What did Jesus say about terrorism?
Jesus and terrorism
Everything we know about Jesus is either written first-hand by those who knew him personally, was written by those who met those followers, with one exception, the Apostle Paul.
Other letters and books written in the same period by Josephus, Roman officials and others, do not contradict the gospels or their content.
At a time when people know little about what Jesus taught, and when others claim that violence is a legitimate express of their religious zeal, we can legitimately explore the teaching of Jesus on this issue.
After all, it is easy to claim allegiance to Jesus, it is quite another to follow his teaching.
I was speaking in London at a place called Speakers Corner. A group of young men became unhappy. They said, “We believe Jesus is a prophet, why don’t you believe Mohammed was a prophet?”
I was interested in their statement, “We believe Jesus is a prophet.”
I said, “Do you really believe he was a prophet?” “Yes!” they said. “Does this mean you believe you should follow his teaching as a messenger from God?” “Yes!” they replied.
I wonder what question you would ask such people. Perhaps you are like them and believe the same things. Maybe you believe that Moses and the former prophets were also sent by God. You respect Moses and Abraham, but you give a special place of honour to Jesus the Messiah.
People in Jesus’ day said, “We are Abraham’s children.” They thought they were following the teaching of Moses. Jesus said that if they were truly Abraham’s children they wouldn’t be scheming to kill him.
It is similar today. Some people respect Jesus as a prophet, but they have almost no idea what he taught. Jesus said, “If you obey my teaching then you are my disciples.”
I am writing this because this is an age where terrorism and martyrdom are on the news most days. Jesus taught many things, but let us examine what Jesus said about terrorism and the attitude of hate that breeds it.
The former prophets drew a picture in words of who the promised messiah would be and what he would do.
They said he would be conceived by a virgin and born in Bethlehem. He would be a son of Adam, Abraham and David. They also said he would be a king. Yes, they said he would be despised, rejected and would suffer, but he would be a king. It seems contradictory: a suffering yet successful king.
Let’s get it in context.
The Jews had been invaded by the Romans. Some Jews worked for the invaders. They were hated as traitor s. Two of them were tax collectors, yet they repented of their corrupt practices and followed Jesus.
Others thought the promised Saviour would come, create a guerrilla army and defeat the Romans. One of those also became a follower of Jesus. He was known as Simon the Zealot. These people had thought the Messiah would chase the Romans out of Palestine.
He didn’t live up to their mistaken expectation of the Messiah.
Eventually Jesus was arrested. While on trial the Jews said. “He said he was a king.” They tried to make Jesus out to be a rebel attacking the politics of the day. They added, “Anyone who makes himself a king is no friend of Caesar.”
It was obvious that Jesus had spoken about the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, but he didn’t act like a terrorist or guerrilla fighter, and looked even less like a king. In fact, he seemed completely detached from the political intrigues of his day. We know that Pilate and Herod were enemies, and that the Jewish leaders anticipated a Messiah figure who would defeat the Romans and give them political freedom again.
Sometime earlier they tried to trap him. They asked him if they should be paying taxes to Caesar. It wasn’t because they were the friends of Caesar. It was because they were the enemies of Jesus and wanted to be able to quote him as anti-Rome. Jesus asked them to show him a coin. He asked them whose face was on it. They said it was Caesar’s. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” He never advocated rebellion and murder, even of the invading Romans.
At first, thousands followed him when they saw his miracles, but once they realised that he wasn’t going to do what they wanted, they left him. He even said to the ones who remained, “Will you also go away?” They answered, “Who can we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” You see, they weren’t concerned about issues of health and wealth, of politics and politicians, but about forgiveness and heaven. Whatever concerns they had about this world, their priority was the next world.
Getting back to the trial of Jesus and the accusation of the Jews that he was making himself into a king, Pilate, the Roman governor asked, “Are you a king then?” Jesus’ replied, “Yes, but my kingdom is not of this world.” He wasn’t fighting to get Palestine for the Jews or anyone else. He added, “If my kingdom was of this world then my followers would fight.”
This statement alone shows that anyone following the teaching of Jesus will not create a so-called Christian army, or blow people up, assassinate them or do them any harm.
