Question #255

How did Jesus teach us to deal with violence?

How did Jesus teach us to deal with violence? Do people's attitude toward violence in the world today really conform to the teachings of Jesus.

The Answer:

Although no passage or other definition of what the inquirer means by “the teaching of Jesus” on violence, the passage most often associated with this subject is Matthew 5:38-42. This passage has been greatly abused by attributing to it a meaning that is flatly contradicted in other plain passages. The words “and eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” occur three times in the Old Testament. These words were given as a part of Israel’s judicial law to be enforced by magistrates. They were designed to protect the weak against the strong, to serve as a warning to evil doers, and to prevent a judge from administering too great a penalty for those who maimed others. They were never intended to justify personal retaliation and vengeance. Our country might be better off if it followed the practice of inflicting corporal punishment on those who engaged in acts of violence. It would certainly be a much safer place. The problem Jesus faced was that this law had been perverted by Jewish leaders. It was no longer confined to magistrates, it had become generally applied in a manner that gave each person the right to avenge his wrongs privately. By doing so they fostered the spirit of malice and condoned deeds of violence.

Jesus said that this was not right. He said unto them that they should not resist evil; they should not take the law into their own hands and do to an adversary what he had done unto us. We should be directed by more noble principles. It should be noted, however, that neither the Law nor the Gospel requires an unqualified and universal non-resistance to evil. There are times when an ignoring of wrongs done to us or injuries inflicted upon us would be a failure to perform our duty. We must never permit the guilty to escape from justice nor should we light it.

Following the teaching of Jesus is graciousness; permitting evil is to go unpunished or, worse yet, to profit from its evil, is evil itself. We should never turn evil doers loose on society to inflict more evil on others. Even when the evil doer is a brother, we are not to wink at his misdeeds. If he is impenitent he is to be brought before the church; should he remain defiant and rebellious, he is to be withdrawn from. Matt. 18:15-17. The Christ who spoke of turning the other cheek resisted evil in the temple when the dwelling place of his Father had been turned into a den of thieves. When he was reviled by the High Priest who caused him to be struck, Christ did not return blow for blow but he did raise his voice against the maltreatment. He was motivated not by malice but by justice to his own character.

When Christ told us not to resist evil he gave three illustrations of what he meant. The first was the when smitten we should turn the other cheek. The smiting was one of insult because it was on the right cheek. Ordinarily a man will be struck on the left cheek but the assailant’s right hand. Here it was on the left cheek, indicating a slap with the back of the hand. In most societies such a blow was a great insult. In early America it was the prelude to a duel. Turning the other cheek has been the object of much discussion – is the statement to be taken literally? Common sense tells us that it must be figurative. First, the turning of the other cheek would serve as a temptation to the assailant to engage in further sin, which is manifestly wrong. Second, when Christ was smitten he did not literally turn the other cheek but spoke out against it. Third, the last half of the verse must not be detached from the first. Resist not evil, no matter how great the provocation. Don’t revenge yourself, but rather “give place unto wrath.” (Romans 12:19.)

The Lord certainly did not mean by this language or by the illustrations of the principle that we should actually court further ill treatment or that in all cases we should endure further wrong without any kind of resistance. Christ here speaks out against the common practice of fighting and quarreling and taking justice and vengeance into our own hands. It is rendered in the strongest possible terms to teach us that we are not to return evil for evil. There is nothing to suggest that Christ forbad the carrying of a sword for self defense. In fact, Peter carried a sword with the implicit approval of Jesus, but the moment that Peter drew it to resist the soldiers who came to arrest him in the Garden, he told Peter to put it back in its scabbard. Certainly a slap in the face is different from an assault upon one’s life. Where the latter is the case it is our duty to flee, call for the assistance of the law, or, as a last result (even a first resort if there is neither time nor opportunity to flee or call 911) to defend our self rather than be killed.

While the first illustration involves assault on our person, the second (give him thy cloak also) involves assaults of trifling character; the third (go the second mile) involves personal liberties. Here again Jesus is not telling us that we must assist the wrongs being done unto us. If a thief takes our wallet we are not obligated to tell him that he overlooked the big bills that are hidden on our person. If a person is trying to break into our house we are not obligated to unlock the door and assist his looting.

Surely it is apparent to the careful thinker that the application of these precepts is qualified. For example, no one acquainted with the scripture can suppose that Christ imposed indiscriminate charity upon his followers, or that we are to give to every one who asks. The apostolic principle is that if any will not work neither shall he eat. 2 Thess. 3:10.

What is the bottom line? Is it not to learn that, as Christians, we most often go wrong when we insist on our rights. Do we not have rights? Absolutely. But when they are taken away we do better to suffer for righteousness sake than to insist upon them. Do we not have the example of Jesus Christ, “23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: {himself: or, his cause} 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. {on: or, to} 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:23-25.) Do we not have God to take care of us? “19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. 21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:19-21.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)