We all know that Jesus refused to defend himself or even to resist arrest in Gethsemane when the authorities came to seize him. We know he stopped Peter when the latter undertook to defend him with the sword. We know he would not let his servants fight in his defense. What most don't know is why Jesus chose this course, one certain to take him to the cross and to his death in a very few hours. It is our purpose here to explore this question -- why Jesus refused to defend himself -- and to further explore the implications for his disciples when we contemplate self defense.
The Natural Right
There is a natural and legal right of self defense that we will not question. This is written into the legal codes. It is written into our brains. It is both natural, normal and legal to defend ones self against threats to life, property, friends and family. A newspaper1 tells of a 74-year-old convenience store proprietor near Decatur, GA who has repeatedly exercised his natural right of self defense. He is handicapped and uses a walker, but when he saw three robbers in his store he steadied his shotgun on his walker, killed one and wounded another. It was the second robber he has killed. It was the twelfth time robbers have hit him in his 26 years as owner of the store.
"No need to let something like that live," he said.
Police said he would not be charged.
He was exercising his natural and legal right of self defense.
My parents kept guns in our home. There was always a shotgun and a rifle that we used for recreational hunting and target practice. Sometimes they were used to dispatch varmints on the farm. But we all understood that they were there for another reason also -- for the defense of the family against intruders or attackers.
If there was ever any doubt about this, Dad dispelled it one night in what turned out to be a humorous incident that he never outlived. I was awakened by some sort of commotion from the back of the house and by Dad's voice. Crawling out of bed, I ran through the dark house to the kitchen where I could see him standing in the open kitchen doorway, facing the hen house with its open door, a few steps away, clearly visible in the moonlight. He held his shotgun, loaded, cocked and pointed toward the hen house door, as he called out repeatedly,
"Thief! I hear you in there! Come out with your hands up or I'll shoot!
Other such words he used, and as I watched and other members of the family gathered in the kitchen behind us, there was suddenly a brief commotion as a large owl, wings beating furiously, sailed out of the hen house door and into the night. Dad, startled, did not bother to shoot! But had the case been otherwise -- had there been a human chicken thief in the hen house and had Dad killed him, he would not have been charged. It was the exercise of his natural and legal right of self defense. We all had a good laugh on Dad as we returned to our beds.
This right is the most natural thing in the world. I resorted to it as a third grader in the rural school where, for months, I had been bullied by the principal's son. Charlie Morris, the principle, had a peg leg that I speculate resulted from World War I injuries. He was a strict disciplinarian except when his son was involved. I endured his spoiled son's persecution for months because I was intimidated by his status as the principle's kid and, to be very honest, I was afraid of getting hurt either by the kid or his dad! But finally, I exercised my natural right and resolved to take no more abuse. We had quite a tussle! The student body gathered around us in front of the building, shouting at us and enjoying the scene immensely while we fought, punched, wrestled, kicked, pulled hair, bit one another and did anything we could to produce hurt. The fight was broken up only by the bell that summoned us back to our class rooms at the end of the Lunch Hour. And I was on top!
I won respect that day. The kid never bothered me again but was immediately one of my best friends. He stopped by my desk later that afternoon, looked at me with a grin, ran his fingers through his hair and showed me a handful of it! We both laughed as I did the same. Most surprising, neither his Dad nor any teacher ever said a word to me about that fight, though they must surely have heard the commotion outside the building. I speculate that they all, hoping that kid would get a licking, did not want to interfere with a process that might solve one of their problems as well as mine. And it felt so goooood when it was over!
Yes, our brains are wired for self defense. It is a product of the evolutionary process that has helped to insure human survival. Closely allied with and even more basic hard wired feature, the love of life, it gives obvious evolutionary advantages. One can safely say that, without the innate tendency to self defense, we would not be here. Jesus, knowing what is in man, knew all about this and was far too wise to make any attempt to change it as a feature of the race. He did not teach that human beings should not defend themselves. Instead, we see several cases in which he points, in an accepting manner, to this feature at work among men. Whether it be an individual, a small clan, a principality, or a modern nation such as the United States of America, there is the acceptance of the right of self defense on the part of Jesus. Yet he did not defend himself, nor would he permit his disciples to defend him.
Christians in the churches think they know why Jesus refused to defend himself on that climactic night. Following Paul, they think he had come into the world for the purpose of dying as a unique vicarious sacrificial atonement for the sins of all humanity. This is not true. Not only is it not true, but this monstrous lie has stood in the way of the Truth for two thousand years, and so it continues to stand, concealing and sealing. It is concealing the Truth and may be sealing the eternal condemnation of uncounted millions.
