Imitating Jesus in times of civil uprisings
Protests, revolts, and violent confrontations are on the rise around the world, as ordinary civilians stand up against injustice, social ills, and oppression. Jesus Christ was also born into a time of severe oppression and social injustices. Yet He stood against His political oppressors in non-violent ways. What can we learn from Jesus about living in times of civil uprisings?
Jesus cared for justice but submitted to authorities
When Jesus was born, his family lived under the autocratic rule of the Roman empire. The Roman emperor was worshipped as a god and the ruling elite taxed everyone heavily while demanding a share of their crops and produce. This left many Israelites poor, hungry, and in debt.
When they saw Jesus’ power and authority, they hoped He would relieve them from Roman oppression and decided to make Him king by force.
John 6:14-15 ESV When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
Instead of taking up their political cause, however, the Son of God slipped away into the hills by Himself. If we were there, many of us would have questioned Jesus’ love for us. Isn’t God supposed to take care of our troubles and deliver us from political oppression? Why did He just slip away? Doesn’t He care about our suffering?
Another time, when confronted with a politically charged question about imperial taxes, Jesus didn’t object to paying taxes to Caesar. Would we have been disappointed that Jesus didn’t try to make our lives more equitable? Isn’t He supposed to deliver us from economic oppression too?
Matthew 22:15-22 NIV Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words… “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
When confronted by a large crowd that came to take Him for execution, Jesus humbly submitted to them – even though He could have called down destruction upon them. He even called his betrayer “friend” and rebuked one of the disciples who was trying to defend Him. Would this have offended us if we were amongst the crowd?
Matthew 26:47-54 ESV While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”
Then when He was confronted by Pilate, the Roman governor, Jesus did not try to defend His innocence. Jesus pointed out that He had come under Pilate’s authority only because God had allowed it. Later, Jesus allowed Himself to be gruesomely beaten and crucified. How would we have reacted? Would we have questioned God’s plan for salvation? Isn’t God supposed to deliver us from physical torment? Would we have joined the crowds to mock Jesus and abandon him as everyone else did?
John 19:8-11 ESV When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above…
Matthew 27:41-44 ESV So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
God’s way are indeed not our ways!
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Also, see How God uses suffering in our lives.
Taking up our cross to imitate Jesus
We are called to imitate the ways of Christ. In His humanity, Jesus lived as a man with the same frailties as us, and left us a legacy of exemplary ways to live when we obey His Spirit. This is how we can do all things through Christ, even in the face of fierce oppression.
Ephesians 5:1 ESV Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Philippians 4:13 ESV I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
As a start, we need to take up our cross, which is to die to our own ways of doing things and obey God’s Spirit rather than our own flesh. Though our ways may seem right to us, they typically bring about curses, destruction, disobedience to God, and ultimately, death.
Matthew 16:24 ESV Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Proverbs 14:12 ESV There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Through His examples, Jesus was actively demonstrating how we are to confront authorities according to God’s Word, and that is:
- Not to despise authority | 2 Peter 2:9-10 NLT So you see, the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials, even while keeping the wicked under punishment until the day of final judgment. He is especially hard on those who … who despise authority. These people are proud and arrogant…
- Not to ignore the law or glorify wickedness | Proverbs 28:4 ESV Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them.
- Seek patient dialogue with rulers, reply with soft speech | Proverbs 25:15 ESV With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.
- Avoid all shameful acts | Proverbs 14:35 ESV A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
- Never resort to violence | Psalm 11:5 ESV The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
- Never mock anyone, be wise and calm those who are angry | Proverbs 29:8 NLT Mockers can get a whole town agitated, but the wise will calm anger.
- Never take revenge, let God take revenge | Romans 12:19 NLT Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.
- Not to fear conspiracy theories or live in dread | Isaiah 8:11-13 NLT The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble.
Jesus cared deeply about God’s justice
Jesus cared deeply about justice, but the type of justice God seeks is societal and eternal, not political or earthly.
Jesus did not rise up against the political rulers of His day.
