The term Jihad tends to be associated with Islam – indeed for some, the two words are synonymous. But the fact is violent extremism is found in all religions. I could easily quote Islamic or Jewish leaders who justify the use of violence in the name of God, but I will give you one example from a well-known Christian. Following the tragedy of 9/11 and destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York, multi-bestselling author and Christian journalist Anne Coulter, wrote,
“We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an “international coalition.” We don’t need a study on “terrorism.” … We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”
In my opinion, too many evangelical leaders have also been quick to endorse Mr Donald Trump’s threat to “totally destroy North Korea.” Thankfully, many Christians in the USA as well as Europe and Asia repudiate views such as these as a gross distortion of Christianity and grave insult to the teachings of Jesus the Christ.
I have written two books on the movement, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church the texts of which you can access from my website www.stephensizer.com
What follows is not a critique of Islamic Jihad, nor Jewish Zionism, nor Christian fundamentalism. Instead, I want to give a simple, personal reading of the teaching of Jesus the Christ and his Apostles on the Christian jihad. I want to show how the Scriptures refute the misuse of the Bible to justify an apocalyptic agenda for our world. I have five headings.
- The Nature of Christian Jihad.
2. The Extent of Christian Jihad.
3. The Strategy of Christian Jihad.
4. The Weapons of Christian Jihad.
5. The Purpose of Christian Jihad.
- The Nature of Christian Jihad: “Against Spiritual Forces”
Jihad is translated in English as “Holy War”. It literally means “struggle”. In the New Testament, the language of conflict and warfare is used to describe the struggle Christians face in living the holy life as God intends. First and foremost, it is important to emphasize that the ‘Holy War” or struggle Christians face is internal not external. It is personal and not political. In the letter to the Hebrews, the writer points out:
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4)
The word ‘struggle’ means jihad. The apostle Paul’s two letters to a young disciple called Timothy provide a fascinating insight into Christian jihad as Paul employs the metaphor of the ‘soldier’ to describe the Christ follower. Here are the verses:
“Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well.” (1 Timothy 1:18)
“train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come…. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” (1 Timothy 4:7-10)
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)
“Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs; rather, they try to please their commanding officer.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4)
It is important to stress that the jihad or striving described here is not referring to how we earn salvation – whether by good deeds or by hard work.
The New Testament teaches that salvation was achieved for us in and through the finished work of Jesus the Christ. It is because we have been saved (past tense) that we are to strive (in the present) to become like Jesus, so that God is glorified and others will want to know him too. Toward the end of his life the apostle Paul could look back confidently and say, (past tense),
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)
At a personal level then, jihad for the Christian, is a struggle against temptation and sin. At a corporate or social or political level, it is also a struggle against evil and demonic power. What is significant, however, is that in the Scriptures the ‘enemy’ is never identified as other people, but evil forces at work in the world.
At worst, those who justify violence or who oppose the gospel are tools or pawns of Satan. But however they treat us, we must remember they are created in the image and likeness of God and for whom Christ died. The Apostle Paul reminds us,
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)
The evil powers are spiritual in nature and heavenly in source, they are supernatural, evil and demonic. The Apostle Peter wrote,
“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your fellow believers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
It is important to emphasize that the scriptures insist that the Christian jihad is winnable. Satan can be resisted in the strength of God. The Christian jihad, however, is not primarily directed against other people, but against the one who abuses them, influences them, possesses them. The Christian jihad then must be directed at our real enemy, the devil and his spiritual forces, who oppose Jesus the Christ and persecutes his Church.
