In our new Turning Over Tables series, we examine how central Jesus (as well as other new testament authors) placed our call to non-violence. In fact at one point in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus pre-conditions being considered a child of God to our love toward enemies and refusal to return evil for evil. Many throughout history have tried to twist scripture to fit certain personal or other non-Kingdom nationalistic agendas, but Jesus’ call to us is that His Kingdom is not of this world. What makes His followers distinct is our refusal to engage in violence no matter the “just” circumstance.
Over the past 20 years at Woodland Hills we have become increasingly aware of the centrality non-violence plays in our distinctive place in the world as kingdom people. Most evangelical churches have bought in to the “just war” concept, where under the right circumstances violence is justified and even necessary. This usually comes by appealing to seemingly violent OT depictions of God and then applying that to current day situations. Many have also used limited sections of NT scripture, such as Jesus cleansing the temple, to play this same role.
Jesus’ sermon on the mount sets the framework for His understanding of His Father’s Kingdom. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus makes several critical statements discussing non-violence and loving of enemies. It’s important to note that He gives no qualifications for whom or when we’re supposed to love. It applies to all people at all times, there is no off button. He also makes the bold proclamation that living in this way (indiscriminate love) is actually pre-condition for being considered a child of God. We are to be made full of this way of love as our Father in Heaven is full of this type of love that gives freely out of His nature, not by assessing merit. Jesus later goes on to explain that there is nothing distinct about loving those who love you and hating those who hate you, everyone does that. What is distinct about His Kingdom is returning evil with good, praying for those who persecute you, and doing good to your enemies. By in large, as a persecuted minority for the first 3 centuries the early church lived in this way. But in the 4th century when the church put down the cross and picked up the sword becoming the official state religion, as a whole we lost our distinctiveness that came from a non-violent ethic.
A couple sections of NT scripture were addressed in which people have appealed to support that even Jesus in certain just circumstances resorted to violence. The first is Jesus’ famous cleansing of the temple where he fashioned a whip and drove animals out of the temple and turned over money changers’ tables. A few points are important to keep in mind:
- The temple system of buying and selling animals for sacrifices was corrupt. This was not a spontaneous angry outburst by Jesus, it was a calculated planned prophetic act to fulfill the OT prophesy of God cleansing the temple.
- Jesus is also provoking the authorities. He came to be crucified and this is part of the path to keep those wheels turning.
- He never used the whip on any people or animals; He simply cracked it in the air as any animal herder would have done to get the herds moving. If he would have used it on people or actually acted violently it would have been obvious because anyone who heard Him teach would have called him a hypocrite. He was aggressive, but not violent.
A second passage in Luke 22:36-38 outlines Jesus request of His disciples to get swords to prepare for temple guards coming to arrest Him. Again a few points of context are important when interpreting what is happening:
- If Jesus really wanted His followers to use their swords to protect Him, they would have needed a lot more than 2. His only desire was to be seen as insurrectionist.
- When one of His disciples (Peter) actually does use his sword Jesus takes the man’s ear that was cut off and heals it while telling Peter to put his sword back in its place, and those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
- If ever there was a “just” time to use violence this would have been it, and Jesus uses it as the specific time to show that His Kingdom doesn’t work like that.
As Paul says in Ephesians, we do not wage war against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers, and the main way we do that is refusing to engage in violence against anything with flesh and blood. It’s important on this journey from violence being the water we swim in to actually getting free of its hold to not become self-righteous. In reality, we all justify the violence in our hearts even if it never gets acted out by our bodies. Elsewhere in Matthew 5 Jesus shows that although the consequences are different, anyone with violence in their heart is just as guilty as the murderer. Our violent worldview is a polluted filter that we see everything through, and unless we can be freed from this bondage and see it for what it actually is, we’ll always miss the beautiful creation and opportunities for love that are around us all the time.
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7 thoughts on “Temple Tantrum”
Love Greg and his sermons. Was thrilled to see this topic as it’s something I have struggled with, but was disappointed to see it avoided the issue that has stumped me for a long time. 100% in agreement with what Greg sets out.
But I sure wish he had addressed the issue of self-defense or in defense of another (true defense, do not tell me to retreat, as I mean when no retreat is possible). Is violence justified in that situation?
