The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Not Peace But A Sword (5 of 12)

PART 5 OF 12

Not Peace, But A Sword!


“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”— Jesus, Matthew 10.34

This week, I’d like to take one more (and final) look at the actual teachings of Jesus in regard to non-violence before we begin next week to look at Paul’s teaching in Romans 13 and then going on to each of the following questions that I promised we’d address in Part 1 (Hitler and the Allied Forces, Someone Who Breaks Into Your Home, Old Testament Violence Commanded by God, and Domestic Violence). But before we look into all of those, let’s begin this week by looking at Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel, found in verse 34 of chapter ten.

At first glance, on the surface, it may look as if Jesus here is endorsing “justified violence” for those who follow Him. Certainly there were those during the Constantinian shiftthat used the above verse to justify Christians’ picking up the sword to “enlarge the Kingdom.” But as with all of Jesus’ teachings on this subject, one usually needs only to read a few more verses to understand exactly what Jesus is saying. Of all the teachings of Jesus, His commands to live by non-violence are the clearest, yet this is the very topic that so many choose to not see. To me, it seems to be much more than a mere unintentional misunderstanding. For many, it is a determined, very intentional, effort to interpret the words of Jesus in any other way than to simply accept them as they read. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as non-violent are Christians.” There was a time in my life when I genuinely felt that Jesus’ teachings on non-violence were more tangential, but I must confess that I was wrong. Once embraced, I began to see that Christ’s teachings on non-violence are more central to the picture of God that Jesus came to reveal than I could possibly have had explained to me or that I could have understood from outside the topic, yet it’s a catch-22 as well. Embracing non-violence is not only central to our own understanding of God’s character but it’s dependent upon your picture of God as well. But again, once embraced, it unlocks every other topic related to a Christocentric picture of the Father. (See John 14.9; from your Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, all the way down to eschatology and everything in between.)

With the same breath, Jesus continues the above passage:

Matthew 10.35-38—”For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter–in–law against her mother–in–law—your enemies will be the members of your own household.’ Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What did Jesus mean by the statement that He came to bring a sword? He is not saying here that He wants His followers to take up the sword but, rather, that they would become the victims of other people wielding the sword against them because of their choice to follow Him, but they are still admonished not to return violence for violence but, rather, to take up, like their Master, their cross, too.

The Greek word translated here as sword is machaira. It can be translated figuratively to denote strife or warfare. Jesus is not saying here that those who follow Him should engage in warfare in “Jesus’ name” but, rather, that those who chose to follow Him should expect to be the recipients of strife or warfare as a result of their decision to follow Him. In the above context, it’s the father or mother that wields the sword against the child because the child has chosen to follow Jesus. It’s the son or daughter who wields the sword against the father or mother because the parent chooses to follow Jesus. And, even though these relationships were created by God as means whereby we might experience the love for which we were made, as hard as this is, these relationships are not to be given value or worth above that which belongs to “following” Jesus. Again, as hard as this is, anyone who gives these relationships a higher priority in their life than the priority they give to “following Jesus,” Jesus states, is not ascribing to their “following” the accurate degree of value or importance that following Jesus actually possesses. Jesus then states, too clearly for anyone to miss, that His followers are not to take up the sword in response to those who wield the sword against them; rather, Jesus’ followers are to take up “the cross.” Far from being a passage encouraging His followers to know when to put into practice “justified violence,” this is one of the clearest passages where Jesus is teaching us to pick up NOT the sword but the cross instead.

In Luke’s gospel, Luke records the following words of Jesus:

“‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.’” (Luke 9.22-24)

Finally this week, I’d like to focus for a moment on Jesus’ words in Matthew 13.31-32:

“He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’ He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”

To experience the full weight of what Jesus is saying in the above passage, please consider this relevant question:

What would happen if Christians would simply agree to stop killing each other?

It takes a moment to appreciate how disturbing this question really is. We will be looking at Romans 13 next week, but if we would agree to the above, it would quickly extend past local congregations to denominations and ultimately to Christians in American military service; then, without stopping, it would encompass Christian combatants who are brothers and sisters in Jesus’ Kingdom but are enlisted as military combatants of other nations as well. Christians would at this stage make the worst possible soldiers for whatever kingdom of this world they find themselves in. But then you’d have to ask the question, “Why are we giving preferential treatment to Christians? Shouldn’t we be extending this even for our enemies?” We will be addressing this in further detail in the following weeks, but what would have happened in Nazi Germany if the Lutherans and Catholics had embraced the above agreement to not kill other Christians? Hitler would have had no army (German Christians would have refused to kill Allied Christians).

