31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.”
The story of Peter’s betrayal is included in all four gospels. Peter set the example himself including it in his reminiscence with John Mark who penned the gospel of Mark, which is generally accepted these days as the first written gospel.
It appears to be a pivotal moment in the disciple’s life. Prior to this night, Peter had been self-assured, confident, and cocky. Earlier that night, he had been participating in the disciples’ favorite discussion topic: who would be the second-in-command. Given his status as first among equals, Peter probably felt he deserved that spot more than any of them.
After tonight, you’ll see a more humble man. One who still takes a leadership role, but it is a leadership modeled after Jesus Christ. It is a leadership through service.
In the vein of the book of Job, Jesus tells Peter that the Devil has personally asked God to let him destroy Peter. The idea of sifting wheat was to throw a bunch of wheat into the air. It was removing the security of the pack, removing the security of the ground on which he stood, and throwing his life into a tumult. He would be adrift and battered by events, like the wheat was caught and battered by the wind.
Peter would be stripped of everything in a painful, uncertain, and scary process, nothing but the core would remain.
But in the midst of bad news, Jesus tells Peter two things: he will survive and he will come back. And when he does come back, take care and encourage the other disciples.
One of themes regarding hardship in life seems to be that one of the reasons why we’re subjected to tough times is to allow us to use that experience and the wisdom we gain from it to help encourage others in their own difficult times.
Peter, of course, protests against Jesus’ words. He was willing to go to prison and death with Jesus. It wasn’t exactly a lie. Peter tries to go down fighting for Jesus, but once it was clear Jesus was going to submit to arrest, Peter panicked and ran.
We’re not always good with keeping promises to God.
He knows that. And He still loves us anyway.
35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”
This is an odd interlude. Jesus pauses to talk about their past missionary work and how they were sent out with nothing but the clothes on their back, but they lacked nothing. It’s another reminder that God is watching over them and Christ is sovereign.
Then He shifts and tells them to get their wallets and bags ready. He also tells them to take along some swords and to sell their coats if they don’t have one. His rationale for this is because tonight He would be fulfilling a prophesy about being numbered with the transgressors.
It’s important to note that the early church did not take these commands to really apply to them. You don’t see Christians fighting it out in the streets with their persecutors. You see them trying to escape arrest at times, but if caught, you don’t see them dying in a last stand hacking away at Romans or Jews. You see them following the example of Jesus and submitting to arrest and even execution.
Even later this evening, Jesus puts a stop to Peter’s use of the sword they brought along and tells him to quit fighting.
I think verse 37 is the key. Jesus is going to be arrested and counted as a criminal. Based off of that, I can think of two reasons why He told the disciples to get armed.
The first is because most other Messianic claims accompanied an armed revolt. Other messianic disciples following more conventional messiahs who tried to lead an army against Rome would have carried swords, so by arming His disciples, Jesus would be counted among the transgressors.
But I think a better answer is that this is a mirror of Passover. They had finished the Passover meal. Now it was time to go. They wouldn’t have time to come back. They wouldn’t be able to come back to the upper room for some time. Jesus is telling them to gather their things and be prepared. Take the provisions they need with them. Take along the swords as protection, though they would not need them. Jesus, and by extension the disciples, were about to become outlaws that night. They would be on the run for a brief period of time. They would be on their own, having to survive off of whatever they brought with them. And in the darkness of the night, the fact that they were armed might be enough to scare off any potential harm that someone might want to visit on them.
39 And He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him.
Having gathered their belongings and having sung the proper hymns, the company leaves Jerusalem and its city limits and goes out to the Mount of Olives to pray.