Was Jesus a Pacifist?
by Thomas Katsampes

April 4, 2008

I was listening to Dennis Prager and a caller asked the following question.
Caller: I'm a senior in high school and I'm writing a paper on the justification for war. My question is given the how many of times God sends the people of Israel to war, why would some Christians believe that Jesus was a pacifist?
Dennis Prager gave a good answer so I transcribed it to the best of my ability:
Because of "turn the other cheek" and "bless the peacemakers." Because they will cite certain lines, and they won't only do it with Jesus - especially with Jesus - but they will also do it with Isaiah, they will quote "beating swords into plowshares" (Isaiah 2:4) ignoring an equally valid representative of God, the prophet Joel, who said the exact opposite, beat plowshares into swords (Joel 3:10). There is never a hint in Jesus' teachings that one allows evil to go on against others. It is one thing to pray for those who persecute you . As I've often pointed out, He forgave those who crucified Him. He never went to the crucifixion sites prior to that day and said, "God, please forgive all of these crucifiers of innocent people," let alone that He forgave them. It's misunderstood terribly.
Dennis also wrote an important column on the perception of Jesus as a leftist, here.

People take Isaiah 2:4 out of context. Let's look at the verse in its full context:

[2] And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. [3] And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [4] And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Clearly Isaiah is prophesying regarding the end times, also called the "last days." There is debate on whether we actually live in the last days, but my understanding is that although we may be close to that period, we are not in that period yet. Clearly, the "mountain of the LORD's house" has not yet been established.

What about Micah 4:3? Again let's look at it in context.

[1] But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. [2] And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. [3] And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. [4] But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.
Again this is an end times prophecy, and the house of the LORD has not yet been established.

What about Joel 3:10? My study Bible has the following comment: "Obviously the prophecy in Micah 4:3 can only take place after this prophecy is fulfilled, that is, after the last world war is over. Only when Christ, the Prince of Peace, reigns can their be lasting peace."

While Dennis is correct in saying that the "swords into plowshares" prophecies cannot support a view that Jesus was a pacifist, I would in fairness add that neither can the "plowshares into swords" prophecy support the view that Jesus was not a pacifist. All of these prophecies are eschatological in nature. They're not necessarily meant as guidance for living our lives today.

It is perfectly understandable that in these "last days," when the LORD Jesus Himself shall rule the nations, there simply won't be a need for any more wars. But we're not there yet, and until we get there, the moral use of force is, after diplomacy has failed, the only means we have of stopping great evils. That is why I argue that God is not a pacifist.

One could argue, "What about the Holocaust? Where was God while innocents were being thrown alive in the ovens of Auschwitz?" I've wrestled with that question for years. As I was thinking on this the other day, a thought came to mind. Hitler claimed his reich would last a thousand years. However, the grand alliance of the Allied powers crushed Hitler in a mere four years. Couldn't one argue that God did bring an end to the monstrous evil known as the Nazi regime through the war waged against it?

I know that people will argue "why did God take four years, what about the innocents who perished during that time, etc." and to be honest I don't have good answers for that. However Dennis does make a good point in his book Think a Second Time when he writes

If God should have stopped the Nazis from murdering Jews, should he not also stop the murders on America's streets? And what about rapes and child abuse? Would we really want to live in a world where all evil was impossible? Is being a good automaton preferable to being a free human being? Would we rather be loved by freely choosing people or by love-robots?
Certainly things to think about. He goes on to say
We live in a world in which people can do unbelievably beautiful or unbelievably horrible things to other people. And if those horrible acts argue against the existence of God, then the beautiful acts must argue for God's existence.
After the Holocaust, it seems much more logical to abandon one's faith in the inherent goodness of mankind than to abandon one's faith in God:
God never built a gas chamber, and He has told us not to. Humans who loathed this God built the gas chambers - to destroy the people who revealed this God to mankind.

Dennis Prager
Theologian

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