We must remember the cultural context in which Jesus spoke these two parables. In a few centuries of the church’s actually following the peace teachings of Jesus, Constantine saw the exponential rate at which non-violent Christianity was growing. Neither he nor Diocletian could crush it. If left unchanged, it would eventually undo Rome. (If all of Rome became Christian, thus embracing non-violence, who would fight Rome’s wars? Constantine was brilliant: he embraced Christianity but did away with its unanimous teaching of non-violence.) I would submit that, over time, the non-violence of Jesus would have led to the eventual undoing of Rome. Rome would be taken over by its enemies. But Christianity would still have been present to overcome (non-violently) whatever empire took over Rome, too. Then it would have overcome the next empire and then the next empire until Jesus’ Kingdom, eventually, would have been the last one standing.

This is exactly what the Protestant leaders, in unison with the state, saw would happen in Europe as well. Yes, Europe in the sixteenth century might have been taken over by the Turks if the church had embraced the non-violence of the Anabaptists (this was the very argument that turned the tide of the community that burned Michael Sattler at the stake). But soon, the Turks would be undone by the same exponential growth of this non-violent Kingdom, too. Jesus said it best: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed (small, with long and slow growth), which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew, subversively, and took over the whole garden, becoming the largest of all trees, till the birds perched in its branches.” Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” The implications are serious here. For those who want to see the Kingdom of Jesus be the last one standing, we are going to have to let go of all kingdoms of this world, even our most cherished one. America is not the kingdom of God but actually standing in the way of Jesus’ Kingdom’s mustard seed growth.

The world would have looked very different had the church not abandoned Jesus’ peace teachings in the fourth century. Paul foresaw that the church would fall away from or, rather, turn away from the teachings of Jesus as a point in the future (2 Thessalonians 2.3, the Greek word in this passage means “apostasy”). G.K. Chesterton once said that the history of Christianity does not prove that the teachings of Jesus have been tried and found wanting but, rather, that the teachings of Jesus have been “found difficult and left untried.” Everything changed with the Constantinian shift. The future would now look very different. (And history now proves that the mustard seed/dough principle never was allowed to work its way all the way out; in other words, the world’s suffering could have ended long before this.) It is time for those who desire the return of the King to embrace the principles of the actual Kingdom. To allow Jesus to reshape our picture of God and to be not just a savior that we believe in and worship but our Lord that we follow as well.

We will be looking at Paul’s words in Romans 13 next week. But until then, keep living in love and loving like Christ. And through embracing Jesus’ teaching of God’s radical, other-centered, self-sacrificial love, go out this week and put on display the beauty of God’s character of love. And go build the Kingdom.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.



The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Go Buy A Sword (4 of 12)

PART 4 OF 12

Go Buy A Sword


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

If you are still with me this week, I want to congratulate you. We have had so many e-mails coming in from this series. For many, the lights have come on and the whole world is changing colors. Others are still wrestling, while others have become very upset and simply walked away. My heart is deeply affected by each. But if you are still with me, you are my hero!

There is so much I’d like to say about this passage that time and space does not allow in an article of this nature. I’m going to share three related passages, some comments about each, and then some links to presentations on our website to fill in whatever conceptual gaps may persist.

The first text is very related to the one above and it’s found in Luke 22.25-27.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

Here Jesus is contrasting the characteristics of the kingdoms of this world with His own kingdom. The most significant difference is a “power over” style of influencing society verses “power under.” We are not called, as followers of Jesus, to lord power over others who may believe and live differently than ourselves, but rather to humbly and lovingly come under, and by serving them, influence the society around us. Again, this is best summed up as “power over” versus “power under.” (For a more detailed explanation of this concept, see the eSights on our website dated 1.16.2012 and 1.23.2012 as well as the presentation in The Jesus Dialogue titled Religion and Politics.)

