“Do not think that I came to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, and 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‘” (Matthew 10:34-35).
“Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you not at all, but rather division. For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. Father will be against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53).
How can this be? The Messiah was to be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Angels announced Jesus’ birth by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14).
Jesus’ message, if followed, leads to peace: Peace with God (Romans 5:1), and peace between men (Ephesians 2:14-18). Christians are taught to be a peaceful people: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18); “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14); “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1 Timothy 2:1-2); “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9); “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
However, not all follow Jesus’ message. John W. Haley comments, “A religion of inherent, radical purity could not be propagated in the world without awaking the fierce antagonism of everything impure and evil. Hence would arise strife and division, bitter conflicts…” (Haley, Alleged Discrepancies, p. 119). Oliver Greene comments, “When Jesus spoke of sending a sword to divide even the nearest relatives, we understand that He came for the purpose of teaching doctrine which would inevitably lead to this division to which He referred. These evils were not what Jesus wished for, but they occur because men love darkness rather than light” (Greene, The Gospel According to Matthew, Vol. 2, p. 467).
Why does Jesus say this? First, He wants us to know that there will be opposition. Things will not always be easy. Opposition may come even from one’s own family. Second, He is challenging our committment and loyalty. It is in this context that He says – “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39). While we love our families, our loyalty to Him must surpass our devotion to them, and our desire for peace in our homes.