Date:  July 6, 2024

By Greg Cochran, Ph.D., ICC Fellow


While secular humanists, atheists, and agnostics decry the use of the Bible in public policymaking—believing it to be a root source of violence at minimum, the very fountainhead of evil at worst—the overwhelming majority of Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians continue to rely on the Bible as a foundational guiding word for life in this world.

Christians audaciously refer to the Bible not simply as “a good book,” but as The Good Book. Even among the population at large in the U.S., the Bible’s reputation remains positive with about half of all adults believing the Bible should have an important role in shaping public policy. Surely, this wouldn’t be the case if the Bible were a manifesto for warmongering.

Where secular humanists hear the Bible fomenting violence, Christians hear encouragement from a kind and gentle shepherd, Jesus—who happens also to be the king of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus is the king of all kings and the one final authoritative Judge. The Bible makes plain that this king and righteous judge is the unique one who finally puts an end to violence by bringing the guilty to justice.

Does the Bible condone violence as the doubters and deniers assert? No, the Bible never condones unjust violence. Neither Christ nor his followers are approved for cavalier violent acts. Indeed, Jesus rebuked Peter for resorting to the sword at the scene of the Lord’s arrest. Moreover, the Bible makes plain that every thought and deed—whether violent or not—will be brought to account before the righteous judge. No unjust thought or deed—much less any violent act—is ultimately tolerated.

But the Bible also understands the nature of humanity as a fallen race and, thus, is realistic about the enduring presence of violence. Violence plays a part in the biblical narrative from beginning to the end, from Genesis to Revelation. Christians need not eschew the presence of violence in Scripture. Neither ought Christians to disavow all violence. While some vocal saints continuously make a plea for pacifism, Christians historically have never fully embraced pacifist convictions. Instead, Christians have developed a sophisticated concept of just war and just retribution (including capital punishment).

Human violence originated with the first martyrdom in human history: the killing of Abel by his rebellious brother Cain. This first murder was martyrdom because the biblical narrative of the Genesis 4 account makes plain that Abel was killed on account of righteousness, namely, God’s righteousness. So, Cain’s killing unshackled violence against humanity. In one stroke, Cain unleashed upon the human race homicide, fratricide, persecution, and martyrdom—all of which abide with us still.

Even in the life and death of Jesus, the same violent patterns abound: Jesus came to his own brothers, and the reigning king Herod persecuted every male child in the region, killing countless infants and toddlers. Jesus lived among God’s historic people, and they rejected him, crying out for his barbaric crucifixion. Jesus was betrayed by one of his own close followers. Jesus was handed over by Jewish religious leaders for public execution. In the grandest act of unrighteous violence in history, the Romans crucified God’s Messiah. Violence is a central theme in the Christian story and in the human story as well.

Of course, the good news of God’s gospel is that Jesus knew these violent injustices would be perpetrated against him, yet, for the joy set before him, he would endure it all that he might usher in an era of God’s peace—offering himself as a sacrificial lamb (as in the Passover) so that all who cover themselves in his blood might be spared from death.

Violence was embraced by God’s love and kissed with Christ’s peace. Jesus swallowed the violent injustice, nailing it to a cross with his body punctured by a spear that he might kill sin and death on the very same cross that brought his earthly demise. Jesus impaled sin and death, while expelling life and peace from the cross for all who long for it. Jesus’s death ushered in a new reality: today is the day of salvation!

In other words, Jesus is not naive to violence—even to the most unjust violence in history. Jesus condemns violence in his flesh, demonstrating that it lacks power over him. Therefore, those persecutors like Cain who rely upon violence are staking their lives, their souls, their hopes, on controlling others through the use of the inferior power of violence. If they were right-minded, they would instead anchor their souls on a more solid foundation, one capable of conquering every foe. There is but one such power—the eternal power of Jesus reigning through all time—something no other ruler has ever accomplished for even a century, much less for eternity.

Since the time of Cain and until Christ’s return, violence is an aspect of the human condition under the universal influence of sin and death. Christians needn’t flinch when naysayers accuse the Bible of promoting violence. The Bible is not silent about violence. Violence, sadly, has been part of the human story since Cain slew Abel. Rather than avoid the topic, Christians can actually offer the final remedy to human violence in the resurrection and return of Christ.

In the resurrection, Christ has broken the power of violence so that no one need live any longer controlled by the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). Sadly, people continue to be controlled by the fear of death. Therefore, power mongers continue to exploit the fear of death, fully expecting those under its control to surrender themselves to the fearmongers on the super thin promise of a fragile security.

To the cynics Bible believers need not cower. The Bible speaks of violence in a mature, sobering way. The passion of Christ is not an idealized fairy tale like John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The biblical remedy offers more hope for peace than does a thousand resolutions by a dozen different UN gatherings. Jesus took on violence like no other. In swallowing its poison, Jesus rose to the power of an indestructible life. He and his followers do not live in fear of violence or death. And they do not (like despots, nationalists, and terrorists) cast it like some magic spell to control masses of people. Christ followers enthusiastically promote the Risen Lamb as the final end to violence and all injustice.

Revelation makes this end of violence plain like no other piece of ancient literature. When Christ returns with his just retribution in hand, the former oppressors and persecutors will shrink into caves and beg for the mountains and the rocks to crush them, hiding them from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6). The saints who have been executed for their faith cry out before God’s throne as they fully (and rightly) expect to see justice carried out finally and forever. Jesus will execute justice perfectly and put an end to violence—forever assigning the guilty ones to eternal justice in hell.

Hell is not a comfortable concept for those living in the superabundance of the 21st century American context. Worldly sceptics will no doubt scoff about hell’s existence, insisting if it were real then that would only be a continuation of violence. The Bible views this matter much differently. The reality of hell provides comfort for God’s people who suffer horrific and unjust violence.

Perhaps the best-known evangelical scholar on the topic of hell is Chris Morgan. On the topic of hell as a comfort for God’s persecuted, Morgan says, “Far from finding divine judgment or hell disconcerting, the persecuted long for God’s vengeance and pray for it. Their angst centers on questions related to God’s patience, not his holy wrath. So, Revelation likewise urges the worship of God, fosters perseverance, and offers comfort to the persecuted church by pointing to God’s temporal as well as eschatological judgment upon his enemies (see Rev. 11:15-18; 14:6-13; 16:5-7; 19:1-8; 20:10-15; 21:7-8; 22:10-15).”

The book of Revelation was not written to entertain fantastic predictions from curiously comfortable Americans. The book was written to beleaguered, persecuted, and oppressed Christ followers—to those who were powerless against powerful evil. For the kind of people who feel forgotten and forsaken, for those who live in places where following Christ could be a death sentence.

One such person is a young man named Wisdom in a small village in Nigeria. Wisdom lives with his baby sister Precious. When their village was attacked, everyone they knew—including their own parents—was slaughtered. No one was held accountable. In a single moment, this boy went from a school desk to being the soul provider for his baby sister, who herself needed medical attention.

Promises of government action are kind and well-meaning, but they won’t help. U.N. resolutions will not hold the guilty accountable for their violent injustices. What does help? The truth about Christ putting an end to violence. What else helps? Christians help when they come to the aid of Wisdom and Precious, demonstrating loving care for them by feeding them, giving them medical assistance, and assuring them with the Scriptures that Christ will hold the evildoers responsible even if the Nigerian government never will. In Christ, violent persecution has met its match. Little wonder that Revelation ends with an emphatic, albeit succinct, prayer of affirmation: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”