There is no excuse because the Words of Jesus jump out at us from the gospels. We cannot avoid them, so we have twisted, mangled and bent them to fit whatever conviction suits our fancy.
Jesus gave the reason in the above utterance, spoken to Pontius Pilate prior to his sentencing. He refused to defend himself, as he said, because:
. . . my kingship (kingdom) is not from the world.It will not be immediately clear how this explains why he refused to defend himself. He answered in these terms because Pilate had asked him if he was the king of the Jews. We will need to examine other sayings to realize the significance of this as an explanation of why he refused either to defend himself or to permit others to defend him by force of arms. But keep this uppermost in your mind, for it is a near bottom line explanation, not only of why Jesus would not defend himself on that fateful night, but also why his disciples do not defend themselves. But first, it will be useful to see a sampling of what the churchmen are saying about self defense as it applies to Christians.
A. The Views of the Churchmen
We list here two statements by illustrious churchmen:
1. Pope John Paul II, ENCYCLICAL LETTER EVANGELIUM VITAE (The Gospel of Life), 1995:
There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God's Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mk 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself. Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the State." Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.
2. Martin Luther (Plass, p. 243, WT-4, 4342, WT-2, 1815).
Yes, indeed! In that event [if I was attacked by robbers] I should be the authority and wield the sword, because no one else would be near to protect me. I should strike as many dead as I could and thereupon receive the Sacrament and should consider myself to have done a good work. But if I were attacked as a preacher for the sake of the Gospel, I should fold my hands and say, .Well, my Christ, here I am. I have preached thee. If my time has come, I commit myself into your hands.. And thus I should die.These are sufficient to illustrate the machinations that churchmen are applying and have applied through the centuries to render the teaching of Jesus of none effect in the church, whether Catholic or Reformed. We will not discuss them further here, but you should apply the principles of Jesus to them to see how readily these statements fall before the Word of Truth. To assist you in this, we continue by next examining the personal example of Jesus and the implications of his teaching for everyone who would follow him.
B. The Personal Example of Jesus
Jesus by his death established a personal example for all disciples. The example of Jesus can be applied to us only if his death was not the unique vicarious atonement the Christians confess it to be. Therefore, we must first establish the purpose of his death by crucifixion to see how his refusal to defend himself is an example for us who follow him.
There is one preliminary fact to be established. Nothing that Jesus said or did can be rightly understood to sanction suicide. He explained this when, in the wilderness, he was tempted to jump from the pinacle of the temple by the devil. His response was:
Had he jumped, he would have been testing God, whether he would save him or whether he would receive him unto himself after such a death. So, he did not consign himself to the destruction of the body until he could say:
 Again it is written, `You shall not tempt the Lord your God.
In like manner, his disciples do not seek out death or take their own lives. Like Jesus, they must abide in the flesh until they know that their hour has come, otherwise they will be found putting God on trial, whether he will either save their lives or receive them into heaven.
But why did Jesus commit himself to the cross if it was not to atone for sin? As soon as he announced that his hour had come, he immediately explained why he must die -- the Great Principle. In all the gospels he specified this reason for his death, and not only his death, but it is a universal principle that applies to everyone who would follow him. The statement as expressed by the Fourth Gospel is:
 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Do you see that this is a principle for general application? It was not peculiar to Jesus, but applies to you and to me. Another expression of it is as follows:
C. A Cross for Everyone
Again, this is a general instruction that applies to everyone, that is, to whoever. The Great Principle mandates a choice by every human being. Jesus exemplified it by the choice he made, not to defend himself so as to save his life, but rather to yield to those who sought to take his life. So we see that the cross of Jesus was a cross for everyone only as an example because, in some sense, every one who would be a disciple of Jesus and receive eternal life must make the same choice and take up, as Jesus said, his own cross and come after me. He is no substitute. He is our leader in the Way of the Cross.
The churchmen, unwilling to acknowledge the truth, have misunderstood this cross that we must bear. For example, a person in a marriage with an abusive spouse may believe that "this is the cross I have to bear." Or a person afflicted by the loss of a limb, or subject to some recurring or chronic physical condition -- say asthma -- may conclude that "this is the cross I have to bear." Or again, maybe it is a wild offspring, out in the world doing bad things and disgracing the parent, that causes the parent to ask in prayer, "O Lord, why do I have to bear this cross?"
All of it is an utterly false reading of Jesus. The cross his disciples must bear as they follow him is one they, like him, have chosen to bear so that they, like him, may have eternal life. If you can't walk away from it, there is no cross in it; if you don't take it up voluntarily, out of love for the Father and for the purpose of seeking eternal life in the Father's house, there is no cross in it! And, if it does not ultimately put your life in this world in mortal danger, as it did Jesus, there is no cross in it.
