A few decades after the crucifixion of Jesus, a profound transformation occurred. The Jewish world descended into chaos, society crumbled, and many perished as a war, ignited by Rome in AD 66, culminated in a harrowing catastrophe marked by the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The rebels, zealots, and sicarii proclaimed and worked towards a kingdom — the overthrow of Rome and the establishment of Judea as an independent realm. This kingdom, the messianic age, some believed, would be ushered in through violence.
Nevertheless, the very kingdom they proclaimed and diligently worked towards crumbled like a house built on sand. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
The Jesus of History, in contrast, also announced and enacted the Kingdom. It stood as an alternative empire, countering both the dominion of Rome and the ambitions of nationalistic aggression. Jesus taught that the embodiment of the Father's reign and rule could be found in loving one's enemies and embracing the path of peace.
‘But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you….
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.’- Luke 6:27,35-36
Instead of hate, choose love,
Instead of cursing, choose blessing,
Instead of vengeance, choose mercy.
Those who took up the way of Jesus, could be described as covenantal peace communities. They perceived that the covenant narrative was approaching its final act, an act that should be embodied in the present through enemy love, non violence, mercy and peace. While certain scriptures envisioned and articulated a future marred by violence — a climactic conflict ushering in a new era, other scriptures painted a vision of peace wherein the forthcoming age would be characterized by the cessation of conflict.
(Isaiah 2:2–4; Micah 4:1-3 — Compare and contrast with Joel 3:10)
In the latter days, it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall stand as the highest peak among mountains, exalted above the hills. To it, all nations shall flow, and multitudes will declare: "Come, let us ascend to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. There, He shall instruct us in His ways, and we shall walk in His paths." From Zion, the law will emanate, and the word of the Lord shall emerge from Jerusalem. He will arbitrate among nations, settling disputes for many. They shall transform their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; no nation shall raise the sword against another, and they shall no longer learn the ways of war.
In a world steeped in escalating violence, Jesus presented an alternative future, one embodied in the establishment of peacemaking communities. While frequently interpreted in the context of post-mortem destinations, it is worth reconsidering the following well-known statement of Jesus. Perhaps it speaks to the destinies of national prosperity and national catastrophe, rather than heaven and hell.
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
In today's world, we are witnessing a troubling surge in violence. Ongoing conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine and the strained relations between China and the United States, cast a somber shadow over the prospects of a peaceful future. Furthermore, the alarming connection between conflicts and climate change intensifies the likelihood of tribal, regional, and international disputes through increased migration, food insecurity, and societal collapse. Climate change is not merely an environmental challenge; it acts as a profound threat multiplier, exacerbating existing conflicts and sowing the seeds of new ones.
In this world of escalating violence the church of Jesus is called to imagine, articulate and embrace a new imagination and narrative. As we proclaim and enact the kingdom we would do well to return the the narrow way, the way of peace.
In a world of escalating violence we are called to an alternative empire in which we love our enemies and work for peace. This is the path of cruciform adaptation, we adapt to a changing world by being shaped more and more by the life and teaching of Jesus, so that we embody love and mercy even if society continues to walk the highway to hell.
As Jesus said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’