Jesus spent thirty-three years walking as God-man on earth. He spent thirty of those years growing up as a carpenter’s son, learning the trade as He grew into manhood. He spent three of those years as a wandering preacher and miracle worker, scandalizing the very people He came to save.
His words bewildered people. He claimed that those who’d lose their lives for His sake would find them again. In His stories, he made it sound like one lost coin and one lost lamb were more important than the nine un-lost coins or the ninety-nine safe sheep. He promised to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.
His actions bewildered people. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He paid taxes to Caesar and called the religious leaders names. He defended a prostitute. He held and loved children. He made disciples out of smelly fishermen. He healed a man on the Sabbath. Yet this same man preached in tabernacles and was so zealous for the purity of the temple that he forcibly emptied out the market that had crept into it. He spent many hours alone with God.
As a Jew, His own people analyzed Him carefully. Was this the promised Messiah? His miracles seemed of God and His message rang with wisdom. Still, he was a child of Nazareth, and the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem; and His actions seemed to show a startling contempt for all the little laws the Jewish people had come to cherish.
Jesus also caught the eye of surrounding Gentiles. A Roman centurion begged Jesus to heal his son. A Syrophoenician woman begged Him for a crumb of His healing power. Herod was quite pleased to meet Jesus when Pilate sent Him for a trial.
*I will be quoting/paraphrasing from John 18:33-38 in this section.
It is during this trial that Pilate eventually asks the question that everyone is wondering, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
To which Jesus calmly replies, “Did you get this idea yourself, or did others tell you?”
Pilate, feeling the pressure of being between a political disaster and his own conscience, snaps, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you unto me: what have you done?”
Jesus replies with what I believe is the lynchpin of all His teachings on nonresistance and the Kingdom.
These words clearly declare that, yes, Jesus is a king, but they also state that His kingdom is clearly “other.” Since He needs deliverance “from” the Jews, His Kingdom must not be the Jews. I think the word “now” is significant in the sense that God was working through the Jews all throughout the Old Testament, but a seismic shift took place through Christ’s life and death.
Since His Kingdom is not “from hence,” where is it from?
Jesus’ teachings are full of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. In one, He likens this new kingdom to a mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19). It is something that will start small, but will grow into something large enough to shelter all who seek its refuge. It will be visible, but no where does this indicate that it will dominate or rule the earth. We see this coming to pass in the book of Acts when a small group of disciples multiplies into thousands of converts that infiltrate the known world with the Gospel.
God’s physical presence on earth moved from the Jewish temple to the souls of believers. During the Old Testament, God’s people followed the commandments given through Moses and were sometimes called to eradicate evil with force. Now, God’s people are called follow the example of Christ Who came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17).
If the Ten Commandments were the foundation of the Old Testament, then The Beatitudes are the foundation of the New. Let’s read them:
Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:3-11 ESV
Nowhere in this list do I see, “Blessed are you when you use swords, guns, and bombs to stop evil doers.” Nowhere in this list do I see, “Blessed are you when you defend your rights.” Nowhere in this list do I see, “Blessed are you when you picket and petition for issues you care about.”
Jesus goes on in this passage to describe His followers as salt and light. Salt purifies, heals, preserves, and enhances the goodness that already is. Light shows what is true, gives direction, warms, and encourages.
Following this teaching Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV).
Jesus’ walk on earth clearly outlined a radically different way of life in many ways. I will simply focus on His actions that demonstrate nonresistance. Jesus was often confronted and accused by the Pharisees. He always responded with truth and even bluntly addressed their error, but He never hurled unfounded insults to make Himself look better.
We never see Him throwing punches or calling down His archangel to eliminate His accusers. We know Jesus could have, because He somehow escaped an angry mob who wanted to kill Him (Luke 4:29-30).
He also clearly had angels at His disposal. When the temple leaders came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, zealous Peter took a swing at the nearest servant with his sword and slashed off his ear. (See Matthew 26:47-56 ESV for the whole story.) Jesus simply picked up the ear and put it back on, healing it perfectly. Then He said, “Put your sword back in its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
The only time we see Jesus using force was when he cleaned out those who were defiling the temple with commerce. Even then, we don’t hear of any casualties.
As an Anabaptist, I take Scripture at its word; I seek to follow the example of Christ. This means that fighting others is never right. Have I failed? Yes, sisters can be just as scrappy as brothers–maybe more so. Have I ever sought vengeance out of anger? Too often. Have I ever been tempted to excuse my own actions? Daily. But I know this is not the way of Christ.
Instead of fighting in wars, I pray for the redemption of all the lost, including ISIS and Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping. Instead of serving on jury duty, I recognize God as the final judge, and I acknowledge my own sinfulness. Born into another circumstance, I could just as easily be the criminal.
Instead of voting in my favourite party leader, I pray, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.” Instead of running for prime minister so I can change the world (penned in by a party line), I seek to change the world by allowing God to change my heart. He longs to make me into a lover of all others, even a lover of my enemies as I wrote about last month.
I can see a few of you squirming, waving your hands, screwing you faces into anxious questions, “But what about evil doers? Who’s going to stop the bad guys? Whose going to judge them? Whose going to lead our nations and see that cruel dictators are served justice?”
To answer this, I turn to the words of Christ. The religious leaders had come to Him, asking if it’s right to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17, ESV). In this simple command, He clearly outlines two separate kingdoms.
Paul writes more about this in Romans 13:1-7. Essentially, Paul calls everyone to submit to their leaders who have been endued with authority by God to make laws, enforce laws, and punish evil doers. He summarizes the role of a Christian in verse 8, “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.”
God raises leaders and nations to power, and He takes them down again. He doesn’t need His followers stepping out of their Kingdom of Heaven roles into the politics of this world to get that accomplished. If anything, when we try to take over for God, we hinder the work He is doing to bring His Kingdom here on Earth.
I always hope to communicate clearly, but if there is anything confusing, don’t hesitate to ask below. If I’ve raised other questions in your mind, please, ask away.
The Kingdom that Turned the World Upside Down by David Bercot
Anabaptism in Outline compiled by Walter Klassen
“Radical Love, War, and Nonresistance – Anabaptist Perspectives Ep. 002″