The five main differences between a kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Jesus are the type of power they rely on (power over versus power under), their societal aims (controlling outward behavior versus producing change from the inside out), their territorial scope (national versus global), the battles they fight (taking up arms against other people versus seeing our enemies as not having flesh and blood, Ephesians 6.12) and lastly, how each responds to violence (tit for tat, returning like with like versus returning love in an effort to make peace by peaceful means, overcoming evil with good). Some will say, “Well, is the State wrong then in the methods they choose?” I want to be clear here—no, they are not wrong per se. But they are “different.” The kingdoms of this world, although using the same methods of their king (Luke 4.5, 6 and 1 John 5.19), are indirectly being used by God in serving the role of “imposed” law in our society. (Please see the presentation Intrinsic or Imposed for a more detailed explanation of what this term means if it is unfamiliar.) So we cannot say they are wrong. This is Paul’s point in the passages found in Romans 13 (more of which we will be explaining later in this series). But Paul is very clear in Romans 12 that as those who are “following Jesus,” we are NOT to use the same methods as the state. The church and state may both be used by God, but for very different ends. Those who follow the teachings of Jesus to their logical end know full well that the lines between these “two servants” should never be blurred. The church is called to an entirely different purpose than the state. We are to influence society the way our mentor Jesus did.

Secondly, Jesus says in our beginning passage that if his kingdom were of this world, then his followers would fight to defend him. This had actually been done just a few hours previous.

With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26.51-54)

Jesus here rebukes the disciple who used the sword to cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear. Remember, Peter was actually aiming for the servant’s head, but with fast reflexes, the servant leaned sideways to escape the disciple’s swing and it glanced off the side of his head, taking off his ear. Jesus rebukes the disciple: “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” We will return to this statement before we finish this eSight. Another question that arises from this passage is, “But Jesus was supposed to die, certainly that doesn’t apply to us does it? I mean, Jesus’ death was for a specified purpose, so doesn’t that specialize the application of these statements by Jesus?” We’ll return to this as well before we end today, but I want to bring it up here so you can be thinking about it. John identifies this disciple.

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18.10-11)

Again, we see the potential objection by some that Jesus words here are not to be taken as a rule of life with no exception, but rather as a specialized application revolving around this “cup” that He was supposed to drink. Again, we’ll come back to this. Now I’d like to turn to Luke’s record of this event, address a typical objection to Jesus’ peace teaching, and then wrap all the loose ends in these passages, putting the puzzle pieces together and seeing what picture we get.

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.

It is at this point that many attempt what others have called “desperate exegesis.” “See? See? Jesus was right here telling them to buy swords! See?” And yes, it’s undeniable that Jesus was here admonishing his disciples to go buy swords, but we must quickly ask why. Is it because Jesus now wants them to use these swords to defend him? Or does he want them to use these swords to defend themselves? We don’t have to read too far to get a clear answer. It’s in the very next sentence:

“It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That is enough,” he replied.

The Greek word anomos is the word here translated as “transgressors.” It is defined as “lawless.” Jesus must be perceived by Rome as more than simply a focal point of religious controversy. For Rome to deem Jesus worthy of being tried in a Roman political court rather than simply by a Jewish religious court (the Sanhedrin), Jesus must be perceived as a political threat to the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.” Jesus must be perceived as a “lawless” one, against the order of Rome, a political enemy, an upstart Messiah. For this, they will need to be caught with swords in their possession. The mixture of many people’s claims that this could be the Messiah (remember, He who would take up the role of king of the Jews and lead them to freedom from the oppressive power of Roman rule) along with the claim that His disciples were now gathering, or “stockpiling,” swords would be enough to light the Roman fuse that would lead to the crucifixion. Jesus’ council to go and buy swords could not possibly be because He actually wanted His disciples to wield them. For starters, two swords for twelve men wouldn’t be enough. And secondly, when Peter mistakenly thinks the reason they were to buy swords was so they could wield them, and actually does wield one, he gets one of the strongest rebukes in all the gospels.

Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives . . . While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion [remember Jesus must be seen here not just a focal point of religious controversy, but as rebelling against the political order of Rome itself], that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.” (Luke 22.35-53)


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

As we shared last week, the goals of Jesus’ Kingdom cannot be accomplished by violence (see last week’s eSight for a more detailed explanation of this). Jesus is here describing one of the most significant differences between His kingdom and the methods used by the kingdoms of this world. The kingdom of Rome sought peace at any price, including peace by justifiable violence if necessary. Jesus’ kingdom was about establishing peace as well, but by very different methods: peaceful non-violence. Peace was not simply the goal to be achieved but the way that goal was to be achieved as well.

But what about those two objections (which are really the same) that the reason Peter was rebuked and told to put his sword away was not because Jesus’ followers are to live by the rule of peaceful non-violence, but rather because this was a specialized application: Jesus is saying He was not to avoid the cross but rather was ordained to embrace it.