Instead, He sought God’s justice by speaking out and addressing the injustices suffered by the weakest individuals of society. Specifically, He looked out for the interests of the people groups mentioned repeatedly in the Bible as needing justice:
- Poor and needy; such as the homeless, the sick, the handicapped
- Weak and afflicted; such as the fearful, the demon possessed, the grieving
- Fatherless and widows
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 ESV For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.
Psalm 82:3-4 ESV Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Isaiah 1:17 ESV learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Jesus spoke out for those who had little or no voice in society and suffered on their behalf in His efforts to bring them justice. He did not look at His own interests but the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
In an era of pursuing wide acceptance, popularity, and pleasant-sounding messages, we often hear about a Jesus who loves, who saves, who meets all our needs, and who fulfills our desires. Yet this is not the full picture of who Jesus truly is, it is skewed and misleading. The Jesus we read about in the Bible suffered tremendously for the sake of the downtrodden, without protest or retaliation – and He expects us to imitate the example He sets for us.
2 Corinthians 11:4 NLT You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed.
1 Peter 2:19-21 NLT For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.
Lovingly representing the heart of Jesus
God’s justice is about loving others first. The justice the world seeks, however, is about loving ourselves first – our rights, our entitlements, our opinions, our preferences and so forth. We are more likely to speak up for ourselves and turn a blind eye to victims of rape, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the sick, the sex-trafficked, modern-day slaves, or casualties of war – people who often lack the political power to represent themselves.
Matthew 25:41-45 ESV “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
Seldom do civil uprisings today reflect Jesus’ heart and life example. On the contrary, the interests and rights of those in the lowest rungs of society are often overlooked even more during civil rebellions. It is even more disheartening when people rise up in worldly rebellion and shake their fists at other people in God’s name. God has warned us that He will not let those who use His holy name in vain go unpunished.
James 2:14-16 ESV What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
Exodus 20:7 NLT “You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
When we do care for the poor, the widows, and the fatherless, we are called to start with our own brothers- and sisters-in-Christ first. When one person within the Body of Christ suffers, we are to come alongside and care for one another. By doing so, we demonstrate we are truly children of God that are united in His love, so that people will see that Jesus’ love is real and believe that He did indeed come to earth to die for mankind. That is a powerful commandment with important significance.
1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
John 17:20-12,23 ESV “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
When we stand up to injustice within the wider community, Romans 12:9-21 shows us many important principles. We are to:
- Be sincere and loving
- Stay away from doing or saying anything evil
- Honour others above ourselves
- Serve the Lord, not ourselves
- Hold on to our hope in Christ with joy
- Be patient when we are afflicted with unkindness and suffering
- Never give up praying
- Share our resources with those in need
- Always be hospitable
- Bless those who persecute us, instead of cursing them
- Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn
- Live in peace and harmony with others
- Never take revenge or strike back
- Associate with all levels of society
- Be kind to our enemies
- Overcome evil with good
Some of these attitudes go against the ways of the world and may even conflict with our own desires. The spiritual reality is that Jesus’ ways are counter-cultural and never a mere cookie-cutter replica of this world. His ways are radically different. We can never truly demonstrate the ways of Christ without first dying to our ways and the ways of the world.
Romans 12:9-21 NIV Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Also, see Using anger for God’s glory during civil uprisings out on December 12, 2019.
Remembering God’s sovereignty and higher purpose
God sees and knows everything, even those things that are plotted in secret. Nothing escapes His notice. God has a record of every person’s thoughts, attitudes, and actions – whether it is an ordinary citizen, police, civil servant, or head of state – and we will all be called to account to God one day.
Jeremiah 23:24 ESV Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.
1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart…
As followers of Jesus, all of us are called to submit to God’s plans on earth. This means submitting to our governing authorities on earth and shunning civil uprising as Jesus did – no matter how unpopular this stance may be – because God is the One who put these authorities there. God is sovereign over everything, both good and evil.
Romans 13:1-2,5 ESV Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
We see an example of this in Exodus 9. God confronted the wicked Egyptian pharaoh and told him that He could have wiped the ruler and all his people off the face of the earth but He spared them, and even raised them up, for His higher purpose. As Proverbs 16:4 states, God has made everything for His own reasons, even the wicked for a day of disaster.
