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Saint Augustine
Jesus and Pacifism - Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
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Article Index
Jesus and Pacifism
Personal Non-retaliation, Not Pacifism
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Turn the Other Cheek
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
Two Kingdoms - The Strong Man
Jesus and the Roman Centurion -- Conclusion
All Pages



"Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew. 26:52-54; cf. Luke 21:24; John 18:11)

In this command, the power of the divine Holy Warrior is revealed. “The idea of God actively being present in battle, not as sole combatant but as one who is personally present and assists the forces of good, is found very widely in Hebraic and later Christian tradition.”44 Peter‘s impulsively loyal act of drawing his lone sword against (Jn. 18:11) the constabulary force, although futile, was fundamentally a confusion concerning which conflict was being fought. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of earth stand in stark opposition at this pivotal moment. This was not a simple arrest but a cosmic battle waged with divinely powerful (2 Cor. 10:4) weapons of righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7).

This episode in Christ‘s life demonstrates again that Holy War is fought by God himself.45 Holy War is eschatological in nature and for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God. Although human believers are the soldiers of Holy War, it is not fought with worldly means. Messiah, as God‘s charismatic representative46 engages in spiritual battle even though the humans involved are unaware of the celestial import of their actions. Human or political agency is not sufficient to bring about the divine program,47 rather as the prophet Zechariah proclaimed, divine action is required: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”48 Messiah will fight his enemies (Luke 10:19; 1 Corinthians15:21), no one else is capable of winning this battle, and “victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).

Is there, however, a contradiction in Jesus‘ teachings? In the arrest scene Christ commands Peter to put away his sword. How are we to understand that injunction in light of his command given to the disciples:49 “Go out and purchase a sword” (Luke 22:36) which is recorded by Luke just prior to the arrest? Because Luke develops the themes of human and spiritual conflict in his Gospel,50 the distinction between the two kingdoms51 is highlighted. Both instructions are given in the closing hours of Passion Week. The Messiah‘s eternal Kingdom purposes are primary and spiritual discernment is required on the part of his disciples.

We gain greater insight into the cosmic spiritual conflict afoot as Satan enters Judas (Luke 22:1-6); darkness reigns (Luke 22:53); and the Christ is arrested then condemned then executed (Luke 22:54ff).52 In unambiguous contrast, the human events recorded by Luke are mundane and even unremarkable for first century Israel - just as the spiritual insights into these ordinary events are startling. Such is the intertwining of the natural and spiritual realms in Luke‘s Gospel.

Calvin interprets the command to purchase a sword as a martial metaphor designed to prepare the Apostles for the conflict ahead. The Disciples are to strip themselves of every normal requirement of life, selling what is unnecessary to obtain everything essential to fight victoriously. But the battle call of Christ is not a call to worldly strife but toward spiritual warfare - a far more difficult task.53

The immediate and larger context of these sayings is solidly within the spiritual battle to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus has amply demonstrated that he is not interested in a temporal kingdom as he battles Satan (Matthew 4:8-10) by refusing to trade worship for world hegemony. Jesus conceded that Satan had (albeit temporarily) the power to grant him all of the authority and splendor of the earth‘s nations (Luke 4:5-6). The world is “under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). “What Jesus would not do, however, was to give in to Satan‘s pernicious temptation to worship this illegitimate tyrant as a way of regaining the temporal kingdom (Luke 4:7-8).”54

The Kingdom of God is not a worldly kingdom acquired by military might. Rather, Christ‘s Kingdom “is not of this realm” (Zechariah 4:6; Jn. 18:36). So the Apostles are not to build the Kingdom of God by military might, or any other human methodologies. Just as Jesus the Messiah clearly delineates the separate concerns of church and state (Matthew 22:21), so he unambiguously defines how the Kingdom of God would be built. The sword, a weapon of the temporal world, is not an appropriate method for the Kingdom of God. Nations are a construct of human society, protected by military might and ordered by a constabulary. The Kingdom of God is created by the loving sacrifice of the Lamb of God (Zechariah 4:6) exercising divine power.

From all of this we may derive a clear teaching of principle that delineates between church and state. The church must be built by the power of God and not the power of the sword. The unspoken corollary is that worldly power is divinely given for the building, defense and ordering of human society.

Almighty God shows us a great grace when he appoints rulers for us as an outward sign of his will, so that we are sure we are pleasing his divine will and are doing right, whenever we do the will and pleasure of the ruler. For God has attached and bound his will to them when he says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar‘s” [Matthew 22:21, and in Romans 13:1], “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”55

Charles concludes that Christ‘s forbidding the disciples the use of armed force to establish the Kingdom of God is not an argument for pacifism. Nor, he notes, does it preclude the believer from ‘bearing the sword’ in public service for the good of society. He deduces that the NT does not teach that military service is “incompatible with the Christian faith.”56

Where does this leave the average Christian? Christians live in two worlds, both the Kingdom of God and this earthly kingdom. Christ‘s command to be the ‘salt of the earth’ (Mt. 5:13) directs believers to be participants in all walks of life, and for the believer to be there as agents of God‘s grace and divine transformation. Therefore, some persons are vocationally called and gifted by God to be protectors of society. They are suited for service in the constabulary and military forces ordained by God to maintain justice and peace.

Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 18:17