Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
These verses conclude the charge which Christ gave to his disciples when he commissioned them as evangelists. Having instructed them how they were to behave (vers. 5-15), warned them of the hostility they should encounter (vers. 16-23), and encouraged them to be fearless (vers. 24-33), he now enlightens them concerning the mission of their message.
I. IT WAS DESTINED TO DISTURB THE OLD FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIETY.
1. The family is the foundation of old Adam's kingdom.
(1) The distinction of sex is everywhere. It exists in man; also in animals; in plants. In the poles of magnetism; in the dualities everywhere present in nature, principles analogous to sex appear.
(2) The offspring of sexual union stand in natural relationships. Thus the household or immediate family is expressed in the terms "parents and children," and "brothers and sisters." This is the first circle, and within it are close endearments.
(3) In the multiplication of families grow up communities, nations, and races. The aggregate of these constitutes the one vast family of man.
2. Sin has demoralized this institution.
(1) By the first transgression the current was poisoned at the fountain. The family is infected in its birth. The race is universally depraved.
(2) Out of the depraved heart rises the demoralized life. First come disintegrations through individual selfishness and ambition; then confederations of evil.
(3) From the family these strifes work outward, giving rise to litigations and violence, heartburnings and revenges. Standing armies are at length maintained by a grinding taxation to wage destructive wars.
3. In grappling with these frightful evils the gospel stirs up new strifes.
(1) It sets up a new rallying-point. It asserts the paramount claims of Christ. He claims a love superior to that which is nourished in the family (ver. 37). He imperiously requires in homage to his love the sacrifice of all selfish interests.
(2) Those who rally round Christ are naturally opposed and hated by those who cleave to the old evil traditions. And the battle begins in the household. The unconverted father is against the converted son, the unconverted mother is against her converted daughter, and so the mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law. The battle of principles comes into closest quarters in the house; so a man's bitterest foes are those of his own household.
(3) The hostility rages there even when it is not intended. "The father," says Quesnel, "is the enemy of his son, when through a bad education, an irregular love, and a cruel indulgence, he leaves him to take a wrong bias, instructs him not in his duty, and fills his mind with ambitious views. The son is the father's enemy, when he is the occasion of his doing injustice in order to heap up an estate for him, and to make his fortune. The mother is the daughter's enemy, when she instructs her to please the world, breeds her up in excess and. vanity, and suffers anything scandalous or unseemly in her dress. The daughter is the mother's enemy, when she engages her to comply with her own irregular inclinations, or to permit her to frequent balls and plays. The master is the enemy of the servant, and the servant that of his master, when the one takes no care of the other's salvation, and the latter is subservient to his master's passions."
(4) But the sword is also cast upon the earth (ver. 34). For what are the broad principles of "liberty, equality, and fraternity," properly understood, but noble Christian principles? Yet in the hands of vicious visionaries and atheistical theorists they are so prostituted as to become the motives to insurrections, revolutions, and the fiercest wars. Wars of religion and wars of ideas!
II. IT WAS DESTINED TO RECONSTRUCT SOCIETY UPON' A NEW' AND PERMANENT BASIS.
1. Of this new world Jesus is the Head.
(1) In respect to this he is styled the" second Adam;" "the Beginning of the [new] creation of God;" "the Firstborn of every creature," viz. in this "new creation."
(2) Coming under his blessed influence we are constituted "new creatures." He is the Archetype of the new world as Adam was of the old. So "as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly."
(3) But while the principle of union with Christ is as real as that of natural families, its essence is different. It is individual and spiritual. Hence Jesus never married. In his kingdom there is neither male nor female. In the resurrection they shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but they shall be as the angels of God.
(4) The kingdom of Messiah shall last for ever.
2. The principle of the new world is love to Christ.
(1) He has a right to our supreme love as our Creator and Redeemer and King. Who but God could justly use such language as "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me"? (ver. 37; cf. Deuteronomy 33:8, 9).
(2) He claims to be loved in his representatives. "He that receiveth you receiveth me." The treatment shown to an ambassador is in fact shown to his sovereign.
(3) This love to Christ, who is himself the Impersonation of love in truth, is the reversal of all selfishness. It requires the lifting of the cross (ver. 38). The cross here is whatever pain or inconvenience, even to the sacrifice of life, cannot be avoided but by doing some evil or omitting some good. The figure is used in prophetic anticipation of the manner in which he should die (cf. Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:24).
3. Hence the promises of the kingdom are to the loyal.
(1) "He that findeth his life shall lose it." Love is life. The love of self and the world is the life of the unregenerate. The love of Christ is the life of the new birth. He that allows self-love to role in his heart must lose the love of God, which is the life of heaven. He that saves his life by denying Christ shall lose it eternally (see John 12:25). Tertullian notes that when the heathen judges would persuade Christians to renounce their faith, the terms they commonly used were "Save your life;" "Do not throw your life away."
(2) "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." What a man sacrifices to God is never lost, for he finds it again in God. The Lord never permits an evil to befall us unless to prevent a greater, and to do us good.
(3) "He that receiveth a prophet" - one who teaches the truth - "shall receive a prophet's reward." He receives truth in the love of it, which is its own reward. The prophet shall pray for him (see Genesis 20:7; 1 Samuel 7:5; Job 42:8; James 5:14-18). The hostess of Elijah was rewarded in her meal and oil. The rabbins say, "He that receives a learned man or an elder into his house is the same as if he had received the Shechinah."
(4) Even a cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple to the humblest follower of Christ will be rewarded. Love cannot be willed into existence; but it may be wrought into existence. If we give God obedience he will give us love. Love is heaven. Heaven is love. - J.A.M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.