D. Why the Great Principle?
This principle mandates a choice by every individual who would follow Jesus, precisely as it was this principle that guided Jesus to his cross. Since it has to do with not saving one's life when it is endangered for Jesus sake, it has obvious relevance to the present topic of self defense. Jesus set it forth as the reason why he chose to go to the cross rather than defend himself or to permit his disciples to defend him.
So we must ask why this principle applies, and why, in its expression, it applies to every person? We have explained this extensively elsewhere, so here we need only to present the boldest outline because it is essential to a right view on the topic of self defense. To this end we must first expressly define the will of God.
If you have been long exposed to the doctrines of Christendom, you will understand the will of God in terms of what God would have you do in confronting a particularly important life decision, such as the choice of an occupation or whom you should marry. Or perhaps it is a matter of an ethical decision -- of what God would have you do in regard to some situation in your life or in society, such as racism. Or, perhaps you have inherited a significant sum of money and you want to know what God would have you do with it? Such things have a relevance to the Father's will but if that is as far as your perception goes, you know nothing about the will of God.
Jesus, you see, expressly defined the will of the Father, and this definition is the bottom line:
 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
Do you see it? Is it clearly stated? Surely it is! The will of the Father is that we who believe in Jesus should have eternal life and be raised up (to him) at the last day.
The Father wants (wills, desires) that we be raised up to him in the resurrection at the last day. That is the bottom line expression of the will of the Father. It says nothing about what we do in this life except as it may contribute to our resurrection at the last day; it only says that it is the Father's will that we be raised up to eternal life at the resurrection. It says nothing about whom you should marry, what occupation you should pursue, what you should do with an unexpected bequest or your what church you may join. It says only this: The Father wants you to be raised up to him at the last day! This and only this is the will of God.
To fully understand why this is the Father' will, we need only refer to Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son and ask, "What was the will of the father for the son in this parable?"
Was it not one specific thing motivated by paternal love: Come home to me? There was not one thing the son could have done in that far country that would please his father, when the only thing his father wanted was for him to come home!
So it is with us and with God in heaven. The only thing he really wants of us is that we resolve to arise and go to my Father! This is the Father's will, and nothing we can do here on this earth will satisfy his Holy Will when we want anything other than to arise and go to Him.
So it was that Jesus, as he said, came down from heaven not to do his own will, but to do the will of his Father who sent him, which was to testify to the Great Principle, then to return to the Father by means of his cross and his resurrection, leading others of God's children who, like him, will have born their crosses!
What do you think was the essence of Jesus' struggle in Gethsemane during the night prior to his suffering and death? What did he mean when he agonized in prayer, saying,
Father, not my will but thine be done?
This has the simplest answer imaginable! The Father's will was for his Son to come home to him, by means of the cross and his resurrection.
And what was Jesus' will?
It was the same as that of any other man in a similar situation: to save his life. The gospels all testify to the victory of Jesus over both Satan and his natural desire to defend himself and save his life, that he spoke of as "my will."
For this reason Jesus stands as our example and wayshower. Each one must similarly bear one's own cross if one is to follow him to the Father's house. The Great Principle dictated his conduct. This was the sole reason for his refusal to defend himself.
E. The Kingdom
But Jesus said that his disciples did not defend him because his kingdom is not of this world. If this is the case, how does the Great Principle explain his death?