Jesus left that court room to be punched, humiliated and beaten. He had previously said, “Don’t you realise that I could call for 12 legions of angels to rescue me?” but he didn’t. He carried a cross up to a place called Calvary to die in agony and shame.
Once there he asked God, his Father, to forgive his executioners and accusers. Then, on the cross, the gospel says that one of two criminals who were being crucified, realised who Jesus was. He said to the other criminal, “Aren’t you afraid of God? We are suffering for our crimes, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then spoke to Jesus saying, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He had understood that this crucified Jesus was a king, and that he would have a kingdom. Jesus’ reply tells us where that kingdom would be. “Truly, truly, I say to you, ‘Today, you will be with me in Paradise.'”
His coming into the world had no relation to a temporary plot of land to be won by fighting. Jesus was dying in the place of a sinner guaranteeing that criminal, who trusted him and owned up to his sin, a place in Paradise.
As Jesus died the people could see a piece of scroll attached to the cross above his head. It said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.” Pilate had written it to mock both Jesus and the Jews.
One last thing about politics and politicians. There was a well-known criminal who also was meant to be executed that day. His name was Barabbas. He was a guerrilla fighter, a rebel and a killer. He led an uprising against Rome and had murdered people. He was a terrorist, but he got caught.
Pilate had a tradition at the Jewish Passover. He would set one of the condemned prisoners free. The people could choose who it was.
So, Pilate took Jesus and Barabbas, and stood them before the crowd. He said he would set one of them free. He gave them the choice. I think that most people today suppose that if they were in the crowd they would have chosen Jesus. However, the people of 2000 years ago listened, “Do you want Barabbas or Jesus, who is called Christ?” They cried out, “Not this man but Barabbas.” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” They replied, “We have no king but Caesar.”
And so, Jesus was crucified because the people chose a terrorist rather than Jesus. The terrorist walked their streets. He was the hero, Jesus was the villain.
The people wanted someone to rescue them from Rome. They wanted their land back. They wanted political freedom. Salvation from sin, judgement and hell was nowhere in their thinking. The people in the crowd had missed the whole point of the teaching of Moses and all the former prophets who had prophesied that the Messiah would come. Those prophets taught that he would be a king, but again and again emphasised that he would suffer and die before entering his kingdom.
King David was promised that the Messiah would be one of his descendants. He wrote a song to tell us what God has revealed about the Messiah and his death. Here is some of it, written 1000 years before the birth of Jesus.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet
— I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
Those who have read the account of the crucifixion of Jesus know that this Psalm, written 1000 years earlier, is an astonishingly accurate description of a crucifixion and of the 4 Gospels and their accounts of the specific story of Jesus dying on the cross.
Later, another prophet wrote a poem about the Messiah. It shows that the Messiah would suffer on behalf of others. Here is some of that poem.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked —
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
This second poem explains why Jesus was crucified. He was a substitute and a sacrifice for the sins of others. He did not come to kill and destroy, to fight and win some earthly battle. He came to give his perfect life to receive the penalty others deserved.
When it comes to politics people seem to admire the person who is prepared to take up a cause, kill or martyr themselves, especially in the service of their god. By stark contrast, Jesus was willing to die for others, but he wasn’t willing to kill others.
Let’s now think about swords, bombs and bullets.
The gospels tell us that Jesus was arrested. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane at the time. A mob came with lanterns, sticks and swords. The followers of Jesus were with him. He had gone there to pray. Judas had betrayed him by telling the Jewish authorities where he would be and when. They wanted to arrest him quietly so that the crowds would not riot.
One of the followers of Jesus had a short sword with him, and as they were arresting Jesus, in a desperate attempt to protect Jesus he attacked one of the arresting officers. He narrowly missed his head, but cut off the man’s ear.
How did Jesus respond? He didn’t say, “Well done!” He said, “Put away your sword, because all who take up the sword will perish by the sword.”
It is evident that Jesus was willing to die, but he wasn’t willing to kill, even to save himself. He never advocated the creation of an army to engage in a holy war of revenge or murder to advance the Christian faith.
How important this is. In the first few centuries after Jesus lived, died and rose again, the Christians went through 10 major persecutions. They died by their tens of thousands, but they followed the teaching of Jesus. They didn’t respond with terrorism, revenge killings and indiscriminate murders. They never tried to overthrow the Roman empire. They too were willing to die, but they, like their Master and Teacher, were unwilling to kill.