On one occasion, Jesus reminded his disciples, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:20)
The apostle James also wrote,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)
So, the Christian jihad, or struggle, whether from temptation or persecution, can be turned into something positive which God will use to refine, to strengthen and purify our faith. The Nature of Christian Jihad: “Against Spiritual Forces”
- The Extent of Christian Jihad: “To the Ends of the Earth”
The extent of the Christian Jihad is global but, it is not, I repeat not, territorial. Whenever Christians have tried to impose a political agenda, or create a so called “Christian” nation or empire, the consequences have invariably been destructive and to the detriment of Christian witness. In all four Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus the Christ is recorded as commanding his followers to take his gospel, the good news of the kingdom, to the whole world.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
The expansion of the early Church from Jerusalem to Rome, at the time, the centre of the Empire, is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. As the good news of Jesus Christ was shared in acts of compassion and mercy as well as by proclamation, churches were planted in concentric circles fanning out from Judea, then Samaria, then Asia and then Europe. Ironically, the gospel spread most rapidly because of persecution rather than from imposition. The Acts of the Apostles records repeated waves of opposition to the early Christians and in some places outright persecution which also led to martyrdoms. Persecution, however, served to grow the Church as they were scattered but it failed to destroy it. Acts 8 records one early instance.
“On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:1, 4)
What is significant is that the early Christians never retaliated when they were persecuted. Instead they prayed like this,
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4:29)
The apostle Paul instructs on what to do when facing opposition,
“…the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
The early Church prayed for boldness to continue to proclaim the gospel. They did not retaliate. They considered it an honour to be associated with Jesus. The nature of Christian Jihad. The extent of Christian Jihad.
- The Strategy of Christian Jihad: “Love Your Enemies”
The strategy of Christian jihad is both simple but profound. Jesus insists,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self?” (Luke 9:23-25)
The image of a person “taking up” or carrying one’s cross daily to describe the Christian calling is probably the most graphic to be found in all the teaching of Jesus. Imagine carrying a cross and you will appreciate how demanding, indeed shocking the teaching of Jesus is. A person who carried a cross was going to their death. If you are carrying a cross, you cannot carry anything else, least of all a weapon. Jesus here calls his followers to give up their lives daily in his service. Following Jesus Christ therefore must involve ruthless self denial and radical service of others. All the Law and the Prophets are summarized by Jesus in two commandments.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
In what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elaborates on what this means. Jesus called his followers to be light.
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden… In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16)
In relation to how we treat other people, most profoundly, Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9)
Specifically, in relation to our enemies, Jesus commands us
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus commands his followers to confront those who abuse power with defiant non-violent resistance.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
As Carl Medearis observes,
“Turning the cheek” wasn’t being passive – but a way to force the man who struck first to think about what he was doing before striking again. Forcing a civilian to carry a pack an “extra mile” was actually illegal – so the Roman soldier would be in big trouble for his superiors if someone saw what was happening. Taking of your “outer cloak” and showing your nakedness would have been a huge shame on the one who saw – not the one who took it off – but the one who saw. Shaming is Jesus’ clever way of granting power to the powerless.”
Jesus summarises his teaching by saying,
“So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
To fulfil our responsibility, as followers of Jesus the Christ we are specifically appointed as ambassadors and to a ministry of reconciliation. The apostle Paul instructs the Corinthians,
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Ambassadors play a unique role in representing their government on foreign soil. Ambassadors live and work away from their homeland. For Christians, this world is not our true home.
“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
As Ambassadors for Jesus the Christ, and as strangers in this world, we are mandated to share our knowledge of Jesus Christ with those who have not heard, but we are instructed to do so respectfully and with gentleness.
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
This is the radical transforming strategy of Christian jihad. The language of the New Testament jihad is not about conquest or conflict, but about compassion, mercy, diplomacy, mediation and peacemaking.
- The Weapons of Christian Jihad: “the Sword of the Spirit”
The contrast between Christians and those who opposed them is most clearly seen in the weapons deployed in the Christian jihad. Jesus explicitly prohibited his followers to extend his kingdom by the sword. Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). The apostle Paul explains why.
“For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)
The battleground in Christian jihad is the heart, the soul and the mind. It is not territorial but intellectual. It is not imperial but volitional, of the will. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he uses the metaphor of the soldier to describe how to achieve victory in Christian jihad.
