Posted by: minnow | December 20, 2008

Is Jesus a Pacifist?

Not too long ago I started an interesting conversation with a friend I met on line about the idea of Jesus as a pacifist. We know He did not gather an army to defeat the Roman empire but is that enough to label Him a pacifist? And what about His Father?  Jesus says if you have seen Him you have seen the Father.  The Old Testament is full of examples of God leading His people against other nations, wiping out entire armies for Israel, and then turning around and destroying portions of Israel when they rebelled.  That does not exactly paint a picture of pacifism.  Certainly we should see in Jesus what the Old Testament shows us of God.  Finally, assuming we could make a case for Jesus’ first coming being pacifistic in nature surly His second coming will not be. I mean, Revelations may be apocalyptic but ignoring the violence  it depicts takes some doing.

Before we go too much further we probably should get a working definition of the terms we are using.  The strict definition of pacifist  according to Webster’s is: one who strongly opposes conflict, especially war.  Pacifism  is: opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes or an attitude or policy of non-resistance.  Right up to the last phrase I might have argued that Jesus fit the bill perfectly.  He certainly did not advocate violence, telling Peter in Matthew 26:52 when Judas came to betray Jesus, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. ”  In verse 53 He further indicates His ability to call on His Father to send “twelve legions of angels” had that been the better way.  However, the phrase “an attitude or policy of nonresistance” creates a major problem.  We could probably spend a lot of time pitting scripture against scripture to argue one side or the other.  But in the end we would accomplish only what we already know to be true, the answer to the question: “Is Jesus a pacifist?” using the definition above, has got to be NO .  Simply put Jesus resisted  evil.  He withstood temptation.  He restored blind eyes.  He turned over the tables of the money changers.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.  Over and over He dispelled the darkness with light and truth and love.

Now to be fair, those who advocate that Jesus is a pacifist are not exactly using the definitions we listed above which is partly why we have a conflict–we do not even start out on the same page.  Most who call Jesus a pacifist see His behavior toward both the Roman government and the religious leaders of His day as “non-violent resistance”, much like Mahatma Gandhi’s.  (Or perhaps it is better said that Gandhi’s behavior was much like that of Christ’s).  Using this understanding it is much easier to make a case for the Jesus of the New testament being a “pacifist” (one who engages in passive or non-violent resistance).  Yet ultimately, will Christ’s return be the time when Jesus finally kicks but the way my friend anticipates or have we missed the point?

When my friend argued against Jesus as a pacifist she quoted Jesus in Matthew 11:12, “…the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it.” Granted she was arguing against our original definition.  Still, she was also making the case that Jesus was coming back with an army and a sword coming out of his mouth and his eyes blazing like fire (just take a look at Revelation 19).  This Jesus is not going to sit still and take it.  It will be a return, so to speak, of the good ol’ days when God ruled.

So, what do you think?  Personally I have a few questions but in the interest of shorter posts I think I will save those for next time.  Please lurkers (and faithful commenters)–tell me what you think.



  1. Definitely Jesus taught Nonviolence. Whether he was a “pacifist” might be harder to answer because Jesus did not concern himself with the affairs of the State. Jesus’ concern was with the Kingdom of God and what it meant to live as a kingdom citizen, which clearly from both Jesus’ teaching and from that of the Old Testament Prophets kingdom living was a life of Nonviolence. Shane Claiborne, a modern proponent of pacifist theology, wrote, “I have pledge allegiance to a King who loved evildoers so much he died for them, teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for.” There is a plethora of information that could be said and bore as testimony to this issue dating all the way back to the earliest church fathers, yet, I believe if anyone reads the Gospel accounts of the New Testament the Nonviolence of Jesus stands out uncontested.

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