Someone will say, “What about the Crusades?” The answer is simple. The so-called Christianity of those days was not based on the Bible. The pope ruled the church. Roman Catholicism was a political force demanding submission from kings. The armies were sent by politicians, but it had nothing to do with the teaching of Jesus.
How could anyone claim that Jesus was their Lord and that he had told them to take up arms against others, to arrest and torture them in his name? He had specifically said they should put their swords away. They are to love their enemies, and we will consider that later.
When his disciple drew that sword, and was told to put it away, Jesus not only rebuked him and healed the man, he then said, “Do you not think that I can now pray to my Father in heaven and he will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?”
Jesus could have asked for God the Father to destroy those who were about to kill him. He didn’t. Much earlier he had said that he had not come to destroy but to save. Another Christian wrote that Jesus was “holy, harmless and undefiled, and separate from sinners.” Jesus was truly harmless. He healed many, but hurt none. Only on one occasion can we find him taking action. The Temple had been made into a bazaar. People could buy sacrifices. Money-changers traded there. It should have been a place for prayer, but instead it was an open-air market. Jesus made a whip and drove the cattle out. He overturned the money changers’ tables and protested that his Father’s house should a place of prayer not a shopping mall.
He knew that the way to make his enemies his friends was by allowing them to put him on that cross where he would bear their sins and take their punishment as he died for them.
There is so much injustice in the world. So often we say, “It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. Why doesn’t someone do something about it?”
This is true when someone does something to hurt us. It is true that everyone thinks that to forgive is a good thing, until they need to do it. Yet Jesus said categorically, “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” This makes the heart attitude we have towards those who are unfair, unjust, hurtful and offend us a vital matter. Jesus emphasises forgiveness not vengeance. Jesus also says that if you have anything against anyone this forgiving spirit and action is his will. How different some people have been taught. They are so tolerant of their friends and so intolerant of their enemies, yet in the teaching of Jesus there is no place for us to even wish evil on others let alone do it.
On one occasion someone asked Jesus, “How often should I forgive? Seven times?” Now that is a lot of forgiveness, especially when the context is that it is the same person who did wrong, and it is the same offence that they have committed against the same person.
Jesus replied. He didn’t say, “Great idea!” He said, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” It was the equivalent of saying that we should always forgive, never hold a grudge and certainly never seek revenge.
One day, Jesus was praying and the disciples were waiting for him to finish. They then asked him to teach them to pray. He gave them a template for their prayers. They weren’t intended to repeat it endlessly, but to make it a basis for their life of prayer. One thing that is included is the request that God will forgive their sins, but it says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” In other words, a forgiven person will become a forgiving person. After all, it is not only true that others do wrong to us, we also do wrong to others.
Are those who follow the teaching of Jesus free to wish harm on those who hurt them? Did he advocate revenge?
However, that is just the beginning. We are not only to forgive our family and friends, we are to love our enemies. We are going to think about that now.
4. We all have enemies.
Jesus was preaching on one occasion. The people who were listening had many false ideas about God. They prayed, but Jesus said they were hypocrites. They wanted everyone to know they were faithful in their prayers. They fasted, and made sure that others knew that they were keeping the fast. Jesus called them hypocrites. They gave alms, but Jesus said they were hypocrites. Why? Because they made sure others knew they had given something to help the poor.
They also had other wrong attitudes. Jesus reminded them of their teaching. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemies.'” What is wrong with that? The answer is that it is wrong. They never got that from the former prophets. The former prophets had said many times, “You shall love your neighbour”, but they never said, “You shall hate your enemy.” Their teachers had added that because it seemed logical. Jesus then said something that would seem shocking. He didn’t say, “Your neighbours are your enemies.” Some people may feel that. Instead he said something that clearly meant, “Even your enemies are your neighbours.”
Let us go back to the men who were upset with me in Speakers Corner. They said they believed Jesus was their prophet and that they should follow his teaching. I said to them, “Will you do it?” They said that they would. I asked them, “Who are your enemies?” They told me who they considered were to blame for the world’s troubles. These, they said, were the Great Satan. You may disagree with them, but that isn’t the point. You probably have people you consider to be your enemies.
