13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. I Peter 2:13-17 NIV
The First Epistle of Peter was written to various churches in Asia Minor, suffering religious persecution from both Jewish and Roman authorities. It was written about 64 AD, while Peter was in Rome during the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero. In AD 64, Rome burned. Some accused Nero of starting the fire to burn the city. To deflect the accusations, Nero accused the Christians and killed many. It was during this time of great persecution of the church that Peter was writing this letter, as suggested by Peter’s references to persecution and suffering. If killing and rebelling against an unjust state were acceptable to followers of Jesus, surely this was the time.
But Peter is telling Christians to submit to authorities who are killing them and destroying their homes.
Isn’t that how Jesus overcame the evil of the world? He had the power to protect himself in any way he wanted and yet He laid down his life on the cross so that he could overcome evil, institute His Kingdom and make eternal life available to all of us.
When Rome demanded that early Christians worship the emperor they refused. When Rome wanted early Christians to join the military they refused.
The early Church did not use Peter’s Epistle to justify military action or fighting for ones rights. When early Christians were accused of rebelling against the Jewish state when following Jesus, Origen said “Nowhere does He teach that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to anyone, however wicked. For He deemed the killing of any individual to be against His laws which were divine in origin. If Christians had owed their origins to a rebellion, they would not have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character. These laws do not even allow them on any occasion to resist their persecutors, even when they are called to be slaughtered as sheep.” Origen, Against Celsus, book 3 Chapter 7.
Many Christians incorrectly use the First Epistle of Peter to justify participation in the US military.
by Jon Kauffman
Copyright © 2017 by Jon Kauffman Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.