Three texts should be enough to show how misplaced this objection really is.

The cross was not simply a specialized event to be experienced by Jesus only, but a way of life Jesus intended His followers to embrace as well:

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9.22-24)

This is true of the cup as well.

Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?””We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized . . . .” (Mark 10.38-40)

The cross of Christ is not simply to be something we preach, but also a way of life that Jesus’ followers have embraced.

Lastly, we see that Jesus’ words to Peter were not to be taken by the early church as an isolated specialized application. Not only would we see Jesus’ words in Mark 10 fulfilled in the merciless slaughter of Jesus’ followers in the first century, but we would also see the very words Jesus shared with Peter used by John to even encourage those who are being slaughtered by the sword to not return violence with violence, but rather to faithfully and patiently endure.

“. . . If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword they will be killed.” This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people. (Revelation 13.10)

Again, we will discuss this more when we get to Paul’s words in Romans 12 and 13, but before we do, remember that the kingdom of Jesus is not advanced by moving “Rome” to govern by different laws. The kingdom of Jesus is advanced not in how we vote, but in how we bleed. By the testimony of the Cross itself, attested to by the witnesses of the first 300 years of what it meant to be a follower of this Jesus: It is the “blood of the witnesses” that is the “seed” of the Kingdom. To be clear, I’m not saying, “Don’t vote.” Again, if a kingdom of this world asks for your opinion on a matter, by all means give it. I’m simply cautioning us to be very careful. We are not to become confused. We are not to think for a moment we have accomplished anything for the “Kingdom” by our vote. We may have changed something for “Rome.” But again, the Kingdom of Heaven is advanced, not in how we vote, but in how we bleed. I’m not saying roll over and do nothing. I’m saying to let the Kingdom not only move you to “do something,” but also dictate the manner in which that “something” is done. (See again the presentation on our website Religion and Politics.) The methods of advancing Christ’s kingdom are radically different.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” John 18.36

Keep living in love, loving like Christ, even loving your enemies, and thereby keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys. We’ll see you next week.



The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Cheek Defiance (3 of 12)

PART 3 OF 12

Cheek Defiance


“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles . . . I tell you, love your enemies . . .”—Matthew 5.39,43Part 3

As we begin to move into Jesus actual peace teaching, this is another place in this series where I want to emphasize that Jesus did not teach his followers to be “passive-ists” but rather “Pacifists.” (See part 1 for a more detailed explanation of the difference). We will be looking at more of Jesus’ teachings on the way of peace in the coming weeks, but this week, I thought we should begin with those passages that Jesus is most famous for: The sermon on the mount (or plain, if you’re reading from Luke.)

Jesus shows here that the goals of the Kingdom He came to establish cannot be accomplished by violence. Rejection of violence, however, ought not be interpreted as passivity. Far from counseling passivity, Jesus’ statements about turning the other cheek, giving the cloak, and going the second mile, as we see in this passage above, actually teach an assertive and confrontational nonviolence that provides an opponent with an opportunity for transformation. With suggestions such as these the oppressed person has the potential to seize the initiative, shame the offender, and strip him of the power to dehumanize.

Jesus said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”. The only natural way for a blow to land on the right cheek was with the back of the hand. Such a blow would be a show of insult by a superior to an inferior. Let me explain. Normally one would not strike an equal in this humiliating way, and doing so carried an exorbitant fine. Try to picture the scene in your head. Since the left hand was only used for unclean tasks in that culture, hitting the right cheek with the left hand would not occur. Hitting with a closed right fist though, would involved hitting someone on the left cheek. But this would produce another problem. A blow from a closed right fist acknowledged the one struck as an equal. Thus a supposed superior – master over slave, husband over wife, parent over a child, Roman over Jew, man over woman – would specifically not want to strike an inferior with a fist. To be struck on the right cheek required the one striking to strike you not with closed fist, but with an open backhanded slap. The backhand blow to the right cheek had the specific purpose of humiliation, and a blow in retaliation would invite retribution. Thus turning the other, or left cheek, showed that the supposed inferior refused to be humiliated. And with the left cheek now bared, the striker would be left with two options – a left-handed blow or a blow with a right fist. Since neither option was acceptable to the supposed superior, he lost the power to dehumanize the other.

What we are seeing here is that Jesus, not only taught the theory of non-violence, but then He gave us real examples of how to apply the theory. And this doesn’t even begin to look at how He then modeled this theory throughout His entire life and ultimately His death as well. Let’s look at Jesus next example.

