The soldiers who killed Jesus were men like us, trying to make it in the world. Likely many had families. Quite possibly they had been taught, when they were young children that it is good and patriotic to be a soldier and fight for the state. Perhaps their parents encouraged them to be soldiers to take advantage of the career and leadership opportunities available to soldiers. Perhaps they were told stories of how Jewish “terrorists” such as the Maccabees had killed many Romans.
As soldiers, they were told that the people they killed on the cross were enemies of the state and a threat to their families. Many of those killed in Jerusalem at that time were insurrectionists, rebelling against unjust Roman rule.
If I had grown up in Rome and become a soldier would I be different? If I had been commanded to nail the hands of Jesus to the cross would I have refused if I thought that he deserved that death because the state told me he deserved it? How would I know that Jesus was innocent? How would I know Jesus was the Son of God? What if I refused to obey my orders? Would I be willing to be court marshaled or executed on the cross myself for refusing to obey orders? Could I follow a just war ethic?
I must admit, as I write this post, I condemn myself. Do I have the courage and the will to follow Jesus? We don’t know what Jesus will ask us when we die, but we have a clue.
The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV)
I spoke with Jason who was a sniper in Iraq. He told me he was commanded to kill innocent children. If I join a military who kills innocent children, will I be a sheep or a goat?
I read “America’s War for The Greater Middle East” by Retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich. I also read “War is a Racket.” By General Smedley D. Butler. Both of these gentlemen, soldiers, tell us that US war making is for profit. The War for the Middle East is about cheap oil for Americans. Both writers back up their statements with facts.
When Saddam Hussein was in power he controlled the violence of terrorist groups and protected Christians in Iraq. When the US wrested power from Hussein, Christians were no longer protected. Thousands fled their homes. Many more were killed by terrorists.
Without the control of Hussein, terrorists became free to expand their operations. As a result, terrorist cells popped up all over the Middle East. Boko Haram now controls much of Northern Africa and Isis became free to terrorize Syria.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Romans 13: 1,2.
If God put Saddam Hussein in power and if God was using him, did we bring judgement on ourselves when we destroyed his power?
If I join a military controlled by a foreign policy that brings about such tragedies, am I a sheep or a goat?
The Korean War
During the Korean War, the US bombed every village in North Korea. 2,730,00 civilians died in the war. If I join a military that has so little regard for innocent life, am I a sheep or a goat?
World War II
At the end of World War II, 1.2 million Japanese civilians were killed by US bombing in Japan. Many of these people died after Japan was willing to surrender. If I join a military that kills civilians am I a sheep or a goat?
I could name injustice after injustice committed by the US military.
If I join such a military am I a sheep or a goat?
I am not innocent
In 1987 I had a job painting water towers on a military base. I made great money and I had all kinds of excuses as to why it was OK for me to paint water towers for the military.
When I was painting water towers, I was supporting the status quo and supporting a military that I knew was killing innocent people. A military that was causing brothers and sisters of Jesus, young children to be fatherless and naked. A military that was creating widows and destroying homes. Will Jesus tell me that I am a sheep or a goat when that day comes?
I enjoy the cheap oil and cheap products provided in part by our military.
I have paid income tax. Part of my tax goes to support the military. I know of many atrocities committed by the US military. A military that causes strangers to be hungry and thirsty. That kills the innocent for profit. That fails to protect the widow and the homeless. Will Jesus tell me that I am a sheep or a goat when that day comes?
In Chapter 34 Shechem rapes Dinah. Simeon and Levi use deceit and trickery to kill every male in Shechem’s city. The actions of his sons cause great concern to Jacob. 30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” Genesis 35: 30 NIV
Jacob is worried that the residents of the land will kill him and his family because of the great injustice committed by his sons.
Then Jacob recognizes the protection God is giving him in spite of this great injustice: 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes.3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”Genesis 35:2,3 NIV
In the time of Jacob, people living in his society resorted to great vengeance against their enemy.
God reveals himself.
The Bible is the story of God revealing himself to man. As we study history, we can see how God has been revealing himself to man as man is able to understand.
Jacobs sons took great vengeance against Shechem. Yet God shows Jacob that he wants to be our protector.
Moses and the Law
When Moses wrote down the law God gave him on Mount Sinai, he began to address the violence of revenge. God was no longer allowing the injustice of unlimited revenge. Moses taught that justice was an eye for an eye.
23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life,24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:23. NIV
This quelled the violence and revenge that was common when someone was injured.
When the Children of Israel were fleeing Egypt, God opened the Red Sea and protected Israel. They were not required to kill a single Egyptian soldier. Many Christians have reported the protection of God in violent situations.
Solomon Teaches Nonviolence
Solomon taught the wisdom of living a nonviolent life:
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21 & 22 NIV
The Prophets Teach Nonviolence
And Isaiah told us that Jesus will bring about a time of nonviolence:
4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Isaiah 2: 4. NIV
Many early Christians quoted these passages and commented on them. They clearly thought that these this passage is for the current church age.
Justin Martyr: (100 AD – 165 AD)
“We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm tools…now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given us through the Crucified One….The more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers.” Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4
Jesus Teaches Nonviolence
Jesus came. He is the exact representation of the Father. In God’s greatest revelation of himself he was ready to reveal his mercy, his compassion and his love for his enemies.
He taught non-violence. Jesus said: 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. Matthew: 5: 38 & 39 NIV
Matthew was originally written in Hebrew. George Howard’s translation of the Hebrew directly to English Reads:
38 Again you have heard what is said in the Torah: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you, do not repay evil for evil; but he who smites your right cheek provide for him the left. Matthew: 5: 38 & 39 George Howard
On the way to the cross, Jesus refused to resist his enemies and while he was suffering on the cross Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:24 NIV.
Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27 NIV
Jesus teaches and demonstrates a new way to treat our enemies. We are to love them and deal with them nonviolently. We must now love our enemies and allow Jesus to bring justice.
The Old Testament is filled with great violence and war. Some say that the Old Testament teaches violence, surely Jesus would expect us to continue to protect ourselves through violence. Jesus is God, if he can change the teaching of Moses, he can allow the Old Testament saints to use violence and ask his followers to live nonviolent lives during the church age.
Jesus is our Protection.
Jesus asks that we follow his example. Jesus will protect us but he does not want us to use violence. If we are following Jesus and living lives of nonviolence, it is possible that we and our families will die for him.
But Jesus will often provide a way of escape for his followers. When Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. he told his followers to flee to the mountains and he gave them signs so that they would know when to flee.
The Jews rebelled against Rome. When Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, Josephus suggested that as many as a million Jews died at the hands of the Romans. Many of the Jews killed were peaceful citizens of Jerusalem. Many thousands were taken captive as slaves and taken to the mines in Egypt.
Most of followers of Jesus fled the city and survived.
Many of us like Jacob have lived lives that are less than ideal in God’s eyes. And yet God offers us mercy and forgiveness and protection through Jesus. In the long view, even if we and our families die for Jesus, we will live with Jesus forever.
Jesus offers forgiveness in the rebirth: Born Again