Exodus 9:15-16 ESV For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
Proverbs 16:4 NIV The LORD works out everything to its proper end– even the wicked for a day of disaster.
We can be assured that God will not let whoever follows Satan off easily. He or she will be judged and go to a place where “their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.”
Revelation 14:11 ESV And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
God will not allow any person’s evil against another person to go unpunished. That includes anyone who:
- Is proud and judgmental
- Sheds blood
- Devises wicked plans
- Races to do evil things
- Is a false witness who pours out lies
- Stirs up conflict within a community
Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Romans 2:3 ESV Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
The perils of seeking justice from an earthly perspective
One important dimension of civil uprisings that we often neglect is the spiritual one.
The Bible shows us that Satan has stolen authority over all earthly kingdoms. He stole this authority from Adam and Eve after they were deceived by him. In his pride, the devil even tried to tempt Jesus with this stolen authority to bow before him! Any earthly authority that has no fear of God will eventually become puppets of Satan. For a graphic explanation, please watch The Satan and Demons by The Bible Project.
Luke 4:5-8 ESV And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”
The apostle Paul also pointed out that all our battles are not against human beings or institutions (flesh and blood), but against “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Ephesians 6:12 ESV 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.
Satan will tempt us to see things only from a secular, worldly point of view and focus on ourselves and on earthly things – rather than the type of justice that God calls us to.
Even the apostle Peter failed to see things from God’s point of view when he tried to stop Jesus from dying on the cross. All the disciples had hoped that Jesus would build an earthly kingdom. Jesus turned to Peter and rebuked Satan for tricking the disciple into “seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
Matthew 16:21-23 NLT From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead. But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”
The apostle Paul also grieved for other Christians who also fall for this same trap because it only makes them “enemies of the cross of Christ”. Instead of living as citizens of heaven who bring God’s salvation to all people, we set our minds on our earthly citizenship as if that is what truly matters to Jesus. Instead of resisting Satan together to defend our eternal rights, we end up fighting one another for our earthly rights.
1 John 4:4-5 NLT But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them.
Philippians 3:18-21 ESV For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
2 Corinthians 5:15-16 NIV And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
There is little doubt we are living in the End Times. In his last grab at domination, Satan has been increasing his activity by tempting more and more people to follow his ways, which is to kill, steal, and destroy. No wonder we are witnessing more and more violent suppressions, vandalism, lootings, arson attacks, and killings. The Bible warns us that we live in difficult times. People will be “unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, and swollen with conceit.”
John 10:10 ESV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God… Avoid such people.
The world will coerce us into deciding who we will see as our enemy; whether left-wing or right-wing political parties; citizens or police or politicians – and attack them. God makes no such political and earthly distinction. We are to love both our neighbours as well as our enemies. The Bible reminds us that it is Satan that we ought to resist. People are not the enemy, Satan is.
Matthew 5:43-45 ESV “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
James 4:7 ESV Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Follow God’s agenda during times of civil unrest
God chooses the times and places of our lives on earth and He prepares us for good works while we are here – the most important of which is to reconcile people to Him. This was the mission that Jesus personally took on and passed on to us.
Acts 17:26 ESV And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,
Ephesians 2:10 ESV For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
2 Corinthians 5:16-19 ESV From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
John 17:1,18 ESV When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you… As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
God prepares a harvest of lost souls that we may bring back to Him. Some of the richest harvests occur during times of uncertainty and civil unrest, when people’s fears and anxieties come out into the open and their vulnerabilities are exposed.
May we resist being emotionally swept by the masses and political uprisings that come and go – and remember the more important agenda. The real agenda is not political. The agenda God has given us is the salvation of people’s souls from eternal hell. Jesus has already proclaimed that the fields are ripe for harvest. Will we go out as He has called us to?
John 4:34-36 ESV Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work… Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.
To receive notifications of new posts from Teaching Humble Hearts, please subscribe here .