Non-Resistance in John 18?

by | Bible | 3 comments

My church leaders are pushing this “non-resistance” thing pretty hard lately. I’m not sure why. The subject is somewhat new to me — it’s not been something I really thought much about until the recent Sunday sermons. This Sunday the message used John 18 as Jesus’ last teaching on non-resistance. The speaker basically placed anyone who believed anything different as a war monger. I left church that day shaken. Two men in our church asked me what I thought. I need some help with finding a good answer for myself before I can give anyone else my thoughts.  I can say this, I was uneasy with the message and how hard it was presented. I’ve never had a problem with military personnel. My dad retired from the Air Force. I went to an Army military school for five years. I have known a military chaplain or two. I voted. I believe that God places people in different places at various times for His purposes. I believe God can do as He pleases. I’m compelled to do whatever God wants me to do — if it means non-resistance then that is what I want to do. But something in my spirit is telling me something is wrong. What would you say God is teaching us from John 18 that I may give an answer to my friends? I never even thought of non-resistance when I read it. Mark

Well, I looked at John 18, and just like you said, I never even thought of non-resistance when I read it. I think you have to read it into the text before you can read it out of the text. On a second reading, I found three places where I might be able to read non-resistance into the text.

John 18:10-11 “Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. 11 So Jesus said to Peter, Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”

I suppose the non-resistance interpretation would be that Peter should not have had a sword because Jesus had taught them not to defend themselves. But I don’t remember Jesus ever having taught them this — unless He did in Matthew 5:39, but I don’t think so. A man is not to pursue private revenge against someone who persecutes him for following Jesus — he is to patiently bear insult or injury on the lower scale of things — slap on the face, taking a tunic, walking a mile. But he may lawfully defend his life and protect himself from injuries and seek satisfaction from major injuries if necessary by appearing before the civil magistrate for a redress of grievances in order to protect, not only himself, but others in the community as well — indeed, it would be his duty to do so, and evil not to do so. We can compare this with passages in Luke and Matthew.

Luke 22:36-38 “Then He said to them, But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. 37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end. 38 So they said, Lord, look, here are two swords. And He said to them, enough.”

Here was the time for Jesus to object to swords. But instead He advised His disciples to buy swords, and did not object when they showed their swords. I don’t believe Jesus means to raise an army, but that His disciples will be traveling all over and will need the ordinary provisions including protection from assault (Luke 10:30), which was to carry a sword under their garment.

Matthew 26:51-54 “And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52 But Jesus said to him, Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”

Peter had attempted to defend Jesus and the other apostles by attacking with one measly little sword the whole band which had come out fully armed against them. That’s imprudent, to say the least. It’s a good thing they didn’t choose to respond by slaughtering all of the apostles. But they had another purpose, and were restrained. Indeed, Jesus’ command for Peter to put away the sword may have restrained them from acting. Hence the proverb “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.” — that is, if you engage in sword play with others, then you place yourself in danger of the sword. In this case, were it not for other restraints, Peter’s actions would have invited a massacre. If you don’t believe me, just ask General Custer. Jesus’ words actually may have been meant for the band who came out against him, for that crew would later pick a fight with the Romans, and would themselves perish by the Roman sword in about forty years. Neither Jesus nor His apostles ever told a soldier or policeman to cease to be one. In fact, John the Baptist advised converted soldiers — who served essentially as policemen — to behave respectfully and lawfully.

Luke 3:14 “Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, And what shall we do? So he said to them, Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

And Paul declared that lawful authorities lawfully bear the sword.

Romans 13:4 “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

John 18:22-23 “And when He had said these things, one of the officers who stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Do You answer the high priest like that? 23 Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

At first I thought this is a good example of RESISTANCE — Jesus is calling them to account for their unlawful actions. But then I thought, Well, since He didn’t call out an army of men or more than twelve legions of angels against these officers who struck Him, maybe this could be taken as NON-resistance. But that’s only if I want to find something here to support my own opinion.

John 18:36-37 “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here. 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, Are You a king then? Jesus answered, You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

If the source of Jesus’ kingdom were this world — established on worldly principles, governed by worldly policies, pursuing worldly goals — then Christ would have gathered a worldly army, Judas would not have been allowed to betray Him, and He would not have allowed Himself to fall into the hands of Pilate. With this argument, Jesus convinces Pilate that He makes no claims to a worldly kingdom. So Jesus in this situation does not defend Himself with angelic armies or worldly armies. Why? Because this was His hour to die. He had mustered angelic and (willing or unwilling) human armies before in history. We Christians can neither promote nor defend Christ’s Kingdom with armies — by the very nature of the case. We couldn’t do it no matter how hard we tried. I cannot see what this has to do with individuals or nations defending themselves against calamitous or deadly evil. We might debate what the right course or the best course might be in any given situation, but neither Jesus nor the apostles absolutely eliminated the option of physical force in personal or national self-defense, in fact, they presume its propriety and necessity in many cases.

Harvey Bluedorn


  1. Perla Sarmiento de Adams

    This is a nice post.

    I read last year the book When is Right to Fight? by Robert Morey. It helps me to see other point of view in the matter of pacifism and self-defense.

  2. David

    It seems to me that the Lord in Matt. 5:38-48 does indeed preclude any and all physical resistance on the part of believers to physical aggression from unbelievers. I do not see that this is limited to non-resistance in the case of religious persecution but appears as a blanket prohibition on the use of physical force against aggressors. I am not aware of any passages that commend physical violence of any sort on the part of believers.

    I realize this view is a minority one among most Christians today, although in reading church history, it appears that for about the first three
    centuries, the Church universally held this pacific/non-resistant view and forbade members to engage in physical violence of all sorts. Later, of course, as church and state became enmeshed and “holy wars” erupted, things got murkier. But, again, to just seek to let the Scriptures speak for themselves rather than imposing our own theological grid on them, it appears to me that Christians are commanded by the Lord to not physically resist evildoers, but rather to overcome evil with good (spiritual weapons rather
    than carnal ones).

    Here’s an interesting perspective from a “Theonomic pacifist”:

    Grace to you!

  3. Christine


    We would be in agreement with the other side, pacifism, and in agreement with David’s post above, particularly the first paragraph.


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