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6: 14-17)
Notice that the Christian’s armour is entirely defensive.
Entirely defensive except for one item. One offensive weapon is allowed. The sword of the Spirit. The Scriptures. They are the only weapon allowed Christians. As the Scriptures are read, spoken, memorized, proclaimed, applied, taught or preached, a supernatural work of God happens.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
The Scriptures are the only legitimate ‘weapon’ of Christian Jihad.
We have considered the:
The Nature of Christian Jihad:
The Extent of Christian Jihad:
The Strategy of Christian Jihad:
The Weapons of Christian Jihad: Finally,
- The Purpose of Christian Jihad: “Every Knee Shall Bow”
While the extent of the kingdom claimed by Jesus the Christ is the whole world, he never imposed his Kingdom rule. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus insisted,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
If the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world, neither is ours. Jesus expressly repudiated the idea that, as a king, his followers would or should fight for him. Jesus did acknowledge that at times there would be tension between his kingdom and that of earthly rulers when he insisted,
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17).
This is why he promised his followers blessings as they struggle against opposition in order to follow him,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
But the purpose of Christian Jihad is submission to the will of God.
It is to become like Jesus – holy as God is holy. And in so doing, beginning with ourselves, we are to lead others into submission to his perfect will, to know him, love him, obey him and so become like him also. The glorious picture of the future in Scripture is of the day when Jesus will return from heaven and ever knee shall bow.
“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2:9-10)
One day the whole world shall be brought into submission to God’s perfect will. Until that day comes we may do so voluntarily, freely, joyfully, willingly.
The Nature of Christian Jihad: “Against the Spiritual Forces”
The Extent of Christian Jihad: “To the Ends of the Earth”
The Strategy of Christian Jihad: “Love Your Enemies”
The Weapons of Christian Jihad: “The Sword of the Spirit”
The Purpose of Christian Jihad: “Every Knee Shall Bow”
- Conclusions: “Now that you know these things”
In this presentation I have tried to present biblical passages that explain Jihad from a Christian perspective. Clearly not all Christians share these views. However, I do believe they are faithful to the teachings of Jesus the Christ and his Apostles.
Christian Zionism in contrast, which wages a jihad against Muslims and indirectly against Jews, is a defective, misguided and dangerous theology. It is an exclusive theology driven by a political agenda which elevates one nation over others, rather than an inclusive theology centred on Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Christian Zionism uses the Bible to justify racial superiority, land expropriation, home demolitions, population transfer, colonial settlements, the denial of international law and fundamental human rights. In its worst form it espouses an apocalyptic, pessimistic and confrontational approach to the Middle East. It not only fuels Islamophobia but also anti-Semitism and imperils the existence of the indigenous Christian community in the Middle East. It incites and exacerbates Islamist retaliation against both Jews and Christians. What does Jesus think about all this? On Palm Sunday, Luke tells us,
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42).
I believe Jesus continues to weep not only over Jerusalem, but also for all his children in the Middle East, as well as those who promote a theology of war and conquest here in the West. It is a very long way from the simple teaching of Jesus the Christ who promised “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). To explain what he expected of his followers, Jesus once told a story about a Christian Jihadist.
“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:25-35)
The tension inherent in Jesus story for all who came down that road, as much as for those who heard him, has to do with the identify of the man who has been robbed. Jesus says he was ‘stripped him of his clothes’ and left ‘half dead’. He is no longer identifiable by his clothes or accent as a Jew or Samaritan or Gentile. No one could identify him as one of ‘us’ or ‘them’.
He has been reduced to the condition of a human being. Jesus then asks, “which of these three… was a neighbour?” The expert in the law could not bring himself to say ‘the Samaritan’ Instead he replied,
“The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)
This is the heart of Christian jihad.
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17).
A workshop delivered at the Justice Asia Conference 2017, The Vine Church, Hong Kong
 Anne Coulter, National Review, 13 September 2001, http://old.nationalreview.com/coulter/coulter.shtml