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Did Jesus Actually Promote Violence? – Not Peace, But the Sword

Did Jesus Actually Promote Violence? - Not Peace, But the Sword

Is Jesus really the Prince of Peace, or is he actually the Prince of Violence?

A Justification for Violence?

The question seems ridiculous if we look at the whole life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But when people take certain verses apart from the whole, we can start using Jesus’ words as a justification for violence.

For example, take Matthew 10:34-36. That passage starts with Jesus saying, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This sentence seems strange. Did Jesus not want peace? Did he have a change of heart after the Sermon on the Mount where he said that we are to love our enemies? Did he come to believe that one way to love our enemies is to kill them with a sword?

It might be easy to conclude that Jesus was advocating violence in this passage, but you don’t have to look to the overall life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus to see that Jesus wasn’t advocating for violence in this passage. You just have to look at the next few verses after verse 34.

If Jesus was advocating for literal violence with a sword, he would have said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. So I’ve changed my mind. When someone slaps you on the cheek, you slap them back. Go get your swords to defend yourselves against your enemies. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and to install it here on earth, we don’t need peace, we need the sword!”

But Jesus didn’t say that. He actually said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”

A Sword That Divides

Whenever Jesus talks about a literal sword, he never tells his disciples to use it violently. In fact, when his disciples do take up the sword in violence, he rebukes them, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

When Jesus says that he did “not come to bring peace, but a sword,” he was talking about a metaphorical sword that will divide families.

Jesus has a straightforward explanation for his statement. He understood that his message would be like a sword that divides families. It is precisely Jesus’ message of healing, inclusion, and radical love even for our enemies that divides families.

We see this a few verses earlier in Matthew 10:5-15. Jesus sends his disciples on a mission into the neighboring towns, telling them to, “proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,* cast out demons.”

But what if the people of the town didn’t accept the disciples? And why wouldn’t they accept the disciples if they were curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons?

Because curing people disrupts the religious status quo. Much of religion, including much of Christianity today, believes that sick people deserve to be sick. We think that they must have sinned to deserve God’s judgment upon them, and God is judging them with an illness. This line of thinking is found in the Bible – if bad things happen to you, it’s because you sinned. 

The Judgment of Job

But there is another line of thinking that counters that message. See the Book of Job, for example. Job is a righteous man and he experiences tragedy after tragedy. Four of his friends try to comfort him in his distress. Each of them tries to explain Job’s suffering with some form of, “You sinned and this is God punishing you. Just admit it.” But Job knows he is innocent, so refuses to follow his friends’ advice.

Jesus is in line with Job. People may not be fully innocent, but we are not fully guilty, either. In fact, guilt and innocence don’t matter to Jesus when it comes to healing. He doesn’t say, “Go throughout the towns and ask people if they have sufficiently repented of their sins and have asked for forgiveness. Then you can cure them.” Instead, Jesus just tells his disciples to cure people.

This gracious message that is beyond labeling people as guilty or innocent divides people from one another like a sword. It divided Job from his friends. It divided Jesus’ disciples from their family members. It divided all of them from the religious elite of their day. And Jesus’ message of grace, healing, and love continues to divide today.

The fact is that Jesus didn’t come to make peace with the forces of injustice. He came to defeat those forces by bringing the Kingdom of God. It’s a nonviolent kingdom where everyone has enough food, water, shelter, and healing is made readily available. In a world where forces work against the graciousness of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ principles act like a sword that divides. He experienced this division. His disciples experienced it. And we will, too. 

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Adam Ericksen

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