For the past several posts we examined passages in the gospels to determine whether Jesus is violent (see the links just below this article). The purpose of this survey was to answer both believers and unbelievers who claim that Jesus is violent—at least upon occasion.
One reason for this claim is that many people embrace violence and use Jesus’ purported violent acts to justify their own tendencies. Some also revolt against the depiction of a wimpy, timid Jesus who won’t even fight back when he is bullied.
Of course, I think they are mistaken. Jesus is certainly no wimp; he stands up to opponents without wavering. But he is not violent toward them. While he sometimes speaks very strongly, especially to some of the Pharisees, he is neither violent nor does he allow his followers to be violent. In fact, he teaches them just the opposite.The Common Sense of Violence Against One’s Enemies and Why Jesus is Different
Most people if attacked, physically or verbally, fight back. They defend themselves against any assault—even as small as an insult or a slight. It’s natural for people to ‘get back’ at the other person or persons in order to maintain personal dignity. They often identify groups of people as default enemies and respond to them with hate and violence—sometimes subtle violence.
We live in a world of division and hostility with potential enemies all around. So when they try to hurt us in some way, we will hurt them more—that’ll teach them! This is considered common sense all over the world, but Jesus goes against this ‘common sense’.
Jesus teaches his followers to love everyone—even our enemies. And he doesn’t mean ‘love’ in some shallow, insipid way; he means we should genuinely love them with empathy, compassion, and care. This is the opposite of hate, retaliation, and revenge. This love excludes vindictiveness.
Jesus begins his mission by announcing the coming of the kingdom of God. Some people seem to think the kingdom of God is in ‘heaven’ or the far-off future. It is not. Some think the kingdom of God is synonymous with the visible, organized churches. It is not. The kingdom of God is present right here on earth, and it expands silently and invisibly among the nations.
The kingdom of God embraces an ethic at odds with power, force, and domination. One might say the kingdom ethic does not represent the world’s ideas of common sense but rather peace and reconciliation.
Jesus’ Final Acts of Anti-Violence
I agree that Jesus does not oppose conflict; his message inevitably creates conflict because it clashes with religious and cultural systems. But I believe he opposes violent conflict for himself and his followers. His purpose is to impact the world by changing individuals–not by force but through the invisible spreading of the kingdom of God.
Jesus demonstrates his anti-violence to the extreme during his last few days on earth in a way that should be a lesson to all his followers.
1. Jesus’ first demonstration of anti-violence happens during his arrest. Matthew 26 tells us:
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?”
His disciples were ready to defend him, but Jesus stops them and essentially says he is not leading a rebellion (against Jewish leaders or against Rome); this was not his plan. Jesus faced a choice: lead a fight against religious, political, and social oppressors or promote a new community of love, peace, and reconciliation.
He chose the way of peace.
2. John 18 shares his second declaration of anti-violence. When Pilate asks him if he is ‘King of the Jews’, Jesus answers:
My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.
Jesus explains that his is not a political kingdom, like the world’s kingdoms, to be established by means of power and violence.
3. Jesus’ final demonstration of anti-violence, and his attitude toward his ‘enemies’, is by far the most dramatic and the most teachable for his followers.
After his brutal treatment by the Roman soldiers and his being painfully nailed to a cross, one could understand Jesus’ anger and resentment toward his enemies—knowing he was going to die. But nothing of the sort manifested during his final hours. Instead, we read these words from Luke 23:
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Even in his last breaths Jesus did not castigate his ‘enemies’. He did not hate them or curse them. Instead he responded consistently with what he had always taught about loving others—because God’s love was deep in his being. Jesus died largely because he was perceived as a political threat, yet he did not fight. More was at stake than political goals. Fighting, instead of dying, would have derailed the movement he established.
Jesus teaches anti-violence for his followers. This is not a secondary issue but an essential principle of the kingdom of God. If we do not embrace it, I think we should consider why.
Articles in this series: Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?
Does Jesus Demonstrate Threats and Violence?
Does the Cleansing of the Temple Show Jesus’ Violence? – I Don’t Think So
Addendum to the Cleansing of the Temple—What about the Fig Tree?
What does it Mean that Jesus Brings, not Peace, but a Sword?
3 Possible Reasons Jesus Told His Followers to Carry Swords
Isn’t it Violence for Jesus to Tell Us to Cut off our Hands to Avoid Punishment?
Jesus’ Final Act of Anti-Violence—Crucifixion
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