A court of law constitutes the setting for Jesus’ injunction about giving the cloak or undergarment along with the outer coat. The law allowed a creditor to take the coat (or outer garment) as a promise of future payment from a poor person without means to pay a debt (Exod. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13, 17). Only the poorest person would have only an article of clothing to surrender as security. Since the coat was likely the debtor’s sole remaining article of clothing, the wealthy creditor had to return it each evening for the owner to sleep in. Further, in that society the shame of nakedness fell more on those viewing it and those causing it than on the naked person. (Remember Noah’s son Ham?) Remember, most people only had two articles of clothing and they didn’t wear underwear in those days. Thus striping off the undergarment in the public setting of the court along with the required outer garment would have the effect of turning the tables on the wealthy creditor; it would put the poor person in charge of the moment while exposing the exploitative system and shaming the wealthy and powerful person who takes the last object of value from a very poor person. Yes, Jesus is actually here endorsing public nudity! This is a radical act of protest, but non-violent protest! Whether we like it or not, Jesus here is recommending streaking with a cause as a viable option rather than returning violence with just more violence.

Going the second mile had great power to embarrass the soldier who compelled the first mile. Roman law allowed soldiers to command at will the forced labor of carrying burdens for one mile, but limited the service to one mile. The limitation provided some protection for the occupied people. But if one followed Jesus’ words and cheerfully carried a burden beyond the required first mile, it put the solder in the awkward position of not complying with the limit posed by his superior. As a result, the solder could end up in the embarrassing position of begging the civilian to put down the burden lest the soldier be disciplined. You have to image the follower of Jesus saying, “No, no, I’ll cover for you. If you get in trouble I’ll vouch for you that I volunteered!” Then you have to image what kind of discussion would take place between the soldier (remember this was a Roman soldier deeply despised by the Jewish people. Try and get your head around what Jesus is actually teaching here.) and the Jesus follower for that entire second mile.

In these cases, Jesus’ instructions are NOT commands of passive nonresistance. The phrase “resist not an evildoer” could be problematic if Jesus did not then demonstrate in these stories exactly what He meant. The actual Greek word here for “resist” is anthistemi. It indicates resistance by returning violence for violence, over coming evil with evil, rather than overcoming evil with good. Anthistemi is a violent resistance much like how America would “resist” or rather exercise violent resistance toward anyone who tried to breach her borders and take over her territory. In the days of the American Revolution, a common symbol of this type of resistance was illustrated with a flag with a coiled up rattlesnake with the words above it, “Don’t tread on me!” The rattlesnake is a fitting illustration for these Americans rebelling against Britain. Step on us and we will strike! But never should it represent the kingdom Jesus came to establish. Never should it be taken to represent the Father. And never should it represent those who claim to follow this Jesus. (The imagery of the snake is used in the Bible, but it’s not used to represent God. The serpent is someone else. See Genesis 3.15. Jesus chose rather to represent the Father and the Kingdom with the mascot of a lamb.)

But was Jesus teaching that in rejecting violent responses that we should then simply do nothing? Absolutely NOT! Jesus was teaching nonviolent ways for oppressed people to take the initiative, to affirm their humanity, to expose and neutralize exploitative circumstances. Jesus is demonstrating non-violent ways in which people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power learn to recover their humanity while at the same time reach out to redeem and restore those who, even though they are the “oppressors”, they too are victims of the systemic evil of their culture.

Now one note of balance needs to be made mention of. It is also possible to use these resistance strategies in ways that humiliate and belittle our oppressors. This is why Jesus was careful to immediately follow these teachings with the injunction to “love your enemies”. The importance of this cannot be over emphasized. The strategies provide an opportunity to reverse a situation in ways that preserve the humanity of all those involved, victim and oppressor alike, and keep open the possibility of restored relationships. Violent responses only close the possibilities of redemption and reconciliation. This is not what Christ’s Kingdom was to be about. This is why the goals of the Kingdom He came to establish cannot be accomplished by violence. Through the means that Jesus teaches here however, followers of Jesus can witness to the truths of the Kingdom as a contrast to the social order that does not recognize the rule of Jesus. In practicing these non-violent, but pacifistic (peaceful) means of confrontation, the followers of Jesus witness to new way of living, a new way of doing life. They give the gospel cry: “The Kingdom Has Come.” (see Mark 1.15, Mathew 24.14, Acts 28.30-31)

Again, this was the way followers of Jesus understood what it meant to follow Jesus for the first three hundred years. We’ll be looking at much more of Jesus’ own peace teaching over the next few weeks. (We’ll get to all those questions you guys have been sending in too.)

