In recent days, we have watched mass shootings on school campuses that not only rocked school campuses, but they changed people’s lives forever. Just this past week, organized marches were held under the banner of gun control all across the United States. Interestingly enough, these marches were led by teenagers—many of whom have been alarmed by the recent school shootings in our nation. While we must not turn a deaf ear to the threat of safety and the wellbeing of people in our nation—it’s unfortunate that this conversation is often framed around the need for gun reform. Such conversations are often engaged without proper logic, a skewed view of history, and a lack of vision for the future. This discussion doesn’t lack passion—but it does often lack common sense.
There are two subjects that often create a great deal of passion in conversations—Jesus and guns. When you put both of those subjects into a conversation, things can get pretty nasty. No matter how we have this conversation—please stop claiming that Jesus was a pacifist. At this juncture, we are all reminded that doctrine matters. We must likewise be reminded that ideas matter too. As we all know—ideas have consequences and if hundreds of thousands of misinformed teenagers coming of age have misinformed ideas—let’s be certain that such ideas will have consequences that could reshape our nation. Let’s be completely honest—Jesus was not a pacifist and that fact can be substantiated from the pages of Scripture.
Where Was Jesus When Israel Went off to War?
One key error that people often make when it comes to examining Jesus’ teaching on a cultural issue is that they disconnect the Jesus of the New Testament from the God of the Old Testament. This not only misses the point of Jesus’ teaching, but it creates a false dichotomy between YHWH and the Christ. Far too often people fail to remember that Jesus is God. If Jesus is God, and he certainly is, where was Jesus when God commanded Israel to go into battle to defeat the enemies of God’s people?
The answer to that question is that Jesus was present and actively involved in the battles of Israel’s history. When we see Joshua by Jericho in Joshua 5:13-15, a mysterious and powerful figure showed himself to Joshua with his sword drawn. When asked who he was, he identified himself as the commander of the LORD’s army. Joshua fell down and worshipped him. Interestingly, he was not rebuked for worshipping. Many believe that this is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. Since Joshua is not rebuked for the worship, I believe this is indeed a rare appearance of Jesus before his incarnation. Jesus was with Israel in battle and his sword was drawn.
When the nation of Israel was commanded to go into battle against the Amalekites—Jesus was not disconnected from that order (1 Samuel 15:1-3). He was very much involved and engaged in the commission of Israel into war. As difficult as it may seem—such commands for Israel to enter a land and take the life of every individual was given by God—and Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity. We must not make the error of disconnecting the Persons of the Trinity and creating the “vengeful” God of the Old Testament and the “nice” God of the New Testament. That’s a theological conundrum and it would render our God as a confused being who suffers from schizophrenia rather than the God of order who rules the entire universe.
What Exactly Did Jesus Teach?
Jesus taught that God’s people are to be people of peace—those who pursue peace. As the long prophesied Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6), Jesus taught his followers to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9) and to turn the other cheek in order to create peace. Paul came along and taught the same principles of peace as he instructed the church at Rome to live peaceably with all people, in so much as it depends upon you (Rom. 12:18).
However, when we interpret Jesus’ teaching, we must not overlook the total body of his teaching and fail to interpret the whole of his message by what he said in other places as well. For instance, when Jesus was approached by a solider, he healed his servant and then praised him for his faith (Matt. 8:5-13). He never rebuked him for his service as a soldier like he rebuked the rich man for his wealth (Mark 10:21-22) and the adulterous for her adultery (John 4:16-18).
When Jesus sent his disciples out the first time—he sent them out with nothing for their journey (Luke 9:3). The next time as Jesus prepared to send them out into the hostile world, Jesus commanded them to take their necessary bags, coats, and if necessary—sell their cloak to purchase a sword.
He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:26).
While we all know that Christianity is not advanced by sword, bomb, plane, tank, or military conquest—we must not overlook or minimize what Jesus instructed. Jesus understood that his followers were going out into a dark land of depravity and they would likely need a sword for simple protection. Soon thereafter, Jesus was with his followers in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his betrayal and subsequent arrest. Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus and struck the servant of the high priest—cutting off his ear (Mark 14:47).
