The UK Bible Students Website
Christian Biblical Studies
JESUS AND WAR
Scripture references are to the King James (Authorised) Version
Question: Did Jesus teach pacifism?
Answer: No . . . and Yes. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs that ‘whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also’ (Matthew 5: 39). This is often taken as a general exhortation to non-violence, though Jesus’ instruction was not directed toward mankind at large but to those who would become His followers.
During the exchange with Pilate, following His arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus asserts, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight [italics ours]’ (John 18: 36). This hint at militancy is amplified more starkly in the heavily symbolic book of Revelation (19: 11-16, etc.). Indeed, the Church herself is often described in Christian literature as the ‘church militant’, celebrated in the theme of the traditional hymn, ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, a figure of speech at which some contemporary churches take umbrage, omitting the piece from their hymnals.
During the Gospel Age, Jesus’ kingdom existed not as a tangible organisation, but in a spiritual sense, represented by the presence and ministry of His individual footstep followers, the elect Church. This ‘church’ was not one particular denomination, located in one particular place. It was not an earthly institution at all, and had no roots in the kingdoms of this world. Therefore its ‘warfare’ was figurative and pertained to its overcoming sin and selfishness within each member. It could not ‘fight’ for this temporal world, since it had no stake in it. The Apostle Paul plainly declares that the weapons of the Church’s warfare are not wood and steel, not material at all (2 Corinthians 10: 3, 4): ‘For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal . . .).’
The Pride of the World
Powerful dominions frequently claimed to act as special agents of God. In modern history, the British Empire and the American Empire intimated a Divine Right to conquer and rule, each after their fashion. In this they have most likely modelled their expansionist tendencies on those of ancient Israel, who alone were commanded by Jehovah to subdue the tribes of Canaan.
Yes, it is true that God providentially raised up certain Gentile powers throughout the ages to implement certain, limited features of His Plan, especially those pertaining to the rescue and deliverance of the Jewish people. But Jesus is not on the side of any country or alliance of this world, and has not authorised the members of His Church to participate in military warfare, nor to bless the nations who engage in it. In this respect the follower of Jesus is commanded to be pacific.
Wars and violence in all forms will pass away when worldwide peace is ushered in through Jesus’ Millennial Kingdom, still future. It will not be merely a spiritual or ‘virtual’ kingdom, but a real entity on earth. When Jesus Christ speaks peace to the nations, they will ‘beat their swords into plowshares’ – convert their energies and technologies into productive and everlasting endeavours (Zechariah 9: 9, 10; Micah 4: 1-5).
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.
Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice (1859-1918)
Copyright January 2012 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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