violence & my Lord: what did Jesus’ apostles do?

V-for-violenceHow did Christ’s original apostles (excluding the one who betrayed him, Judas Iscariot) respond when confronted with violence?

As we seek the answer to that question, let’s consider most closely Simon Peter and John. Why? Because Peter was the one our Lord chastised and snubbed for displaying and suggesting the use of weapons. Peter was the one who Jesus rebuked for attempting to defend him and who took off a man’s ear with an errant swing with a sword. If there was ever a follower who had proven himself ready to use deadly force to defend himself and those he cared for, it was Peter. Consequently, we’d do well to note how this man behaved following his Lord’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Similarly, let’s pay close attention to John for he was the one whom Jesus loved like none of the rest. It was John who stood close to the foot of Christ’s cross, who was spoken to directly by our Lord from that cross, and who did not leave the cross, watching his Lord draw his last breath and die an agonizing and brutal death. How did this one so close to our Lord’s heart and ways react?

And so, how did Christ’s apostles respond in the face of violence?

When those who had been behind Jesus’ arrest and death came to seize Peter and John, like their Lord, neither of them violently resisted in any way. (Acts 4.3)

When the same group who had tortured and killed the Christ threatened them with torture (or worse) if they continued to speak in Jesus’ name (Acts 4.17-18), they spoke not a word of insult, threat, or violence. Instead, they declared their continued allegiance to the Lord and promised not to compromise that allegiance at all. (Acts 4.19-20)

Remarkably, they found themselves released from custody, if only for a time. Arrested once more, and this time thrown into jail, (Acts 5.17-18), it was God’s own special intervention that kept them from suffering violence and caused them to be released from confinement. (Acts 5.19) And what did they do with their freedom, freedom that could easily have been dripping with great, and justifiable, outrage? They continued to do what they had done: declare their allegiance to the Lord and speak of him openly to others. (Acts 5.20,25)

A third time they were brought into custody by the those who instigated Christ’s murder. (Acts 5.26-27) And how did Peter, John, and the apostles respond this time? Peter denounced to their face the violence done to the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 5.30). For this, their captors beat them, and then released them. (Acts 5.40)

And so now we know how the apostles responded to terrible injustice and violence. We know this is what they did not do:

  1. they they did not arm themselves with weapons;
  2. they did not use violence in any form, not even violent words;
  3. they did not plot revenge or seek retaliation.

And we know this is what they did do:

  1. celebrate the fact they had been considered worthy of suffering loss and shame in the Christ’s name (Acts 5.41);
  2. continue what they had been doing all along, teaching and preaching Jesus as the one in charge of things (Acts 5.42).

Sometime later, for a fourth time, Peter was seized and hauled off to prison (Acts 12.1-5), and yet once more, Peter did not resist, entrusting his life and well-being to the God who had always delivered him from death, and did so once again. (Acts 12.6-19)

Now don’t miss this. Through all of this it’s John‘s steady consistency and Peter’s great change that stands out to all who are paying attention. The attitude and actions of the Peter depicted in Acts sharply contrasts those of the Peter related to us in the Gospels. Our Lord was not only working through him, but on him. And as for John, we see a steady, unwavering avoidance of answering violence with violence.

To sum up, Peter and John are two very different men who started out from two very different places, but who wound up in the exact same place of understanding and practice as to how the Christ would have them respond to the threat and use of violence against them and others. When it came to violence, John never went there, and though Peter did go there at first, he repented, growing out of it.

Four questions now come to my mind:

(1) How could I have missed this crystal clear example for so long in my walk with the Christ?

(2) Isn’t it easy to see the Christ himself continuing to engage this violent world with peace and non-violence, doing so now through these men, his apostles?

(3) Wouldn’t our vision of the Prince of Peace be blurred and distorted, twisted and perverted, had the apostles responded to the use of physical force levied against them with physical force, or violent words, in response?

(4) How might our world be different today if every Christian since the apostles responded to violence the way Jesus Christ and his apostles responded to violence?

10 Replies to “violence & my Lord: what did Jesus’ apostles do?”

  1. Preacher Smith, I am proud to share my last name with you! Your last two posts on violence have been excellent. I wish more people could hear your words, and even more important, would listen to your words. I will definitely pass this blog along!


    1. Ha! I wish I could repay the compliment – but my folks chose a decidedly non-biblical name for my middle moniker. But anyway, I look forward to your posts.


  2. Reblogged this on Instrument Rated Theology and commented:
    This post, as well as the previous one from David Smith (no relation that we know of) is excellent. For those who are unfamiliar with David’s work I present these two posts for your consideration and growth.

  3. One prominent CofC blogger claimed that Paul getting military protection from the Romans (Acts 23:17ff) proves that Christians weren’t opposed to using weapons for protection. I noted that what it really proves is that the thousands of Christians in Jerusalem weren’t armed, or they could have protected Paul against 40 Jews.

    Oh, and a big AMEN on the post.

  4. Tim: Ha! I like your reply to the Acts 23 argument! That such a thin, reaching argument would even be offered should be a bit embarrassing, and is truly telling. I think the pervasive blindness to what Scripture says about violence surely stems in part from the fact we tend to look at it (if we truly look at it at all, that is) through a very narrow field of perspective, something like a gun barrel, as it were.

  5. Tim’s comment on Paul in Acts 23 having protection reinforces Paul’s argument in Rom 12 & 13 that government is God’s appointed “avenger” for violent conduct by the citizenry. As to John, wasn’t he one of the Sons of Thunder who wanted Jesus to call down fire on a Samaritan village before he became the apostle of love?

  6. Jerry, as to Paul’s argument in Rom. 12-13 and Acts 23, I’ll let Tim answer since he’s the one who brought up Acts 23. I do plan to deal with Rom. 12-13 myself; however, at a much later time in this series.

    As to John being the one who “wanted Jesus to call down fire,” I would note three things. (1) John didn’t ask Jesus to do such, but asked Jesus if he and James should “call fire down from heaven” (e.g. – as God did to Sodom and Gomorrah). cf. Luke 9.51-56. That is, they asked Jesus if they should pray for God to exercise miraculous judgment against the Samaritans who had refused to welcome Jesus. They weren’t asking Jesus for permission for them to personally commit murderous arson, a different matter altogether. It’s the difference between asking God to judge and playing judge yourself. Further, Jesus sternly rebuked them for even asking such. (2) I’m not trying to paint the picture that John was all “sweetness and light” all along, as it were, but I am trying to underscore what the text stresses, namely that that we have no record whatsoever of John ever equipping himself for, or actually attempting, physical violence toward anyone. (3) The understanding that James and John were called “Sons of Thunder” precisely because of their disposition is mere assumption/conjecture (and a poor one, at that, I believe) and so, must not be allowed to color our understanding of this text in Luke. A number of scholars comment on this very matter (e.g. – Eugene Boring on Mark 3.17).

  7. Our relation to government and it’s functions in keeping peace is quite a can of worms to delve into. Some say that Christians should be a part of police and military in order to participate in that activity; others say that God uses the ungodly for such tasks.

    I don’t know that I have a lot of insight in that area. Lots of questions, few answers. Paul repeatedly relied on the government for protection; just what that means for us makes for an interesting discussion.

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