Interestingly enough, Peter had a sword just as Jesus commanded. While Jesus rebuked Peter for defending him, he didn’t rebuke Peter for having a sword. Jesus was not teaching the tenants of pacifism as he was being arrested. Instead, Jesus was giving a lesson on his sovereignty. It was not the evil men who would take his life—as he had already taught in John 10:18—he had the power to lay his life down and to raise it up again. Jesus was no pacifist. Jesus is operating on the specific timeline that was arranged before the world was established. Jesus had to die on the specific day at the specific moment in history and no person or people (Peter notwithstanding) would hinder that plan.
Why Pacifism Is Dangerous
Pacifism is dangerous for nations and individuals. If God instituted the governing authorities and placed a sword in their hand as Romans 13:1-7 teaches, the ideas of pacifism run counter culture to the plans of God for an orderly and peaceful society. God placed the sword in the hand of the authorities in order to use it for the keeping of peace and safety. The moment that a nation proclaims pacifism is the moment the nation announces its doom. Dr. Albert Mohler explains:
Pacifists claim that war can never be justified, whatever the cause or conditions…The moral failure of pacifism is found in its deadly naiveté, not in its abhorrence of violence. In reality, the world is a violent place where humans with evil intent will make war on others. In such a world, respect for human life sometimes requires the taking of human life. That tragic fact is as clearly revealed in history as any other, and far more than most. Pacifism fails to keep the peace against those who would take it.
In a fallen world filled with sin, it’s necessary for a nation or sovereign state to protect the people from those who would exploit, pillage, and enslave those within its borders. Those who are given charge to protect and uphold justice must use the sword to protect the people—and when pacifists demand pacifism—the people are left in a dangerous and vulnerable state. This is not only illogical, but it’s reprehensible for a nation to abandon its people. Augustine popularized the idea of a “just war” position that has been refined through the years. When there is a just cause for war—the sword is not placed in the hand of the authorities for decoration purposes. Anarchy is the logical fruit of pacifism in a world of human depravity.
Last of all, when it comes to personal protection, pacifism fails to uphold a proper dignity of human life. The wise Solomon once said there’s “a time to kill, and a time to heal” (Ecc. 3:3). It’s more than protecting property from thieves—it’s about fathers protecting their children, husbands protecting their wives, and families protecting themselves from those who would injure them or take their life. When Ravi Zacharias was once asked about pacifism, he responded by saying, “If all of us became pacifists we’re all finished.”
We are living in strange days where minority groups rise up, march on the streets, and demand change. It happened with marriage and it’s happening with gun reform. While there may be some sane voices among the crowds demanding change on gun laws in America—most of the teenagers who recently marched in the streets know very little about war, protecting a family, fighting for freedom, protecting the borders from monsters like Hitler, and upholding justice in a local town. The majority of the people demanding change and threatening to vote out politicians have not paused to consider the connection between the first and second amendment rights in our nation. They’re demanding change. Have they considered the consequences of their ideas?
In all of the confusion, we must not forget that guns don’t kill people—people kill people. We must likewise never fail to remember that laws are put in place for law and order—peace and safety, but the lawless couldn’t care less about laws and restrictions. One columnist has written a piece titled, “The Kids Have Come to Save Us“—but we must remember that our nation needs far more than gun reform to arrive at true and lasting peace. We need Jesus. The kids have come to lecture us—but it’s Jesus who has come to save us.
As followers of Jesus, we should long for the day when peace will cover the earth and there will be no more soldiers coming home in caskets covered by an American flag. We should long for the day when there are no more stories in the newspapers about mass shootings and little children dead on school campuses. We should long for the day when Jesus will return and all things will be made new. On that day, the King of kings will judge the wicked and usher in eternal peace and death will be no more (Rev. 21).
On the day when Jesus returns—it will be plain and obvious to the whole world that Jesus was never a pacifist in the beginning and he certainly will not be a pacifist on that day as well.
John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my Peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.