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Did Jesus Christ teach nonviolence? Was Jesus Christ modeling nonviolent change?

The world changes leaders change their lives, influence their neighbourhoods and effect their communities. But, change always creates conflict. Jesus Christ is one of history’s greatest change makers. He also created a conflict with leaders who eventually killed him. But did Jesus Christ teach nonviolence as his model for sustainable change?

Or was Jesus brewing a legitimate violent revolutionary movement to liberate Israel from the oppression of Rome and the Jewish elite?

This points to a much bigger question I’m always wrestling with here: Is violent change sustainable and legitimate from a Jesus centered Christian perspective and from a practical perspective?

Does Jesus Christ teach nonviolence? Does Jesus Christ model Nonviolence? What method is historically more productive to create peace and reconciliation?

Dr. Jesse Nickel’s work on Jesus Christ and Nonviolence

Dr. Jesse Nickel is a close friend of mine. Academically, he’s a deeply committed researcher and educator. Two years ago he Graduated with a PHD in New Testament from St. Andrews University under the Mentorship of Dr. NT Wright. Jesse is one of the best.

My family has been serving in the Philippines for the last 5 years. We embody everything I write about. I’m doing my best to create new communities of Jesus followers who will walk like he did. And I’m doing my best to blog those stories for you.

In our first 5 years, Jesse was running, sitting and reflecting in a castle in St Andrews, Scotland with Dr. NT Wright. He studied the radical love and nonviolent way that Jesus Christ’s kingdom changes our world. This is why historical church leaders describe Jesus Kingdom as the Kingdom of Peace.

The gardens and castle at st andrews university in scotland

Jesse’s Work and My Work Complement Each Other

I do peacebuilding “field work.” I train and mentor leaders to excel, Christian and non-faithbased, at community development, peacebuilding and reconciliation. My model as a Christian leader is called Christian Peacebuilding. I’ve been creating new Christian Peacebuilding communities (aka Churches who follow Jesus and train faithful followers of Jesus) for 7 years. My goal is for thousands of new Jesus communities to share the life and healing mission around the world and build the peace of Jesus Christ.

While I work in the field, Jesse does the hard work of research and teaching. His work deepens and enriches my work. His research revealed new understandings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and his nonviolent way. I’m excited to share one of his newest public lectures about this research below. It’s a public lecture at a Mennonite bible school so it’s very accessable.

The title is Was Jesus a violent revolutionary? His presentation starts at the 3:23 time marker. My summary and notes are below the video if you would like to skim them.

If you liked the video you can learn from Jesse first hand by attending Columbia Bible College (Go Bearcats!). He’s currently Professor of New Testament. His research is new ground in biblical studies and exciting and foundational to the life of the church. As Christian Peacebuilders it gives us encouragement and hope on the tough days. I fuels our spirituality and makes our calling more clear.

Summary 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.

Conclusion

Jesse’s research should challenge you and inspires you! It won’t leave you bored if you care about healing the world and if you’re still reading this, then you do care about healing the world.

If Jesse’s work is inspiring then share this page at your church or with your friends and have a discussion about it.

Lets get Jesse’s research out into the world to make a positive impact in the violent world and the often violent church. Did Jesus Christ teach nonviolence as the method for social change? More than that, he embodies it for all of his disciples to follow. Our LORD Jesus and his kingdom of follower has radical nonviolent love at it’s core!