible, all of the Bible is applicable today and every day on into the future.
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