Keep living in love, loving like Jesus, and keep building the Kingdom.

I love you guys,



The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: The Constantinian Shift (2 of 12)

PART 2 OF 12

The Constantinian Shift


“With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’” — JESUS; Matthew 26:51, 52

This week we are continuing our series on the active nonviolence of Jesus. In this second part, we are going to look at what scholars today call the Constantinian shift on this topic within Christian church history.

As we shared last week, for three hundred years until Constantine, Christians, although they rarely agreed on any other topic, spoke with a unified voice on this topic, without one dissension. There was unanimity of opinion: Jesus’ teaching on this topic was pretty clear. They rallied around the Latin saying patientia (patience), by which they meant patiently enduring evil so as not to commit it, rather than committing evil so as not to endure it. They sought to do anything to avoid killing, as that would destroy their witness for Christ. Dying, however, was perfectly acceptable. In fact, they viewed dying as possibly one of the best ways to witness for their faith (“dying well” in love for their enemies). Thus, the word martyr, which originally meant simply “witness,” came to be synonymous with someone who witnessed for their faith through dying.

“We (Christians) no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, but we have become the children of peace.” — Origin

“And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” — Tertullian

Notice what Tertullian is really saying. If we don’t even call on the sword to avenge our own wrongs, how can we wield the sword in union with a kingdom of this world?

“Anyone who has the power of the sword, or who is a civil magistrate wearing the purple, should desist or he should be rejected.”—Hippolytus

Whether today you agree or disagree, for three hundred years the practice was to excommunicate those who enlisted in the military or took a political office. (This is to me quite fascinating when contrasted with what evangelical Christians today believe, as reflected in the quest for greater political control.)

“Rather, it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it. We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another.” —Arnobius

“It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.”—Arnobius

Again, with “by word” Arnobius here is referring to holding a political office.

“When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder (some translations read ‘brigandage’), which is not permitted under the law even; He is also recommending us not to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men…whether you kill a man with a sword or a word makes no difference, since killing itself is banned.”—Lactantius (Lactantius was the tutor of Constantine’s son.)

“…no exceptions at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature.”—Lactantius

Up until Constantine, Christians were not trying to tell Caesar what to do; they were simply trying to live out the gospel of Jesus’ Kingdom. About a hundred years after Constantine, we find that it was illegal not to be a Christian (with an exception for Jews) and you could not serve in the military unless you were a Christian. (You were not trusted as loyal unless you were a Christian.) How did Christianity get there?

On October 28, 312, we find Constantine involved in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge between himself and the rival Roman Emperor Maxentius. This battle marks the beginning of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Lactantius recounts that, on the evening of October 27, just prior to the battle, Constantine had a vision of the Christian God promising victory if they daubed the sign of the cross on their shields. (The details of the vision differ among sources reporting it. Lactantius reports that the vision promised victory if Constantine would “delineate the heavenly sign, the cross, on the shields of his soldiers” (On the Deaths of the Persecutors, 44). Eusebius reports that the sign God instructed them to use on their shields was instead the Chi-Rho. The reports of Constantine’s vision state that Constantine saw a cross of light with the inscription, “through this sign you shall conquer.”

Various theories today exist in interpreting these reports. Some view the reports of this vision as legend with no historical basis whatsoever. Others believe Constantine made up this story after the fact, being the great political strategist he was and seeing that the only way to defeat Christianity’s influence and threat to Rome was to somehow unite Christianity with Rome itself. Others believe the vision happened, but that it was a vision from the Devil. And finally there are some who interpret this vision as genuine, but intended to communicate to Constantine that he should lay down his sword and embrace non-violence of the Christian Cross instead. This interpretation sees this vision as genuinely from God in an effort to reach Constantine, but a vision that was nonetheless misinterpreted by Constantine and taken to mean just the opposite of what was intended. Each of these theories is speculation, including the popular interpretation of that time, which was that the vision was genuine and that Jesus was actually supporting the conquests of Rome. What we do know is what happened within Christianity for the first time in Christian history as a result of Constantine’s “conversion”: The minute you pick up the sword you lay down the cross.