The domain of a king is the area over which the king reigns. When a king reigns over any domain, his will is done within the domain. Jesus explained to Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, which means that his domain is not of this world. The kingdoms of this world are created, defended, and sustained by violence, and any man who would be king, in a position in which we find Jesus, must fight to defend himself from his enemies and to claim and maintain the royal power. Jesus knew that Pilate's question to him, whether he was king of the Jews, was motivated by a concern for the security of Roman authority in Palestine. So he assured Pilate that, his kingdom being not of this world, he need have no concern about a violent overthrow of the Roman dominion. This assurance was adequate for Pilate, who announced, "I find no crime in him." (John 18:38)
Nevertheless, Jesus had taught that the kingdom of the Father was to come on earth as it is in heaven, and he instructed the disciples for pray for its coming. The words form the Lord's Prayer are:
This reveals that, in the mind of Jesus, the coming of the kingdom of the Father to the earth is equivalent to the doing of the Father's will on the earth. This is most reasonable, for any kingdom can be defined as the realm within which the will of the king is done. But this, the doing of the Father's will on the earth, occurred when Jesus refused to defend himself but laid his life down so as to go to the Father, according to the Father's will.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
This was the unique event that initiated the doing of the Father's will on the earth, and was therefore the event that brought the kingdom to the earth. The kingdom of God was come on earth when Jesus laid down his life, knowing that the Father's will was for him to come home, after the simple pattern of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
So, rather than lashing out with violence when his life was threatened, this Jesus, this candidate for the kingship, did the very opposite. He put up no defense whatever, nor did he permit his disciples to defend him. This simultaneously demonstrates that his is a different kind of kingdom -- one not of this world -- and that as a consequence he needed not to defend himself but to do the very opposite. He refused to defend himself as required to conform to the Great Principle and go to the Father. Thus, by refusing to defend himself, and by being the first man on earth to do the will of the Father on earth, he qualified himself to be king of the kingdom that is not of this world. As king, he is able to share the kingship with others who follow him, in conforming to the Great Principle, by taking up their crosses and refusing to defend themselves when their lives are threatened. None else need apply. It is to such that he has made this astonishing promise:
 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
It is very simple. If, motivated by the love of life, we exercise self defense when our lives are endangered, it is because we want to remain in this life -- in the world -- rather than go to the Father. Such persons do not want to go to the Father, therefore they cannot because their will is contrary to that of the Father, who only wants them to come to him! He will not force you to go to heaven against your will! Such persons, being outside the will of the Father, are also outside his kingdom, and cannot inherit the kingdom and the life eternal. They also betray, by their reluctance to go to the Father, that they do not love Him.
We should acknowledge here that Jesus extracted himself from life threatening situations at early stages in his ministry. He did that because he had not yet completed his mission to this planet. This changed when the hour came that he could say:
G. Consequences for the World
The Christian apologists never tire of justifying self defense by pointing to what must be the alternative consequences in the world. It seems to them to be a sure prescription for anarchy when good men refuse to defend themselves. They thus betray their utter ignorance of the sharp distinction that exists between the world and the kingdom. Yet nothing is more certainly spelled out by Jesus, in such utterances as these:
Jesus is not of the world; his kingdom is not of the world; his disciples are not of the world. What could be clearer?
Therefore, what his disciples do has no impact on the world! What is confusing the churchmen is the fact that they and their churches are of the world and they cannot separate the consequences of their conduct from the world. They remain strongly attached to the world because of the love of life in the world. Consequently, they easily justify self defense, continuing to bind themselves to the world and to its condemnation. Thus Pope John Paul II betrays his utter incomprehension of the Gospel according to Jesus when he says above, defining the norm for Christians in the world,
Moreover, legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the State.By thus acknowledging the state's dependence on the individual churchman for the common good, he displays complete ignorance of the place the sons of light occupy in the world. When the followers of Jesus refuse to defend themselves, the only consequences are to themselves. There are no consequences for the world. For the disciples, the consequences are wonderful indeed. They are delivered from the world into the kingdom of God and from this life into life eternal in the Father's house.
H. The Separation
Jesus draws a careful distinction between his disciples -- his followers -- and the rest of mankind, and defines two categories accordingly.
This distinction can have implications for the world only if the sons of light become numerically great. Again, Jesus has clearly taught that this cannot be.
 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Christian pacifists who apply non violent techniques to accomplish worldly goals, including Tolstoy and King, know nothing of the reason for the non violence of Jesus and for his refusal to defend himself. Christians who believe that the death of Jesus was an atonement for their sins and that this explains why he did not defend himself are likewise ignorant of him. Yes, this includes the Pope and churchmen in general!
He refused to defend himself because his kingdom is not of this world. The sons of this world will never comprehend this, for they must defend themselves and all things dear. The sons of light, following the Light of the Son, do not defend themselves because, like HIm, they are not of this world. They are resident aliens in whatever nation they reside. They do not exercise self defense because they love the Father and want to go to HIm when their hour has come -- that is, they will to do His will. They understand what Jesus meant when he stopped his own defense and said, No more of this!
You see, then, how it is that Jesus accepts the practice, in the world, of exercising self defense, this most natural trait that is largely responsible for the perseverance on the planet of our specie? That is the way it is in the world. However, if anyone would qualify for the salvation of God and truly love God, that one -- though tempted as Jesus was surely tempted -- that one will not defend himself as Jesus did not defend himself. That is the way it is in the kingdom of God! And so Jesus said,
My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world. Jesus, John 18:36, RSV
1. The Commercial Appeal, January 11, 2003, Again, thieves mess with wrong elderly Georgian.
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