Once they told me who their enemies were I said, “Do you know what Jesus said about our enemies?” They didn’t, so I told them. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven, for he makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
I said to them, “Jesus never said kill your enemies, blow them up, or destroy them. Are you willing to love your enemies?” I then listed the groups they identified as their enemies and said, “Will you love them?” They exploded in anger and shouted, “No!”
I said, “How can you say that Jesus is your prophet, yet you refuse to do as he said?” Jesus said, “You are my disciples if you keep my commandments.”
The Bible says elsewhere that God has displayed his love for is in this way, when we were sinners and enemies Christ died for us. As they crucified him, Jesus said, “Father forgive them.”
When a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and as the Prophet that Moses said would come, then that person listens to his teaching and sees that as Jesus taught, so he lived. I can say that he loved me before ever I loved him. He died for me, and he saved me while I hated him.
Because of that how can I seek revenge personally or advocate a holy war against others and live with hatred towards them? How can I rejoice when my enemies are hurt or killed?
But some people think that martyrdom is the great act by which they can guarantee a place in Paradise. How can we get to heaven? What did Jesus say? This is the last thing we are going to think about in this booklet about Jesus and terrorism.
One of Jesus followers wrote that he had fought the good fight. What did he mean? Does it imply that he did resort to violence at times?
This writer used the language of warfare in other ways. He told a younger man that he should endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He added that no one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him to be a soldier.
Nowhere do we read of this Christian leader carrying a sword, let alone using one. He travelled from Jerusalem through Turkey and into Europe, and the only method he used was teaching.
In relation to governments, he taught that everyone should be subject to the ruling authorities. Why? Because, he said, there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. The teaching of Christ extends to our role as citizens. And remember, Paul, who wrote this, was living under the rule of Rome. Rome’s armies had not only conquered his own country, but was an idol worshipping empire.
Yet he wrote, Therefore, whoever resists the authority, resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. He concludes: Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain. Perhaps the most unwelcome comment that he adds is this: because of this you also pay taxes for they are God’s ministers.
We are left with the question then as to how we are soldiers, if we are not to be mercenaries, rebels, terrorists or get involved in deposing the government.
He applies the teaching of Jesus to the Christian life saying, Put on the whole armour of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. The battles of the believer are not fought with weapons that can be obtained on the Black Market, or manufactured into explosive vests or IEDs. Instead we are urged to put on the whole armour of God.
What is it? The believer’s waist is girded with truth, he wears a breastplate of righteousness, his shoes are the gospel of peace, his shield is faith, which is to withstand, not the arrows of Rome, but of the devil. His mind is protected by the helmet of salvation. His only weapon is called the Sword of the Spirit, and is the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures.
It is evident that the follower of Jesus stand their ground without violence. They are involved in a spiritual battle, and their armour defends them from spiritual difficulties. Their weapon is a Bible!
Finally, the writer tells the believer to pray with all prayer.
The Christian soldier isn’t someone who uses swords, but will use words. they will trust their Lord and Saviour, and ask for his help in every difficulty, temptation or time of persecution. A true Christian will not retaliate with weapons, but words. They will return cursing with blessing, and speak of the good news of salvation. Their message is that no matter what a person has done, is doing or will do, those who turn away from sin and come to Christ for forgiveness will not be turned away and rejected.
The believer who wrote all these words persecuted Christians, executed them and forced them to blaspheme. He called himself the chief of sinners, yet Christ changed him and forgave him.
The early believers, just after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven were terrorised by Saul of Tarsus. Once he turned to Christ as Lord and Saviour all that changed. He became a man who put into practice exactly what the Lord Jesus had taught.
5. Paradise, and how to get there.
If Jesus was not a terrorist or a rebel, and if we are not to fight others or martyr ourselves as we blow people to pieces, how can we get to heaven? What must we do? Can we be sure of Paradise?
Jesus preached a message. He said, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word repent indicated that we are to turn round and have a complete change in our thinking. We aren’t to think that we can get to heaven by our own good works. Our best deeds cannot make amends before God for our evil deeds. Even repenting doesn’t remove or sins. It is only because of the holiness of Jesus and his death as a substitute.
