A Christian Concept of War
I’m writing this essay as a favor to someone who’s discussing this topic soon on TV in Canada. They’re comparing the Christian view about war with Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist perspectives.
My credentials for writing this article:
- Vietnam combat veteran
- Retired US military field-grade officer; graduate of the USAF Air Command and Staff College
- Doctor of Ministry, Christian Leadership University
- 40 years of Christian discipleship
Over time my perspective on war has changed drastically. I’ve held views ranging all the way from flag-waving hawk (like John McCain) to being a vegetarian pacifist (Gandhi). Now, I hold both extremes at the same time, as you’ll see below.
For a Christian, I think there are two kinds of war:
- Fighting for one’s home and country
- Fighting for one’s God.
1. Fighting for One’s Home and Country
The Bible says people (including Christians) may use necessary force to defend their home from invasion. I’m defining ‘home’ at both a personal and a national level. Basically, the use of force in self-defense is justified, according to the threat level.
If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. (Ex 22:2)
I’m an ex-Marine, I hunt, and I have guns in my home. I’m also licensed by my state to carry a concealed weapon—but I haven’t actually done so. If threatened, I’ve pre-decided to only use my weapons as a last resort, to prevent life-threatening violence from being inflicted against myself, my family, or an innocent victim. I won’t use a weapon to protect property.
Everyone, including soldiers, will have to give an account to God for the blood they spill. God said:
I will certainly demand an accounting regarding bloodshed, from every animal and from every human being. I’ll demand an accounting from every human being for the life of another human being. (Gen 9:5)
For this reason, I don’t believe any army should have to fight simply to advance their political leader’s ‘national interests’ over another nation’s. If my country isn’t being invaded, my country’s military shouldn’t be involved.
I don’t care if our foreign oil supply is threatened. Oil is not a good-enough reason to kill another human being. Instead of pouring
trillions of dollars into the military-industrial complex, the right thing to do would be to put that money into becoming energy self-sufficient.
All nations’ militaries should be patterned after the Swiss, Japanese, or Israeli models—all of which have capable defensive forces, but very limited offensive capability.
So, when fighting for one’s home and country, we should seek peace; only use force defensively; and only use the amount of force needed to neutralize the threat. We will all give an account to God for the harm we cause others.
2. Fighting for One’s God
War in the Old Testament
In the Old Testament, it’s common knowledge that God told Israel to kill everything in the promise land, including men, women, children, and even the animals. Here are a couple examples:
Before they entered the land:
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. (Deut 7:1-2)
So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. They utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:20-21)
War in the New Testament
Then Jesus, the Lamb of God, came onto the scene. He taught us to love our enemies, and gave us a living example of non-violent martyrdom for the benefit of others.
Is God Schizophrenic?
The Bible teaches that ‘God is one’ (Deut 6:4) and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
So, is the God of the Old Testament the same God as Jesus in the New Testament? How can we reconcile the pitiless, warring God of the Old Testament with the non-violent, suffering Savior of the gospels?
There’s a big clue toward solving this dilemma in the Gospel of John:
Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38)
Notice that Jesus didn’t think it would be wrong for His followers to fight if it would’ve done any good. But since His kingdom was in another realm of existence, earthly violence would’ve been ineffective, so that’s why they weren’t fighting.
In our near future, the Book of Revelation teaches that when Jesus returns He will be coming with a sword, to claim His right to rule all the nations of the earth as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He won’t be the non-violent, suffering Savior of the gospels. He’ll be a warrior, and the armies of heaven will follow Him to win the battle of Armageddon. Multitudes will be slain, so that the blood will be up to the horses bridle.
And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in midheaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.”
And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.
So, the God of the Old Testament and the returning King of kings both wage bloody war against the rebellious, immoral nations of mankind.
God isn’t schizophrenic. In the gospels Jesus was waging another kind of war—a spiritual war against the principalities and powers in heaven. He won that war on the cross. (See my book God’s Deep Magic for a complete description of this spiritual battle.)
At the second coming of Christ, He’ll be a warrior, forcibly subjugating all earthly nations, and then He’ll be earth’s sovereign King of kings for the next thousand years.
In contrast to what Jesus told Pilate, when He returns at the end of this age Jesus’ kingdom will be ‘of this world’ and therefore His servants will be commissioned to fight.
Conclusion – Fighting for One’s God
Until the Antichrist makes a 7-year covenant with Israel, we’re still
in the ‘times of the gentiles’ and so the rules of the ‘age of grace’ still apply. Therefore, until the end of the ‘age of grace’ we’re to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.
By loving our enemies, even unto our own death, we’re completing Christ’s spiritual war against the principalities and powers of heaven, resulting in ‘the powers of the heavens being shaken’ and them being cast down to earth.
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb,
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Rev 12:10-11 NIV)
(This war is explained in God’s Deep Magic.)
During the 7-year period known as Daniel’s 70th week, the Two Witnesses of Revelation chapter 11 will prophesy and pronounce judgments against the nations. Faithful disciples of Christ on earth will be persecuted and martyred, and many professing believers will fall into apostasy—accepting the mark of the beast. This 7-year period is a transition period between the ‘age of grace’ and Christ’s ‘rod of iron’ rule of the coming Millennium.
At the end of Daniel’s 7 year period, Christ will return, resurrecting and transforming His disciple’s bodies with immortality. They’ll meet Him in the sky, becoming the armies of heaven, who then follow Him to the Battle of Armageddon.
So, in conclusion:
- Until Christ returns, Christians are to wage war against the celestial principalities and powers as Jesus did in His first coming—through faith, love, and sacrificial suffering.
- At Christ’s second coming, Christians will follow Christ’s lead in forcibly subjugating the rebellious nations of the earth.