In John 18, Jesus is arrested and brought before Pilate for questioning. With what I imagine to be a tinge of exasperation and sarcasm in his voice, Pilate asks Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus, in typical fashion, answers with a question of his own: “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?”
Now Pilate is openly irritated and retorts, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Here’s where Jesus says something really interesting (and again, in typical fashion, doesn’t actually answer the question):
“My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested…”
Isn’t that fascinating? Jesus intimates that if his kingdom did derive its power and authority “from this world,” then his disciples would fight to prevent him from being arrested (and of course we remember that Peter actually did draw his sword and attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest).
But because Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t “originate from this world,” he isn’t threatened in the slightest by the powers of this world. Therefore he has no need for violence. Nothing ultimately important is threatened by death.
Jesus’ kingdom is dependent upon a power that is completely independent from the power dynamics of this world, and thus violence is done away with as a strategy for affected good in the world.
Ergo, to presume that violence is necessary to bring about goodness is to contradict what Jesus says about the kingdom of God. It is to live as if Jesus’ kingdom was indeed subject to the powers of this world, as if it is a new version of the “same old thing” the world has been producing for millennia.
But Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world. It doesn’t operate by the violence and coercion we are so familiar with.
And this kingdom is real and it is available to us. Like our Lord, we can learn to live in it, derive our life from it, interact with it. The more we do, the more our confidence will grow that we really don’t need to fight, because our flourishing has already been secured in a kingdom that doesn’t originate from this world.
Violence is rendered obsolete! It’s just not necessary anymore, now that the kingdom of God has come. So don’t be afraid. God will become all in all. Nothing can prevent it, not even death.
So, I think I understand what you’re trying to say, but the statement:
“ Ergo, to presume that violence is necessary to bring about goodness is to contradict what Jesus says about the kingdom of God.”
Doesn’t apply to all violence, right? Jesus rebuked Peter’s violence in cutting off the ear of the Chief priest’s servant because he had to *allow the violence* against Him to proceed. It seems as if Jesus is saying that violence (that was to be committed against HIM) *was* necessary to bring about “goodness”—the greatest goodness that could ever occur in the history of mankind …
But I think your point is that “fighting back” with violence against the powers of this world wasn’t Jesus’s way.
I think you would agree that “pushing back” against power—particularly the power of the church gone wrong—is what you have dedicated quite a bit of your energy to … but let’s not do it violently, right?
Ben Sternke says
Yes I think we are on the same page. This is so misunderstood nowadays. A commitment to non-violence is NOT the same thing as passivity. Jesus was quite bold in his opposition to the powers, but he wasn’t violent. In fact, his work on the cross was the ultimate “pushing back against” and indeed vanquishing of the powers, and we participate in that victory by engaging in the same way… which is why violence isn’t necessary to bring about God’s kingdom.
Agreed—I can’t think of a single time when Jesus ever advocated for or suggested that violence towards others was part of his Kingdom.
But apart from that, what do you make of the seemingly critical and core role that violence played in Jesus’s process of bringing about God’s kingdom, through Christ’s crucifixion on the cross? While we are clearly not called into violence against our brother, it seems interesting that God thought violence against Jesus to be a necessary part of his plan, no? Yes? It was scripted out through the prophets thousands of years before it happened, and Jesus had to submit to it …
I’m not saying that we are called to violence in any way, I’m just pointing out that “violence” —in general— was a seemingly crucial ingredient in God’s plan to bring about the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.
Ben Sternke says
Hi Phil, thanks for your engagement on this. I wouldn’t say “God thought violence against Jesus to be a necessary part of his plan…” because it attributes too much agency to God in the execution of violence. I don’t think God *prescribed* the violence of the cross as “necessary,” but rather, given the violence that humanity had given itself over to, the violence of the cross was *inevitable* and it became necessary for God to *absorb* our violence in order to defeat it. So, in the cross, I don’t see God *prescribing* violence and then making sure it got carried out, I see God *absorbing* our violence and thereby defeating it and bringing about salvation.
Got it. Yeah, I like what your saying here, in the respect that God (i.e., Jesus) would have preferred a non-violent Instantiation of his new covenant (fun to think /imagine what that would have looked like …) but God knowing and prophesying our violent reaction to his message and solution to the sin problem doesn’t mean he desired for it to go down that way. This gives new insights to Jesus’s conversation with God in the garden —hoping for another way to get through to them, perhaps. In the end he resigned and submitted himself to crucification because it was the only way he could go forward without violating (I.e. removing) the agency of God’s children, us.
it reminds me of the things that a loving parent will endure for their children … in the hopes of keeping them alive long enough for them to *choose* a better way for themselves …
The idea of God not being willing to violate the agency of one of his created beings has been a huge help to me in understanding God.
Brings new meaning to the old lyric:
“I’ll do anything for love, but I won’t do that”
Rambo is on the TV at work right now. Not sure if I want to laugh or cry!
Ben Sternke says