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Was Jesus Christ a Violent Revolutionary? – By Dr. Jesse Nickel (Video & Summary Notes)

 Can the world become a better place through violence? Or does God want us to engage our world through radical sacrificial love, like Jesus did on the cross?

Dr. Jesse Nickel is a close friend of mine. (For more about Jesse look here) Academically, he’s everything I wish I could be. But I can’t. I can hardly sit and write for 2 hours straight without going crazy. Jesse just spent 5 years doing it.

If you know our story well you know that my family has spent the last 5 years in the Philippines embodying everything I’m sharing with you here on the blog. In those 5 years, Jesse was sitting in a castle in St Andrews, Scotland with Dr. NT Wright studying, learning academic German and writing his PhD dissertation about the Radical love and Nonviolent way that Jesus’ kingdom comes into the world. The kingdom of reconciliation, hope, new creation and so much more.

St. Andrews University Scotland

While I worked to embody the work of building communities and cultures of Christian Peacebuilding, Jesse was doing amazing research to deepen and enrich the church’s understanding about the kingdom of Jesus Christ and his nonviolent action.

Jesse’s research is so important. I hope it’s published as a book soon. For now, I’m sharing of one of his first public lectures about his dissertation below. It’s called Was Jesus a violent revolutionary? His presentation starts at the 3:23 time marker. If you want to skim my notes from his lecture they are posted below the video.

If you liked the video you can learn from Jesse first hand by attending Columbia Bible College (Go Bearcats!) where he’s currently Professor of New Testament. His research is new, exciting and foundational to our lives as Christian Peacebuilders who model ourselves after the life and discipleship community of Jesus Christ.

My notes from Dr. Jesse Nickel’s lecture

  • “Why do people find it so easy to dismiss a black and white command from Jesus like ‘Love your enemies?’ How can they get around that?”
  • This quote was the seed that started Jesse on his PhD research: “Eschatological repentance, and national repentance from violent rebel activity, we’re joined together in Jesus proclamation and summons. The blend was not accidental. …It was precisely in her tendency to violent nationalism that Jesus saw the true depth of Israel’s present exile.” NT Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. p. 253.
  • “Jesus’s Ministry was eschatological, in it all of God’s promises were coming true.”
  • “The kingdom of God is an eschatological phrase summing up many terms and ideas: God redeeming his people, delivering them from oppression and slavery to sin, his presence would dwell with them, they would experience salvation and wholeness and blessing and joy and freedom.” In Jesus ministry all of this was being fulfilled! This is the Kingdom of God on earth.
  • The Jewish worldview during second temple Judaism (The time period between Israel’s return from Persian exile in 515 BCE until the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD)  was very eschatologically centered. They believed that God wanted to save his people Israel by giving them national authority and autonomy back. Build a great and dominant political and spiritual kingdom. They also believed that violence and eschatology was going to be essentially linked. The Jews expected God’s kingdom to come through violence and those faithful Jews who fought against Israel’s enemies, and even die in battle, were the ones who would be most blessed in Israel/God’s new Kingdom. They believed they were fighting with and for God’s will on earth and his kingdom breaking in.
  • But, Jesus actively rejected the idea that God’s eschatological kingdom would come through violence. He showed that it only comes through nonviolent suffering love. The perfect example is the cross.
  • What does it mean to be called children of God? It means to be people who look like our father, the God and king of the kingdom of peace. Those who belong to the kingdom are children of their father in heaven and they are are peacemakers. They are the ones who inherit the kingdom.
  • A deeper understanding of the importance of Nonviolence in the coming Kingdom of God is directly connected to Paul’s idea about “the foolishness of the cross.”
  • How are God’s enemies defeated then if not through violence?
  • Some biblical scholars and Christian thinkers believe that the nonviolence of the early church was a practical exercise since they didn’t have the power, authority or weapons to use violence in the first 313 years after Jesus death and resurrection. Therefore, they believe the early church chose nonviolence as a practical strategy to survive.
  • Others believe that early church nonviolence was only a short term ethic, until the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. Once God’s kingdom was announced they assumed that God’s faithful people would fight alongside God to violently defeat God’s enemies and the enemies of his people Israel.
  • Jesus clearly rejected both of these paths. “Jesus rejection of eschatological violence was central to his ministry.” says Dr. Jesse Nickel.
  • Jesus’ non-violence was central to his ministry and is central to the way his kingdom comes into the world through his people, his holy nation and royal priesthood the church. “Jesus’s rejection of Eschatological violence is directly related to how God’s kingdom is inaugurated and is directly bound up in the character and identity of those in his Kingdom. Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called the children of God.” Dr. Jesse Nickel.

I hope this research inspired you! If it did please share this page so that Jesse’s research gets out into the world for the hurting world and the violent church to see that our LORD Jesus and his kingdom has a culture of radical nonviolent love at it’s core!