July 1, 2003

Jesus, the Non-Violent Christ

by Donald G. Mashburn

A previous column, “Islamic Veils and Verities,” drew a letter from a reader, who wrote, “I believe you are incorrect in your presumption that violence was never part of what Jesus taught.”

I thank the reader for sharing her views, and affording me an opportunity to clarify my conclusions that Jesus did not teach violence. The previous column contrasted, in two paragraphs, the teachings of Jesus with the violence that accompanied the spread of Islam under its founder Mohammed.

I had hoped that qualifying Christianity “as taught by Jesus” would keep it separated from certain historical “Christian” acts, ranging from persecutions authorized by royal and papal decrees, to individual acts – including murder – by people claiming to be Christians.

The reader quoted Matthew 10:34, where Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” The Bible scholars and pastors I consulted on this passage agreed that Jesus was referring to the persecution and division that Jesus, and later His word, would bring to those who accept Him as the Messiah.

It’s important to realize that all of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 are instruction and teaching of the twelve Apostles on the coming rejection and persecution. In one continuous instruction (Matt 10:5-42), Jesus tells them that He’s sending them out “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” that “men ... will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues,” and “you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”

He tells them about the high cost of discipleship: “He who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:34), “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.”

Jesus knew that He and His gospel would indeed divide families and bring persecution. Those who reject Him would also reject those who believe in Him. “Brother will deliver up brother to death ... and children will rise up against parents” (Matt. 10:21)

In the “fire” passage (Luke 12:49), Jesus says, “I came to send fire on the earth, and how wish it were already kindled.” Some have interpreted this passage to refer also to the rejection believers will face. But the last clause seems to refer to the Holy Spirit. And that meaning is supported by Jesus’ words that followed, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished” (Luke 12:50).

It seems clear from these passages that Jesus was talking of the coming of the Holy Spirit – the “fire” that would come upon the earth only when Jesus left – and of His crucifixion. And Jesus couldn’t leave before finishing His work of paying our sin debt on the cross – and purchasing the gift of eternal life for “he who hears my word and believes in Him who sent Me” (John 5:25).

Jesus knew that soon He, the center of the Apostles existence and their beloved Teacher and Master, would be crucified, leaving them traumatized, leaderless, and unbelieving. In telling the Apostles of the trials they would face was in no way “teaching violence.”

Space limits won’t permit listing all that Jesus taught about peace and non-violence. The concepts were so deeply ingrained in His teaching and nature; they can’t be separated from the Lord Himself. He spoke against “men of violence” who wanted to use force to bring in the kingdom of God in Palestine.

He taught us to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). The apostle Paul taught us to follow “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” Jesus didn’t teach us to stand by and watch evil violence done to others, but He never rescinded His commandment to “love one another.”

Moreover, Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17)

For the last word on whether Jesus taught violence in His “version” of Christianity, let God tell us His view of His Christ: “Because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).