Augustine, Eusebius, and others began to see political power as having been handed to them by God Himself, and for the first time in history, instead of there being soldiers and Christians, there were Christian soldiers ridding the world of evil (i.e., Rome’s political enemies) in Jesus’ name. In the subsequent centuries we would get a brand new norm:

“When people falsely assert that you are not allowed to take up the physical sword or fight bodily against the enemies of the Church, it is the devil trying to attack the fabric of your Order.”—Jacques de Vitry

Notice that the non-violence teachings of Jesus had come to be defined as “demonic.”

“Do not ever be ashamed, O Bride of Heaven, to take up the sword against heretics; for the God still lives who sanctified such action through the arms of David.”—John of Mantua

Jesus and His teachings would take a seat on the sidelines and the example of figures from the Old Testament began to take center stage. David and Joshua and others became the heroes of the faith rather than Jesus.

“Bodily torture has been found the most salutary and efficient means of leading to spiritual repentance.”—Pope Innocent IV

How did we get there? Early in the fourth century, Constantine was witnessing a very real threat to Rome. Christians (who were pacifists without exception) only made up a portion of the Roman population, but they were growing at an exponential rate. Persecution and death only served to fuel the Christian fire! This was proven by the Emperor who preceded Constantine—Diocletian. The more Christianity was crushed, the faster it grew. If Christianity continued it would inevitably overthrow the stability of Rome.

Note that Constantine saw that pacifism was going to win: This should make us sit up and pay attention. Christians were still paying their taxes, but if everyone became Christian (and thereby pacifists) who would Rome have left to fight its wars and defend its borders from its many continual attacks? What was Constantine’s solution? He decided to back what he perceived to be the winning horse. Christians not only died well, they lived well. They would provide fortitude and stability to Rome and could unify the kingdom. But first, Constantine had to remove the obstacle of pacifism. Church and State had to become unified, and violence in defense of both Church and State had to become justified. Watch closely how Constantine pulled this off.

Constantine declared Christianity a religio licita (a legal religion) through the Edict of Milan, immediately reversing any ongoing persecution. He lavished gifts upon all Church leaders (e.g., increasing their salaries, exempting them from paying taxes, building church buildings, funding Bible copying, etc.). For the first time, Church became a building rather than a group of people. Crucifixion and gladiatorial games were abolished because of the traumatic connection with Christian victimization. Sunday was declared a weekly holiday for all people. Pagan holidays were absorbed into the Christian calendar. Pagan temples were converted into Church buildings, with statues of Roman gods replaced by statues of the Apostles and other biblical characters. The Church became a friend of the State.

Constantine employed some of the greatest minds in Christianity to come up with Biblical support for this new turn of affairs. Enter Augustine (354 – 430 C.E.) and, later, Aquinas (1225 – 1274 C.E.)! Augustine, the brightest theological mind of his time, rose to notice. He developed and defended a “justified violence” theory for Christians, based upon existing Roman and Greek thought. Christians were now encouraged to join the army and to become involved in government. Violence was to be used as God’s instrument to “punish” evildoers (e.g., Romans 13:1- 7). Augustine saw punishment as a more justifiable motive than self-defense. And by 416 C.E., all Roman soldiers were required to be Christians. Up until this time, “pagan” (Latin, paganus) simply meant civilian as opposed to soldier. It came to mean non-Christian as opposed to believer.

Here is a sampling of the new Augustinian teaching:

“War is waged to serve the peace. You must, therefore, be a peacemaker even to waging war, so that by your conquest, you may lead those you subdue to the enjoyment of peace.”— Augustine

He knew Christians preached peace, but for the first time in both Christian orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right behavior), peace as an end was separated from peace as the means. War was doing others a favor.

“What, indeed, is wrong with war? That people die who will eventually die anyway so that those who survive may be subdued in peace? A coward complains of this but it does not bother religious people.”— Augustine

“Does anyone doubt that it is preferable for people to be drawn to worship God by teaching rather than forced by fear of punishment or by pain? But because the one type of people is better, it does not mean that the others, who are not of that type, ought to be ignored.”— Augustine

Augustine taught that, yes, it’s better for people to come to worship God on their own rather than being tortured or threatened with violence, but just because some will choose Him on their own doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t force others to worship Him. (Think about this complete disconnect from the teachings of Jesus.) Augustine, in his writing, turns more and more to the Old Testament and then embarks on desperate attempts to find some clue in the teachings of Jesus that indicate that Jesus really didn’t mean what He taught in His very clear teaching on the “way” of peace. (We see this exact pattern followed today without people realizing exactly what they are doing—exalting the Old Testament over Jesus, and twisting the words of Jesus to mean something other than their natural implication.) The best example of Augustine’s desperate exegesis is Jesus’ parable in Luke 14.

