A Brief, Scriptural Defense of the Non-Violent Message of Jesus
This week’s Advent focus is peace, so I thought it would be appropriate to write about something that’s been developing in my theology for some time: the implications of Jesus as the Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6).
Clearly, Christ came to make peace between God and man. As we follow Christ, we are called to be peacemakers ourselves by the power of the Spirit (cf. Matt 5:9; 2 Cor 5:18-19).
Looking at the plain words of Jesus in their historical context–along with the rest of New Testament–convinces me that a non-violent ethic is explicitly and consistently affirmed throughout the Scriptures. Non-violence, also called pacifism, is an essential part of living out the implications of the Gospel.
The Scriptural Argument
Jesus explicitly commands an ethic committed to non-retaliation, even when one is unjustly attacked. Remember that persecution isn’t just political or social marginalization; it is often marked by violent oppression.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39, ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:43-45, ESV)
Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:50-52, ESV)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36, ESV)
Paul affirms and clarifies the teaching of Jesus on this point, calling us to radical, self-giving love even for our enemies:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21, ESV)
This is key for Christians: we are to imitate Christ.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2, ESV)
Christ loved us and died for us–his enemies–and never once responded violently to those that abused him.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23, ESV)
We must ask ourselves these questions:
Are the Scriptures clear on this front? Given that the witness of the early church is non-violent, why do many Christians now condone violence? Is there a solid biblical case for or against violence as a God-blessed option for the Church? For individuals? Is the non-violent idea difficult for me to accept? If so, is it because it is not clear in the Scriptures, or because it does not seem like it would be effective according to my own standards?
An ethic of non-violence is actually explicit in the teachings of Jesus and is affirmed in the rest of the New Testament. It is a distinctive mark the of the New Covenant; God’s people are to be known as peacemakers. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, and his is a kingdom of peace.
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20, ESV)
Make sure to stay tuned for the rest of this series, where I respond to the objections that made me seriously doubt whether or not Jesus really taught non-violence.