We run our website the way we wished the whole internet worked: we provide high quality original content with no ads. We are funded solely by your direct support. Please consider supporting this project.

love

The Kingdom Stance Toward Enemies

Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane, when a group of temple guards showed up to arrest him. Peter immediately drew his sword and started swinging it, cutting off a guard’s ear.

From the world’s point of view, this violence was justified. Peter was simply defending himself and his master. Yet Jesus rebuked him, reminding him that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus then pointed out to Peter that if he was interested in force, Jesus himself could have called on more than twelve legions of warring angels. But this, clearly, was not the kind of power Jesus was interested in employing.

Jesus then proceeded to demonstrate the kind of power he was interested in—by revealing God’s love for his aggressor and healing the man’s severed ear. Through his actions, Jesus showed that the kingdom of God relies not on the power of the sword, but the power of love that seeks to serve and heal enemies. It’s the same power he demonstrated several hours earlier when he washed the feet of his disciples.

After this, Jesus was questioned by Pilate, who asked him if he was the king of the Jews. Jesus responded, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And then he pointed to his followers’ refusal to fight as proof that his kingdom “is from another place” (John 18:36). While all the kingdoms of the world use violence to fight enemies who threaten them, Jesus commands his followers to refuse violence and serve enemies—regardless of how justified the use of violence might seem by “normal” standards.

After his encounter with Pilate, Jesus was tortured, mocked, and crucified. He had the power to avoid all this, but he chose not to use it. Why? Because he knew that using violence to protect himself, while justified by worldly standards, would not have benefited his enemies, nor would it have manifested God’s universal and unconditional love. It would not have manifested what it looks like when God reigns in someone’s life.

Had Jesus defeated his foes by asking his followers to fight for him or by calling on legions of angels, he would have manifested a high-powered version of the kingdom of the world, but he would not have manifested the kingdom of God. Had Jesus conquered his foes by force, he would have locked them into their rebellious stance against him and his Father instead of offering them the possibility of reconciliation. Had Jesus engaged in a “just war” against his foes, he would have legitimized violence rather than defeating it.

By voluntarily giving his life for his enemies—which includes you and me—Jesus made it possible for us to be transformed by the beauty of his love and to be reconciled to God. And the clearest evidence that we are being transformed by God’s love and participating in the kingdom that is not “of this world” is that we adopt the same nonviolent, self-sacrificial stance toward enemies that Jesus had.

—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Religion, pages 94-95

Photo credit: αnnα via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

Related Reading

How God Changes the World

God’s hopes for us began before the creation of the world. And what God intended from the beginning gives us insight into how God works to bring about what he intends. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul teaches that God “chose us in [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and…

What Is The Warfare Worldview?

Greg has written extensively on something he calls the Warfare Worldview. Many today believe that everything that takes place in the world is ultimately part of a divine blueprint and contributes in some way to the glory of God. As opposed to this view, Greg argues that wills other than God’s are responsible for evil…

Homosexuality and the Church: Finding a “Third Way”

Here is a word I a shared this last weekend with Woodland Hills Church (where I’m senior pastor) in response to numerous questions I’ve received over the last several months. People have asked me why the leadership of WHC refuses to jump on the bandwagon of evangelical churches in the Twin Cities who rally their…

The Heresy of “Just War”

Since the time when the Jesus-looking kingdom movement was transformed into the Caesar-looking “militant and triumphant” Church, there has been a tradition of Christians by-passing the enemy-loving, non-violent teachings of the NT and instead appealing to the precedent of divinely-sanctioned nationalism and violence in the OT whenever they felt the need to justify engaging in…

On Renunciation

  Jonathan Kos-Read via Compfight We are bombarded daily with messages that urge us to satisfy every desire we might have. That’s what consumers do. And that’s exactly what the world has reduced us to: consumers. But what about Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23: Then Jesus said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must…

Who Killed Ananias and Sapphira? A Response to Paul Copan (#6)

In his critique of Crucifixion of the Warrior God (CWG), Paul Copan makes a concerted effort to argue that the God revealed in Jesus Christ and witnessed to throughout the NT is not altogether non-violent. One of the passages Copan cites against me is the famous account of Ananias and Sapphira falling down dead immediately…