When I talk to my Muslim friends about God they almost always talk about the problems they see in Christianity. They rarely talk about their sins or how they can be forgiven. They tell me that they hope they have done enough. If you ask a Christian the same question he or she will talk, not about what they have done, but what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for them as he died upon the cross. They believe that God accepted the perfect life of Jesus for us and punished our sins in him.
Jesus made a startling statement. “Unless you are born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.” There must be a new start and a new heart. The greatest problem is sin, and the greatest need is salvation. God is just. If he simply forgives and forgets without punishing sin, how can there be any divine justice? Jesus’s said, “The Son of Man had come to give his life add a random for many.”
The idea that our good deeds make amends for our evil deeds was never taught by the former prophets. If anyone wanted to approach God they brought a sacrifice. No one wrote about this more than the Prophet Moses in the Torah. A lamb was offered and the worshipper confessed his or her sins as they placed their hands on the lamb’s head. The lamb died and the sinner lived.
The final prophet before Jesus came was John the Baptist. One day when he saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world.” That prophet considered Jesus to be the one that would die as the final sacrifice for people from every nation and culture.
He came to give his life as a ransom for many.
The gospel says that we cannot earn our way to Paradise, and especially not by terrorism, holy war or acts of martyrdom where we commit suicide as we kill others. Instead Jesus said this: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
It is not by pilgrimage, good works or one dramatic and deadly act of martyrdom that guarantees a place in Paradise. How can these things really make up for the evil we have committed? How unjust God would be of our sin isn’t punished.
Jesus have his life to save us, and those who turn to him, trust in his death to save them and follow him will behave like him.
In the gospel we read that when the Lord Jesus saves a person he also works in their heart to produce a radical change. One writer in the Gospel describes the fruit that grows:
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” He contrasts this with how we tend to behave of Jesus is not poor Saviour. He speaks of many evils, but includes hatred, arguments, jealousy, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambition, envy, murder and many other terrible things. He says that those who do such things will never get to heaven.
Jesus was not a terrorist. He never advocated a holy war. His followers are willing to suffer and die as Christians when they are persecuted, but they are not willing to persecute others. Anyone who accepts him as their prophet, priest and king will also love their enemies, forgive their persecutors, lay down their swords. They will seek to do good, even to their persecutors, and to speak blessings upon those who curse them.
Will you accept this Saviour as your Saviour, Lord and teacher? Will you give up the idea that your good deeds can guarantee you a place in heaven, and especially that one terrible and deadly act of martyrdom as a suicide bomber can make up for sin? Jesus loved his enemies, that is, you and me. He gave his life on the cross to save us.
If you are forgiven because of his death in your place, you will have the same forgiving spirit. As the Holy Spirit of Christ lives and works in your heart there will be a complete change. He will remove anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge and replace them with kindness, forbearance and forgiveness.
A follower of Jesus wrote:
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, quarrelling and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”
The person who wrote this had previously been the chief persecutor of Christians. He had thrown them in prison, been in a group of men who stoned one of them to death, tortured them until they denied they were Christians and made havoc of them. His misplaced zeal for God led to such hatred that he gave his life to exterminating those he saw as his enemies.
One day things changed. He realised that Jesus was the promised Saviour. He saw that everything he thought was good about his life was stained with pride, selfishness and sin. He trusted Christ as his Lord and Saviour. Everything changed. He also writes:
“Put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, patience; bearing with one another and forgiving one another… even as Christ forgave you, you must also do. But above all these things put on love.”
Do you see how the influence of Jesus in his life dealt with the hatred in his heart. A killer became kind. Hatred became love. Resentment was replaced by tolerance. It can be traced back to the teaching of Jesus as his prophet and teacher.
But Jesus is more than a prophet. He came to live a holy life, and to take our sins and their punishment so that we can be forgiven. He was raised from death to prove that what he did was successful. He has sent the Holy Spirit to convince us we are sinners, to change our hearts, and to strengthen us so that we can be like him.
In the mind of someone who says Jesus is their teacher or prophet should be the clear picture of someone willing to carry a cross not a sword, and willing to die for others not to kill them.
Had you been in the crowd and been given the choice, world you choose the terrorist or the teacher who said, “Put your sword away”?
Is Jesus Christ your Lord and Saviour? Will you accept his forgiveness and become a forgiving person?
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