Was Jesus a pacifist?

Question: "Was Jesus a pacifist?"

According to Webster’s dictionary, a pacifist is someone who is opposed to violence, especially war, for any purpose, often accompanied by the refusal to bear arms by reason of conscience or religious conviction.

While Jesus is the “prince of peace” (Isaiah 9:6), He was not, and is not, a pacifist. Revelation 19:15, speaking of Jesus, declares, "Out of His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." Ecclesiastes 3:1, 3, & 8 say, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heaven…a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” Daniel 9:26 says that “war will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed.” Matthew 24:6-8 says, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

Jesus Himself said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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---a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household’” (Matthew 10:34-36). “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12).

We are commanded to hate what is evil and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9). In doing so we must take a stand against what is evil in this world and pursue righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22). Jesus did this and, in so doing, spoke openly against the religious and political rulers of His time because they were not seeking a righteousness from God, but rather of their own making (Luke 20:1-2, Romans 9:31-33). Zeal for God’s righteousness consumed Jesus, and He was not afraid to stand up against those who opposed and dishonored His Father (John 2:15-17, see also Numbers 25:11). “Those who hate Him He will repay to their face by destruction; He will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate Him” (Deuteronomy 7:10). “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

The Old Testament is full of examples of how God used his people in war to bring judgment upon nations whose sin had reached its full measure (only a few examples: Genesis 15:16, Numbers 21:3, 31:1-7, 32:20-21, Deuteronomy 7:1-2, Joshua 6:20-21, 8:1-8, 10:29-32, 11:7-20). In raising the moral consciousness of the world, God must take the people as He finds them and introduce principles of righteousness within the moral framework with which the people can identify. We can be assured though, that it is always with justice that God judges and makes war (Revelation 19:11). “For we know Him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31). What we can learn from these and other Biblical examples is that we are only to wage war when it is the will of God and not at our own discretion (John 18:11, Numbers 14:41-45). It is God’s choice as to how and when He brings judgment of sin upon this world and its inhabitants, to display His holiness. We are simply called to follow Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

All of this may sound contradictory to the teachings of Jesus, God Himself, in which He instructs us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19), turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), as well as the command, “you shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). After all, we are told that God is love (1 John 4:16) and “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). The Bible also says in 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine powers to demolish strongholds.“ While all this is indeed true, it helps in examining these seemingly contradictory concepts from an everlasting perspective, that we may gain a more complete understanding for Jesus’ purpose in coming to this earth.

At the beginning of human history, God commanded mankind to rule over the earth (Genesis 1:26-31; Hebrews 2:6-8). When man disobeyed God, sin entered the world (Genesis 2:17, 3:6-7). By this one action, man sold his right to rule this world to Satan and at the same time became captive to sin himself (John 8:34, 12:31; Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:2, 6:12). As a result, sinful men live in a world full of corruption, each person doing what is right in his own eyes, the whole time being led astray by their own evil desires (Psalm 8:6, 51:5; Proverbs 14:12; Genesis 3:17; Romans 8:20, James 1:14-15). It isn’t hard to see that the whole world lies in Satan’s power (1 John 5:19). Even Jesus did not dispute with him over the fact that he ruled the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-10). Therefore, there can be no lasting peace or restoration of the land until Jesus returns to redeem the land and man (Galatians 4:4-5).

Jesus came in the likeness of mankind, while still retaining his full authority as God, in order that He might redeem men from their sentence of death, and re-establish, for the believer, man’s authority to rule (Philippians 2:6-8, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 54-57, Revelation 20:6). When Jesus died on the cross, He purchased back the land and men’s souls from the dominion of Satan through the shedding of His own blood, the purchase price for redemption of man’s sin (Hebrews 9:22, Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 1:18-19, 1 Corinthians 6:20). A day is coming, after severe judgment upon the earth, when Jesus will break the seal of the deed and end Satan’s rule (Revelation 5:1-10, 6-18, 19:11-21). At the end of Jesus’ 1,000 year reign upon this earth, Satan will be set free for a short time and war once again will be waged (Revelation 20:7-10). It is only at the end of that war, once the murderer of man, Satan, is destroyed by Jesus and His servants’ blood is finally avenged, that wars will cease and peace will once again be established in the new heaven and new earth (John 8:44, Deuteronomy 32:43, Daniel 7:13-14, 2 Peter 3:3-13, Revelation 21:1-4). Until that time we are called to fight the good fight and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).

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Was Jesus a pacifist?