Was Jesus a "Pacifist"?

February 10, 2017 0 Comments

It has become fashionable and commonplace, in our world today, for those who are liberals (both in politics and religion) to claim that Jesus was a pacifist, and therefore we should never be involved in war, or in defending our homes against criminals. I am growing weary of those who take one verse of Scripture out of context and build an entire doctrine out of it.

The favorite passage liberals always quote is from the sermon on the mount where we are told to "turn the other cheek", and to "love our enemies". Jesus is warning us here against taking revenge, of retaliation, of taking matters into our own hands. To make an entire philosophy of pacifism out of such texts is misleading, because it ignores so many other portions of the Bible, and statements of Christ.

First, Jesus Himself demonstrated pure anger and righteous indignation against the Pharisees of His day when He went into the Temple and starting overthrowing tables. Then He made a home-made whip and began chasing the "thieves" right out of the holy place (see John 2:15). That doesn't sound like a "pacifist" to me.

Second, Jesus assumed it was OK for a man to protect his family against intruders. "How can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man?" (Matt. 12:29). Jesus doesn't condemn a man for trying to protect his possessions from robbers--He assumes that is what any sensible "strong man" would do.

Third, Jesus also assumes the reality of war. In Luke 14:31 we read these words of Jesus: "What king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that comes with twenty thousand?" Once again, Jesus does not comment on the morality of war, He merely assumes it is necessary, and also assumes the wisdom of only embarking on it (war) after careful consideration, and determining you have the forces necessary to win it.

Fourth, Christ, through the Apostle Paul, teaches the important doctrine that the purpose of government is to protect its citizens from both criminals and those who are at war with us (such as modern day Islamic radicals). Listen carefully to these Biblical statements: "For he (the "powers that be", the head of a government) is the minister of God to thee for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil" (Rom. 13:4). In other words, God gave the government the responsibility to execute capital punishment on criminals, and to kill terrorists who would try to harm us. There is no "turning the other cheek" here! So, if you put this all together, here is what the Bible teaches: if someone kills a member of your family, you don't go out and get a gun and go kill them in revenge. You allow the government (civil authorities such as the police, and the courts) to do the punishing. This balances Jesus' teaching from the Sermon on the Mount with the clear teaching of the purpose of the government.

Fifth, Jesus taught there should be absolutely no mercy to those who are child molesters. "But whoso shall offend (hurt) one of these little ones, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matt. 18:6). That is one crime God Himself has no patience for. Jesus certainly doesn't sound like a pacifist when it comes to child molesters and sexual perverts.

And finally, consider the Second Coming of Christ, and the scene portrayed in Revelation 19 regarding it. "And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron, and He treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" (Rev. 19:15). Nobody will be calling Jesus a pacifist when He comes again, that's for sure!

Truly, Jesus taught us to love one another, and to pursue peace as much as possible. But He also is a God of wrath and vengeance, who specifically assigns that wrath and vengeance to the government. It is vital for us to understand this Biblical doctrine, and have BALANCE in our interpretation of Scripture.

Richard Seefried
Harrisonburg, VA
Richard Seefried has a Master’s Degree in Christian Ministry, and is licensed & certified by the NCCA as a clinical pastoral counselor.