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.’” (Luke 14:23)

Augustine basically argued, “See? See? Even Jesus said we must compel others to come in!” This was the best that Augustine could do! When Jesus said “compel,” He meant threaten them with violence, kill them, torture them, but get them to come in! (See my presentation A Formal Apology for the non-violent background and definition of this word “compel.” It denotes humility, a begging, a pleading, but never with violence. See also 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15.) Over and over, Augustine performed an exercise in desperation to make Jesus contradict Himself. These desperate explanations became the norm in Augustinian thinking and rationale.

Augustine also exhibited typical, dualistic Platonic (Hellenistic/Greek) thinking, which sees the body as separate from an immortal soul. (This was in opposition to the more holistic philosophy of the Hebrews.) Therefore, you could do whatever was necessary to someone’s body if it saved their soul. Augustine would go on to teach that killing someone was justified if that was the means whereby you saved their soul. He taught that it was acceptable to run your enemies through, as long as you did not kill them with hatred in your heart toward them, for Jesus taught us to love our enemies.

Augustine devised, for the first time in Christian thinking, a religious philosophy that justified saving souls at any cost, even by means of torture and violence. Augustine taught that the Christian response to torturing confessions out of others was that the Christian should simply “cry fountains of tears” for this “necessary state of affairs,” but never did he stop to consider that torture itself might be wrong. This was the origin of Christianity embracing “justified violence” or as it is called today, the “just war” theory that is the popular position of our contemporary, Americanized, evangelical worldview.

Today we live in the echo of the Constantinian shift. Christianity and its Lord (Jesus) fell victim in the same way as all the other religions taken in by Rome. This pattern can be seen, for instance, with the Greek gods. When the Greek gods were embraced by Rome, their appearances in the pictures and the statues changed. Under Roman influence, for example, Zeus (Greek) became Jupiter (Roman name.) But it wasn’t just their names that changed; their attributes changed, too. Under Rome, the Greek gods became more warlike. In the stories they became distant, not mingling with mortals as much. They became harsher and more powerful. They came to stand for discipline, honor, and strength. The Greek gods, once Romanized, ceased being friendly and became violent. For instance, Hypnos, god of sleep, didn’t do much in Greek times. In Roman times though, he was called Somnus, and he liked killing people who didn’t stay alert at their jobs. If they nodded off at the wrong time, they never woke up. This same exact pattern took place as well with the Christian God—Jesus.

It takes a great, determined effort to step back from our cultural, “Christian” assumptions and look, as openly and honestly as possible, into the actual teachings of Christ before the influence of Constantine. We must strive to gain perspective, and to shake off the influence of centuries of thinking that has eclipsed the plain teaching of Jesus. If the bloody violence of Christianity’s history has taught us anything, it is that we must stop uncritically accepting a theory of justified violence. This series is a call to those who bear Christ’s name to be willing to stare into the actual teachings of Christ and follow Jesus’ teaching wherever it leads.

Through this series, Renewed Heart Ministries and I are inviting all Christians to reject Constantinian Christianity. This is not a matter of rejecting one denomination in favor of another (trust me), but rather rejecting a mentality that has gone unchallenged for too long. Nonviolence was a radically central element of the Kingdom Jesus came to establish. It was the outflowing of His own understanding of the Character of His Father. In a world wracked by religious violence, never has there been a better time for Christians to repent and begin following Jesus again. In short, what is your picture of God?

Next week we will begin our actual look at Jesus’ Kingdom and exactly what Jesus taught on this subject. Before then though, strive to remain open. Do not respond with emotionally charged objections or questions. Let’s begin actually looking at what Jesus really taught next week and simply allow the answers to surface. We’ll look at the questions that revolve around how to apply Jesus’ teaching afterward. Let’s first start with Jesus, not just as our Savior, but as our Lord, following the “lamb” wherever He leads. Our Lord is not to be a philosophy, not politics, nationalism, religious tradition, nor even the impulse toward self-preservation, but our Lord is to be simply Jesus and Jesus alone. As we begin looking at the teachings of Jesus, it is my prayer that we will exercise reasoning, given this week’s eSight, that is not clouded by the assumptions of Augustinian thinking.

Keep living in love and building the Kingdom.

I love you guys,