Nico – was was watching a u tube clip where Randy Alcorn and another guy were discussing Greg’s book Myth of a Christian nation? They said that Greg stated that if someone were to attack his wife and kids, he would not defend them. If this is true, I find that statement astonishing! I think defending yourself against an attack, and acting violently are two different things altogether. Also, Greg quotes matthew 5:43-45 and says after reading it that the standard of whether we are considered children of God, or not, is the fact that we love our enemies. I think while this is a fruit of our faith, it needs to be stressed that NOTHING we can do earns our salvation. It is a free gift, given to us from God upon our surrender to Him. I love Greg’s teaching, but have heard this from several teachers of late, putting their particular belief ( in this case non violence) as some sort of pre requisite to having true faith, or being saved. i hope that I am mistaken and Greg didn’t mean it this way, but perhaps it needs to be clarified so as not to cause misunderstanding.
Just another question for anyone thinking and pondering Greg’s non violent motif. ( For the most I agree with him), but surely there are some circumstances that allow for physical restraint? I was thinking of the twin towers and the plane that crashed when some aboard tried to take control of the plane and save everyone, knowing they were all heading towards their deaths. So… if I understand Greg correctly, he wouldn’t have got out of his seat and tried to stop the terrorists from crashing and killing everyone on board? He wouldn’t have tried to save anyone on board as it would have resulted in having to hurt or kill someone else? What about all those on board who perished? What of their lives? Are they not worth saving? Do we sit back and let evil have its way? i think the men who tried to stop the terrorists were to be commended, as they were very brave. Am i wrong in thinking that as they would have used violence? something is not making sense to me here. Perhaps someone might be able to give a different perspective perhaps.
Tracy; in “those” situations, our primal nature takes over and we act out of self-preservation and fear; however, if we are full of God’s love(the love that ‘casts out all fear’), then we would respond to those situations in a manner consistent with the nature of God, i.e., by responding in love rather than reacting with violence.
It is never a foregone conclusion that every believer will have to face that type of situation. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
Please do not quote me cause it’s not my place but Greg may say for us to do the imaginative prayer thing here. Personally, i don’t imagine myself in a plane with terrorists or at home with my family when the invaders appear but Greg’s teachings may suggest that we do imagine those fearful scenarios and then imagine Jesus there with us?
Thanks for your concerns and questions; they are mine as well
This is a very prickly subject among Christians and I must say I totally agree with Greg on this. A couple of observations.
First, the Bible relates several instances where Jesus was in imminent danger of being killed. ( See Luke 4:14-30. John 8:48-59.) In these instances, rather than having Jesus resort to self-defense, the Father simply removed Jesus from the situation, and I have no reason to believe that He can’t do the same for us today.
Second, relating to the above mentioned terrorist attacks, there is no doubt that the actions of those on the plane were, by our standards, totally justified. They did what they felt was right. However, you can’t overlook the fact that regardless of those actions, the end result was the same as if they had taken no action at all. Did their actions prevent further violence and save the lives of other intended targets? In my humble opinion, there are simply too many unknown variables to consider, i.e the flying skills of the terrorists, their intended targets, etc., making any speculation on the situation pointless.
With this message of enemy love and non-violence at the forefront of Jesus’ message, it’s easy to see why religion has chosen to focus on following rules and regulations as opposed to turning the other cheek. It’s far easier to keep the rules than it is to love someone who is threatening your lifestyle and the lives of you and your loved ones.
Thanks for responding. I has been reading a lot lately about the nation of israel during the takeover when it became a new nation in 1948. I was thinking how these jews fought for their homeland against the Arab nations who sought to destroy them, and before that with Hitler. It seems, and i might be wrong, that in Warsaw the jews trusted their enemies and did not resort to violence and were slaughtered, while the world looked on. But, it seems that by 1948 they had learnt from that. They fought and died to protect their homeland from invasion, and the miracles that took place against all odds were astounding. Are we to not stand up to evil? Even Paul the apostle ran from it. He didn’t hang around to be killed. As much as we can live in peace i agree. But i am still not convinced there is not a time to defend what is right. had the Jews sat back I don’t believe they would have held their nation. The world did not stand with them. They fought with everyone against them for the right to their homeland. The jury is still out for me. I will keep listening. 🙂
Hi I am mostly curious about the “feeding christians to the lions” reference. What are the historical records refering to this? I’ve always believed this. Recently in Rome at the Coliseum the audio guide said there is no historical report that Christians were fed to the lions there. The audio guide said that there is no questions that christians were killed and sometimes tortured but not in the Coliseum. The audio guide also said the first reference in writing to christians being fed to lions is from the 4th century. I am just curious if any one can let me know about the historical docs on this. Thanks