I was recently asked about Jesus Christ’s position as the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6) The increase in random violent attacks spawned by religious zealots, angry ignorant fools and mentally disturbed chemical depositories should make everyone consider the position of the church and it’s members in this continual war on peace. While I’m pretty sure he was just wanting to see if I agreed with him, (which I apparently do at least in the big picture) it’s a relevant topic.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” -Jesus Christ
Jesus was a man of confrontation, a fearless instigator. He provoked, he accused, he made firm statements and exhibited behaviors which went completely against the grain of polite society and religious leadership. Jesus polarized those he met, inspiring love and awe in those who were open to him and anger and fear in those who were not. He wasn’t crucified for being nice to everyone, giving everyone whatever they wanted or being politically correct. His peace was not earthly and his words and actions made that message very clear. That in no way says he was physically violent, the sword he presented came from his mouth, and he presented it boldly. The strength and power of The Word of God is the weapon he brought to battle the misunderstanding and corruption of our minds and souls. It is the sword(Ephesians 6:17) he gave us to battle the ruler of this world(John 14:30) and the evil(Ephesians 6:11) he wields. Christ never committed a single act of violence against a person, though by modern definition, his turning over tables of merchants and money changers would be considered a violent act. We don’t crucify people in America today, but he would be arrested and labeled an unstable danger to society.
”You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” -Jesus Christ
This is a difficult directive to come to terms with. It almost seems completely contrary to the other statement. Most modern explanations I found are written by men who have little to no personal experience with violence, while writers of older ones often faced tremendous violence. I found more modern ones saying, ‘he just meant insults, as that’s what a slap on the cheek meant in ancient times’. Some seem to find a way to excuse all but the most unprovoked violence, leaving fairly open exceptions for war, self defense and defense of others, which essentially encompasses everything when viewed from the violent mind. They usually go on to clearly interpret Christ’s reference to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But leave the turn the other cheek part no more definitive, or actually, less definitive. Those who denounce any and all violence have often seen a lot of it in one form or another, somehow the ones who haven’t are usually so convoluted in their extrapolations they leave unintelligible responses. It so directly contradicts our nature, it is a hard thing to swallow so we try to leave ourselves an out, just in case.
Jesus was a Jew, though his salvation and message applies to all, he was speaking to Jews. Throughout the sermon this line is taken from, Jesus is referencing Old Testament scriptures. Here he specifically references Leviticus with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. It sounds pretty hard core, but it really is a restraint. When wronged or hurt, our natural response is to make them sorry, to cause greater harm than was caused to us so they’ll regret their actions, and to serve ourselves to vindication. A sort of paying back with interest. Putting restrictions on repercussions brings pause, a moment to consider the ramifications of revenge that always lead to even greater discord. At worst an eye for an eye evens the score. What Jesus did was clarify the intent as he did with all of the Old Testament, he told us to quit keeping score. Nothing can undue an act of violence or unspeak an insult. Returning it in kind only increases the total evil which is done. Israel was commanded no more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; to not seek gain from loss, though they continued to calculate proper revenge. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, to prevent us ever falling down the hole of revenge, so the lesser loss is gain.
”Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,…” -Paul of Tarsus
Paul’s letter to the Romans gives the best explanation of Christ’s instruction on violence. God knows we live in a violent world. We cannot live at peace with all, but we must try. Beyond the scope of insults and momentary personal suffering, which are clearly not opportunities for violence or retaliation, violence to prevent greater evil must be measured to the entire message of The Word and the will of God. We aren’t capable of taking that measurement, and are slow to follow His will. God is the the only righteous deliverer of vengeance, so it can be measured completely, dispensed properly and abandoned by grace when granted. Everyone from armies to individuals are subject to God’s influence and I can’t say he doesn’t use men as weapons for his purpose, I believe he does. I also believe that were we able, as people, to reject evil driven violence completely, there would be no need for righteous violence, and that a fairly small percentage of conflicts have enough of a “good guy” side to be worthy of His interference.
Peter had a sword, in those days anyone who could afford one had a sword. Not just for self defense, it was like the multi-tool of its day. Peter wasn’t a soldier or warrior, he was a fisherman. It was a harsh world though and defense was a real necessity too. When he cut the ear of the soldier to defend the Lord, Jesus stopped him and told him not to fight, because it was his time. He didn’t say never defend yourself or others. He then said ‘he who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword’ but the sword is the living Word of God. He is the word(John 1:1-18) and was about to die because of it. If we believe in him and live by the Word, we die to ourselves and are born again in Christ who overcame death. Living by the sword in the literal, violent sense also brings death, and that is the broad path that leads to destruction.
Jesus is the Christ and the Prince of Peace, he gives peace to those who believe in him and tells us how and why to be at peace with others. He doesn’t say lay down and take a beating, or sit back and watch one, but exercising the means to stop it is the most allowance I can see, and I’m not even sure about that. In the earliest part of the church, it flourished and expanded at a miraculous rate while suffering unspeakable violence and those Christians were widely known for not fighting back. I believe God motivated the powers that overcame the Nazis, but struggle with the murder of millions of native Americans in westward expansion, millions more in numerous countries with the implementation of communism, the death of billions over time that in my limited perception are completely evil destruction and worthy of his intervention. My faith is in his eternal goodness, peace and perfect wisdom free of the confines of time and limitations. His peace is available to us now and will reign in eternity.