Even if we differ with it, and even if we differ with it sharply, we are all still affected by the idea of Jesus as the prototypical hippie. Those who adopt the idea may do so with the applause of pacifists, or with a Nietzsche-like disdain. But it is a very common and very influential idea — Jesus as the original flower child. Those who reject the concept usually find themselves fighting a rear guard action with it, saying that sure, Jesus came to bring peace and love, but it was a very different kind of peace and love than that.
We really need to turn this around because the premise is all wrong. Jesus certainly came to bring peace, but it was peace through superior firepower. And when we say this, as Scripture requires us to, and we lay out the passages that teach it, the advocates of non-violence will have to resort to saying sure, but it was a very different kind of fire power. And we will respond to that by saying yes, a fire power with a lot more throw weight.
The AngloSaxon poem, Dream of the Rood, describes Christ’s conquest on the cross as a great military victory, and this portrayal, though not without its problems, is a lot closer to the New Testament than we are. And, yes, I said New Testament. Christ is consistently portrayed as the divine warrior, the true soldier from heaven.
There are more examples of this than I have time for at present, but let me assemble a cluster of them. First, Jesus shares His name with Joshua, one of the great warriors of the Old Testament (Josh. 1:5). This was no fluke, but full of import — the people of Israel were led out of Egypt, as was Jesus (Ex. 12:51; Hos. 11:1; Matt. 2:15). They were then baptized in the cloud and sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2), just as Jesus was baptized on the threshhold of the wilderness (Matt. 3:16-17; Matt. 4:1). They were hardened for battle in the wilderness forty years (Ex. 16:35), and Jesus was hardened for battle in the wilderness for forty days (Matt. 4:2). And when the time was fulfilled, the invasion began (Matt. 4:12).
Jesus defends His behavior with regard to sabbath law by appealing to David eating the shewbread. But David was not allowed to eat the priestly bread because he was hungry and in a jam — rather, he and his men had been consecrated for battle (1 Sam. 21:1-6).
When the time of testing was fulfilled, Jesus began His ministry in Canaan, driving out demons, driving out corruption from the Temple (Mark 11:15), and the story culminates with Him driving out the prince of this world (John 12:31). Why is this language of driving out so familiar? Where have we heard it before?
The triumphal entry was accompanied by a war psalm of victory and triumph, Psalm 118. The only thing missing from the psalm that could make the point plainer to us is a reference to the “halls of Montezuma.” The right hand of the Lord indeed does valiantly (Ps. 118:16).
This is very plain in all the accounts, but Luke is particularly militaristic. In Luke’s version of the stronger man binding the strong man, he adds some telling details. When Jesus defeats the strong man, what does He do? He comes upon one who is fully armed (kathoplismenos), He overcomes or conquers him (nikao), and then He strips his armor (panoplia). This is the kind of thing that Achilleus did to Hektor, and David to Goliath. Jesus not only won a great battle in single combat, He took the trophies home with Him.
Christ’s military victory is explicitly taught in both testaments. Consider this from the great chapter on Christ’s self sacrifice.
“Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors”(Is 53:12).
What will Jesus have because He died for transgressors? He will take the plunder.
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.(Heb 2:14-15)
A humanistic assumption about non-violence is that if we just “do it right,” then everybody will become friends again, and it will be the feel good movie of the year. Share your sandwich with the playground bully, and he will be touched in the heart and eventually transformed. But the non-violence that Jesus displayed was not like that — it was a stratagem. It was as though a warrior went to fight the dragon with a portable nuke in his pack, and then, after he lets the dragon eat him, he sets it off. This is not known as “befriending the dragon.” The word smithereens comes to mind.
There are only two more points to make. First, we try to evade the force of this kind of language by quietly assuming that spriritual war is not “real” war. You can see this assumption at work when some CNN commentator tries to explain that true jihad occurs when a devout Muslim is trying to resist the tempations of popcorn gluttony. The assumption is that physical war is real war, and spiritual war is pretend war, metaphorical war, pat-its-cute-little-head war. We assume that physical war is the real thing, and that spiritual warfare is nothing but a dim and struggling metaphor. But it is actually the other way around. And because it is the other way around, not only was Christ a soldier, in an important sense, He was the first and ultimate soldier. He is the pattern for all soldiers. Jesus Christ was and is a true Knight, the embodiment of true nobility. Spiritual war is real war, and physical war gives us some faint and flickering notion of what it must be like.
Now, last point. How are we supposed to learn what God is like? The biblical answer is that if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). The Son does nothing except what He has seen from the Father (Jn. 8:38). The Father was enormously pleased with His Son (Matt. 12:17-21), who went to war as He ought to have done. The Father sent His Son to war, and the Spirit of war was upon Him (Matt. 12:18). In completing this task, the Lord will make brisk work of it (Is. 42:13-14). And when will this warfare of ours be complete (Is. 40:2)? Final peace will come to our world when the Lord Jesus hangs up His shield and buckler (Is. 42:4). And not a day before.