In my previous article I explained how the kingdom of God must be established in peace and promoted through peaceful means. Any use of violence to advance the cause will only produce a violent kingdom, but Jesus brings a kingdom of peace. But is this really true of the kingdom of God? Didn’t Joshua use violence to establish the kingdom in the Promised Land? And isn’t Jesus coming with a sword to massacre the millions who oppose him on the day of his return?
These two events stand out in apparent contradiction to the principle that God’s kingdom must be established apart from the use of violence. But in neither of these cases is violence used to establish or to advance the kingdom. Rather, these are instances of the judgment of God being poured out against a sinful, rebellious people. This is an exception to the rule of nonviolence in a righteous kingdom.
Few people today would deny the right of a government to use violence to punish evil or to protect innocent civilians. That is why the police carry guns. Those guns represent the policeman’s right to defend himself against a violent criminal, to defend innocent victims from those criminals, and occasionally to shoot criminals who are threatening or carrying out violent activity. In this way violence is shown to be acceptable when used by security officers as a means of preventing worse violence form happening.
Further, few people would defend nonviolence even when carried out by ordinary citizens in certain situations. When a mass murderer pulls out semi-automatic weapons in a full schoolhouse, almost anyone would wish someone had a firearm to shoot that person before he kills innocent children. If anyone aboard the planes that flew into the World Trade Center on 9/11 had a gun, I believe almost all Americans would support his right, even his duty, to use it to prevent that act of terrorism from taking place.
A more controversial situation is that of enforcing capital punishment. There are many on both sides of this issue, but even some of those who oppose capital punishment would admit that they might make exceptions in some cases, such as Adolph Hitler or Timothy McVeigh. However, whether capital punishment is wrong in America today is not the same as whether it is always wrong in every society. It is indisputable that God supported and even demanded capital punishment for many offenses in the theocracy of ancient Israel. That is enough to demonstrate that for those who believe in the Bible, capital punishment is at least sometimes right, even if they do not believe it is right in our society today. So if God chooses to use violence to prevent worse violence from happening, to protect innocent lives, or to execute the death penalty upon those he declares guilty of a capital offense, then those acts of violence should be considered acceptable, even to a society that is nonviolent.
In fact, it could be argued that because it is a nonviolent society, it supports these exceptional uses of violence. It is reminiscent of the true story of Sergeant York, who, as a pacifist, was forced to enlist in the army and fight in World War I. After almost single-handedly seizing 32 machine guns and killing 28 Germans in a battle, he was presented with the Medal of Honor. In the popular movie that tells his story, one of his commanding officers asks how he, a pacifist, could kill so many people. York’s response was that when he saw how many people these Germans were killing, he felt compelled to do whatever he could to stop the killing. Thus it was because he was a pacifist and an advocate of nonviolence that he felt compelled to use violence.
But again, this is the use of violence to prevent worse violence, not to advance the cause of the war. York did not kill to defend American freedom or capitalism; he did it to prevent the deaths of hundreds of his fellow soldiers. So the use of violence to advance one’s ideology or political agenda is not supported by this example. But what about God using Joshua or sending Jesus to spill the blood of his enemies?
God sent Joshua to defeat all the inhabitants of the land he promised to Abraham. But he did not do this as a means of advancing the cause of the Israelites or to clear the land for them to live in, though this act certainly resulted in those things. Had the inhabitants of this land been righteous, the Israelites could have dwelled among them. There was enough land for everyone. But it is because the inhabitants were evil and ripe for judgment that the conquest took place a the point of a sword. The foreshadow of this act of judgment can be seen as far back as Genesis 9.
After the flood, Noah’s son Ham and grandson Canaan were involved in an indecent act concerning Noah. As a result, Noah cursed Canaan, the son of Ham (Gen 9:25). Then he praised Shem and Japheth for responding in righteousness when they became aware of what happened. Noah declares: “May Canaan be the slave of Shem” (Gen 9:26).
When men’s names are used like this, the reference is not merely to the individuals, but to their descendants. The descendants of Shem are the Semites, the Israelites who became the people of God through God’s covenant with Abraham, who was a direct descendant of Shem. The Canaanites are the people whom Joshua defeated in the conquest. Interestingly, this prophecy was uttered in the same chapter of the Bible where capital punishment is first permitted by God. In Genesis 9:6 God says: “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed.”
This subject is complex and my treatment of it cursory, but this should be sufficient to demonstrate the validity of interpreting the conquest as a prophecy fulfilling act of judgment on a sinful people, and not as a genocide to clear room for Israelite imperialism. That is why God says: “It is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you” (Deut 9:4). God as judge declared the inhabitants of the land guilty and gave them the death penalty. Since he also declared, “by humans shall their blood be shed,” God used the Israelites to carry out his death penalty. Just because God did not use the same means that we do today – courts and trials and appeals – does not mean his judgment was not just. God does not have to submit to the modern Western system of justice.
Similarly, in Revelation 19:11-21, Jesus comes in judgment on the wicked as well as in salvation of the righteous. Verse 9 says, “With justice he judges and makes war.” His actions toward the wicked on the day of the Second Coming are acts of judgment, not military expansion. What about the part about making war? Verse 19 says the beast and his earthly armies “wage war against the rider on the horse (Jesus).” That is why Jesus comes to judge and wage war. Because a war has been declared by God’s enemies, through war will the judgment be delivered, just as it was in the conquest. The most important point is that Jesus does this “with justice.” Justice is a legal term denoting a verdict and, if guilty, a sentence will be delivered.
Again, Jesus did not need to kill millions of people to establish his kingdom on earth. He did so because the day of his coming is both the day of judgment on unbelievers and the day of salvation of the righteous and the establishment of his kingdom on earth. Both events happen on the same day, but they are still separate events.
Whether it is in its shadowy prefigured form in Joshua, in its incipient prescient form under David and Solomon, or in its final, fulfilled form at the Second coming, the kingdom of God is established on earth in peace and by peace. In each of the manifestations of the kingdom violence is seen, but in none of these instances is the violence used to establish or advance the kingdom. This established the principle that the kingdom of God is not to be advanced through the use of violence. Even in a violent world, there is no justification for the use of violence to advance one’s own political agenda, even if that one is Jesus himself. Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus and execute justice, not people.