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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, November 11 2021

Should a Christian fight?

As Christians we strive to obey the Ten Commandments, including the command not to murder (Exodus 20:13; Matthew 19:18). We are also to love our neighbours as ourselves, and believe every human being is made in the image of God (Luke 10:25-37).

by Randy Stiver

Romans 13:10 tells us: "Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Since love does no harm to a neighbour, how can a Christian be a part of a military organization that kills people?

Jesus never took a human life or acted violently toward another human being, and when threatened with violence, He avoided confrontation (Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59). Among Jesus' 12 disciples the only two violent incidents that occurred were condemned by Him, and the first was only a threat. James and John wanted to call fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village where they had been refused lodging (Luke 9:51-56). Jesus scolded them, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them."

The other case of violence occurred when Peter cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest as Jesus was being arrested. Jesus healed the ear and then rebuked Peter, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:51-53).

The primary motivation and driving spiritual force of those called by God at this time is to " first the kingdom of God and His righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33), as "ambassadors for Christ," (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our supreme, spiritual allegiance is to God and His Kingdom—not to any physical nation.

We are not of this world (John 17:14, 16). Jesus explained this to Pontius Pilate, "...My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight..." (John 18:36). This is a key scripture showing Christians do not fight, are not violent and do not serve in the militaries of this world.

Romans 13:1-7 tells us a Christian should be subject to the governing powers of his nation, but a line must be drawn if the government orders you to do what is against the law of God, and kill others in a war. We must obey God first, even if it means suffering consequences (Acts 5:29).

But what about ancient Israel and why did David fight, when he was called a man after God's own heart? Ancient Israel was governed by God’s civil code, but most of her people were not spiritually converted and chose to fight, rather than trust God. Israel didn't have to go to war. God had promised to fight her battles, if the Israelites would have turned to Him and trusted Him (Exodus 14:14; Deuteronomy 1:30-32). God did execute certain judgments upon sinful nations through Israel, but God was not pleased David chose to be a man of war, and did not allow him to build the temple because of it (1 Chronicles 28:3).

Then there’s Cornelius, a centurion or noncommissioned officer in the Roman army. Some claim his example shows Christians can and should fight for their nation. He was the first gentile to be baptized in the New Testament (Acts 10:1-8, 44-48), and he and his household were in the process of learning "what manner of spirit" they were to live by -- a life not of war and military service, but of peace and obedience to God. Also, since his whole household was with him in Caesarea, he may have already retired from the Roman army.

In a speech in April, 1961, a priest and dean of Catholic University in Washington, D.C., summarised a long-standing, but erroneous, approach to the issue of Christians serving in the military: "A soldier may kill in time of war, but for him to kill in a spirit of hatred is not the proper Christian attitude." The Bible tells us not just to avoid hating, but not to kill at all: " your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven..." (Matthew 5:44-45).

Christians should not disregard the great sacrifice of those who gave their lives to defend their country. Their dedication is profound, and they acted on what they understood, but dedicated Christians have a different kind of battle to fight. Our weapons are spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), and when Jesus Christ returns to this earth we will have a part in bringing true peace to this earth.

Herod the Great

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.