The Bible makes a distinction between “taking up arms” and “bearing arms.” Understanding this difference has wide implications on the political situation today.
There have been modern cases of misuse of weapons by police, even what appears to have been manslaughter or murder. On the other hand, there have been modern cases of lawlessness manifested in widespread looting and criminal activities. And at the same time, there have been massive protests that attempt to delegitimize the police altogether.
In Europe there has been a new outbreak of terror attacks by Islamic extremists, and then violent protests when police have intervened to stop those terror attacks. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, there is cross-cultural fighting, with intervention from Turkey.
Despite the fact that all these events are very complex and difficult to understand, it is worth noting a few biblical principles in trying to make a discernment.
Yeshua (Jesus) warned His disciples, “All who take up the sword will die by the sword” – Matthew 26:52. Armed rebellion is not the way to bring the kingdom of God. “Taking up the sword” in this context is using weapons without submission to the legally ordained police or army. It is using weapons to overthrow the government.
Principle of Submission to Legitimate Authority
The scriptural principle is that power must always be submitted to legitimate authority. Weapons are a kind of power and they must be submitted to a legal government.
In the time of the destruction of the Second Temple (the generation of Yeshua’s disciples), bands of zealots rose in rebellion against the Roman Empire. Although those efforts seemed patriotic, Zionistic, and Messianic, they were not of God. There were wars and rebellions in the generation both before and after Yeshua. They can be compared to the rebels in the time of Jeremiah who rebelled against the Babylon Empire and even killed Gedaliah, the appointed governor of Judah (Jeremiah 41). Wrongly directed religious zeal can actually end up bringing the wrath of God.
Yeshua preached to bring a new kingdom (John18:33-37). However, that kingdom would not be brought through the power of armed weapons, but through the preaching of love, truth, holiness and the cross, working in the hearts of people.
On the other hand, legitimate police and military forces serve a God-ordained role in society to protect people from criminals and from enemies. “For he is God’s minister to you for good…he does not bear the sword in vain” – Romans 13:4.
Most of the messianic believing community in Israel serve in and support the Israeli army. We consider this part of our service to God and to the nation. One of the characteristics of terrorist groups is that they refuse to bring their weapons under authority, even the authority of their own government.
Police have guns and criminals have guns. However, there is no moral equivalency between them. This does not mean, of course, that governments cannot become reprobate. If the government is evil, so will their military be evil.
An evil government and its military may be judged through war. However, there is a difference between an evil government that needs to be overthrown and the need of a legitimate government to demand submission and control of weapons.
When Israel first became a State, Prime Minister Ben Gurion demanded that all the independent militias within Israel must surrender their weapons to the newly formed Israeli Army. At the famous Altalena incident, Ben Gurion even ordered a ship under the control of Menachem Begin to be bombed and sunk for refusal to submit their weapons to the government.
The issue of individuals having weapons to defend themselves personally against danger is another question altogether. Yeshua approved the limited use of weapons for personal self-defense and protection. Luke 22:36, 37 – “Whoever does not have a sword, sell your garment and buy one…” His disciples said, “Lord, here are two swords.” He said to them, “That is enough.”
I understand that to mean that such a small number of weapons would be only for self-protection and not for an armed uprising to overthrow the government or to advance His kingdom. I interpret this as the civil right to self-protection by bearing weapons, whereas armed rebellion is not a civil right.
In summary, the biblical position:
- Condemns armed rebellion, anarchy, and weapons used in criminal activity.
- Supports legitimate use of weapons by government-authorized police and army.
- Police and army must be regulated by laws of integrity, righteousness, and weapons “purity.”
- Limited use of weapons for personal defense is legitimate and sometimes necessary.
Discerning the difference between legitimate and illegitimate weapons use is crucial in understanding current political conflicts.