How 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:
- they they did not arm themselves with weapons;
- they did not use violence in any form, not even violent words;
- they did not plot revenge or seek retaliation.
And we know this is what they did do:
- celebrate the fact they had been considered worthy of suffering loss and shame in the Christ’s name (Acts 5.41);
- 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?