So then he (Jesus) told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there…
It has been said that if you have the right heart, (or really wrong heart) you can twist the Bible and make it say anything you want. For example, taken on its own the verse and a half cited above is confusing and incomplete.
What? What in the world has Lazarus have to do with self defense? And why is Jesus glad that he is dead? That seems like a strange thing to be glad about. Was Lazarus a bad guy? Did he steal from or owe the disciples money or something?
Lazarus was none of those things. In fact, he was a close friend of Jesus’, a cool thing to be, and he and his sisters, Mary and Martha often hosted Jesus while He visited Jerusalem at their home in Bethany. What’s more, Jesus was planning on resurrecting Lazarus from the dead within a short time of making this statement. Jesus made the statement because He planned to show the disciples who followed Him the true extent of His power at Lazarus’ tomb and it would be good for their faith in Him that this took place.
But you can’t tell that just by the verse alone. Why? Because I cherry picked the verse and removed it from its context and from the overall clear messages of the Bible and repeated it without explanation. If I add in my own agenda, I can then get the verses to say whatever I want. “The Bible says Jesus hated Lazarus, we should therefore hate those who have two sisters…..” It is silly yet sad because it happens all the time. Ever wonder why there are a million and a half explanations of some of the simple truths contained in Bible? Or why cults that clearly contradict the Bible often flourish, this is often the reason. Context may not be King as the saying asserts, only Jesus is King but with issues such as self defense it is vitally important that we look at the Bible as a whole and the context of the verses that deal with the issue before we come to a personal conclusion.
It is important to remember starting out that God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So when we read about the great warriors of the Old Testament, David and Joshua and Gideon and how time and time again God intervenes to destroy armies that are coming against His people directly and through these men of battle, we have to remember that our God is still that God who empowered these men. Samson only killed Philistines with an donkey’s jawbone because the Spirit of the Lord came upon Him and filled him with the strength to do so. God called David a man after His own heart. David was a king and general who is applauded for killing thousands of Israel’s enemies. It is believed that the Captain of the Lord’s Army in the Book of Joshua is Jesus appearing in the Old Testament who gives Joshua the plan to destroy Jericho. He is the ultimate general!
In case you are saying, that was the Old Testament and that was Israel, both good points, God is not like that anymore!
Take a gander at the Book of Revelation and the description of Jesus when He comes back as the Rider on the White Horse, faithful and true. It says in Revelation 19 that with justice, Jesus wages war and He leads the armies of Heaven to destroy His enemies. Jesus Himself talked about how He could have called down a legion of angels to destroy his opponents on His first coming but it wasn’t time for that yet. Upon His second coming He will be the Conquering King, not the Suffering Servant – both are great btw.
So from the general context of the Bible it can be clearly seen that Jesus does not oppose warriors or generals, men and women who fight as part of armies. Paul often used military terms in his letter — Armor of God anyone. Generally, when Jesus or the disciple interact with Roman soldiers — Centurions are Roman officers — they do not tell them to leave the army and repent of their profession. Soldiers appear to be a-ok with God. Policemen would likely fall into this category as well.
God is also very concerned with justice and His people should be as well. The civil law of Israel provided protection of the weak by the “state”. The Bible required the death of those who spilled innocent blood and outlawed such things as assault, murder and rape. In the case of murder, a Kinsman Avenger was required to track down the culprit and kill them. This picture is the flip side of the Kinsman Redeemer of the Book of Ruth. Haman from the Book of Esther was hung high from the same gallows he planned to hang God’s people from. Gideon was just a regular dude when God told Him to take up arms and fight off the people who were stealing the people’s food and livestock. David was a shepherd boy. These are just regular folks who take up arms in order to keep the peace and protect the people.
Jesus also at times strongly resisted evil during His first coming — fashioning a whip and overturning tables is quite forceful. He did not call down the angels to take everyone out not because He did not have that power or He was philosophically opposed to doing so — it just was not time to do so.
Jesus also told His disciples in Luke 22:36
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”
Jesus appears to be quite literal in what He is directing them to do here. If you recall earlier in the Gospels, Jesus told them to take nothing, not even a purse and go out and preach. Marked difference, right? Well, He was to be crucified shortly when He talked about the sword — things would be very different thereafter.
Based upon such things as the 10 Commandments, Thou Shall Not Murder and our general marching orders as followers of Jesus, it is very clear that we should never offensively harm someone or seek to kill people. Jesus covers this when staying Peter’s hand in the Garden of Gethsemane — living by the sword is bad but context is important there as well. Peter is trying to stop Jesus’ crucifixion — another “get behind me Satan” moment for Peter.
We are always there to make disciples of all nations, not martyrs. But as Proverbs 31:9 says there are times to:
Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
That said, there are verses that clearly apply to the issue of self defense that should challenge us and do provide a basis for a life of non-violence if that is how God leads a person. God tells us that we should be convinced and then do everything, including in this case non-violence, to the Lord’s glory.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says as follows:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”
Context – Jesus is quoting Exodus 21 where the Nation was charged with meting out justice for crimes that were committed. The general principal was an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. This principal was put in place to restrain the punishment given out for crimes to what was appropriate — the civil authorities should not go power mad and kill everyone for insulting them — it had to be measured. Only an eye for a lost eye, not death for a lost eye.
At the time of Jesus, the culture particularly the Pharisees and religious leaders had taken this precept, expanded it, flipped it on its head and adopted it to their lives. So if someone insulted a Pharisee, a “slap in the face” they taught that the Law demanded that you get vengeance in exactly the same manner — if not more. Jesus is not making an overarching statement about self defense or righteous warfare — as a Bible commentator states — “Jesus is here saying that the true Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek retaliation for no slight” — in other words act much like our King when He was dealing with the Pharisees. Don’t call down fire on a Samaritan village that rejects the Gospel as James and John, the Sons of Thunder wanted to but move on and leave them for God to take care of.
So what about those who are lead to take Jesus’ statement further and adopt a life of strict non-violent resistance? Is it unscriptural? Based upon Jesus’ death, certainly not. If we are called by God to lay down in front of an oncoming attack, then that is exactly what we should do and let God handle getting justice for us. I am firmly convinced that God has done that in the past and is still doing that where it serves His glory — His ways are just higher than ours.
But given the entirety of God’s Word, I believe that you simply cannot say that this is the only possible response. There is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friend.
Violence of any kind should always be the Christian’s very last resort – you cannot make a disciple of a dead person. But Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd. Shepherds were tough and brave. They fought and where necessary died for the sheep they were given to care for.
As Christians. little christs, we should strive to be just like Jesus — willing warriors, willing servants – and listen to His direction when either role is required.