“those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” This verse is speaking about self-willed aggression outside the bounds of the law. It has nothing to do with self-defense or the proper use of the criminal justice system. Earlier that same day, Jesus had told the disciples to buy a sword if they did not have one. “He [Jesus] 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’” (Luke 22:36). Obviously, Jesus would not tell people in the afternoon to go buy a sword if they did not own one, but then later that night teach that if they used the sword they had bought they would die by it.
There is a perfectly good reason Christ told his disciples to go buy a sword: self-defense. Peter, however, was not acting in self-defense when he drew his sword and used it on the servant of the priest. The people who came to arrest Jesus represented the legal authorities at the time. If the police came to your house to arrest you, even if you had not actually committed the crime, you would not be acting in self-defense if you pulled a weapon and started to fight with them. To be acting legally, you would have to win your case in court. When Peter pulled his sword and smote the servant of the High Priest, he was acting outside the will of God and outside the law of the land, and that is the context of Jesus’ rebuke. What Jesus said has absolutely nothing to do with self-defense, war or the criminal justice system.
What Jesus said has historically been proven to be true. Throughout history, robbers and brigands who unlawfully took up the sword against the legal authorities were frequently killed or executed.
The police and other civil authorities set up by governments are charged with the duty of maintaining a social justice system. They “bear the sword” to keep society safe, and God calls them His “servants.” The Bible states: “For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:4).