Christians have a unique calling in the world to display the character of Jesus in what they say and do. Most of the time, this is a challenging proposition. It is, perhaps, never more challenging than how we respond to terrorists with our thoughts, words, and actions.
Americans have had many enemies throughout the decades: the English, the native peoples, the Germans, the Russians. Today the enemy is terrorists, the latest boogeymen in our fear-mongering culture. How does Jesus say we should respond to them? Scripture doesn’t leave us in the dark. Terrorists have a first-century equivalent: the Roman soldier.
The Romans ruled over Judea with an iron fist. So when Jesus talked about responding to “enemies,” these were precisely the kind of enemies his listeners would have had in mind. Jesus was talking to people who were not only threatened by vicious nationalistic enemies; they were already conquered by them. Most first-century Jews despised their Roman oppressors at least as much as most Americans despise terrorists, and they were under their terrorist rule. The Romans would sometimes put dozens — in a few cases we know of, thousands—of Jews to death (usually by crucifixion), just as a show of strength.
Christ’s teachings on how to respond to these terrorists were just as shocking then as they are today.
Responding to Terrorists
Jesus and the New Testament authors had quite a bit to say about how to respond to terrorists. It is helpful to keep in mind that these instructions are specific to those who claim to be disciples of Jesus. These instructions were not written to those who participate in the ways of the world and claim no affiliation with God. Below is a sample of the commands given to Christians.
We should love terrorists. The word used for ‘love’ here is the Greek word ‘agape.’ There are four words for ‘love’ in the Greek language, and ‘agape’ is the strongest, meaning unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances. Furthermore, love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to the example of Jesus dying for his enemies (1 John 3:16; Romans 5:8, 10).
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies…
Do Good To Terrorists
Followers of Jesus should step up and seek to actively do good things for terrorists. We should be trying to make a positive difference in their life by doing good to them.
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Bless Terrorists, Don’t Curse Them
Speak good things about terrorists and to them. Do not curse them or speak against them.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Pray For Terrorists
When we pray to God, we should petition him to bless terrorists. We should ask God to show up in their lives and transform them with love. We shouldn’t be surprised if God uses us to do this.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christian living. We must forgive whatever evil terrorists commit.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
Give To Terrorists Without Expecting Anything In Return
If we are ever in a situation where a terrorist needs something, we are commanded to give them help and not demand anything back.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
Luke 6:30, 34
Feed Terrorists When They Need Food
If we ever know of any terrorists that are in need of food, we need to be the first to feed them.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him…
Give Drink To Terrorists When They Need Water
The same goes for drink. If there is ever a terrorist that is thirsty, we are commanded to give them something to drink.
If your enemy is… thirsty, give him something to drink.
Never Resist Terrorists With Force
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.
The Greek word for ‘resist’ is ‘anthistemi,’ and it often refers specifically to violent resistance. New Testament scholar N. T. Wright translated the verse “Don’t use violence to resist evil” to remove all ambiguity. Jesus is telling us not to use violence to resist terrorists.
Treat Terrorists As You Want To Be Treated
We should treat terrorists in the same way that we would like terrorists to treat us. Most would agree this is with compassion, kindness, and love.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Never Return Evil With Evil, But Rather With Good
Has a terrorist done evil to you? We are commanded to not do evil back to terrorists but rather do good to them.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
1 Thessalonians 5:15
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.
1 Peter 3:9
Never Exact Vengeance Against Terrorists
We are told that God will take care of everything, we are not the ones to take revenge.
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.
Pray For The Healing of Terrorists
Jesus modeled for us how to respond to aggressors by healing instead of harming them. We should pray for healing if any terrorists are hurt, or if possible, tend to their wounds ourselves.
With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.
Matthew 26:51-53; Luke 22:51
Humbly Serve Terrorists
In the spirit of feeding and doing good for terrorists, we should do all we can to humbly serve them in any way we can.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
Respond Gently When Interrogated By Terrorists
If we are ever captured or interrogated by terrorists, we are told we must be gentle and respectful.
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
Be Willing To Suffer
We are to follow Christ’s example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of terrorists, even when we have the power to defeat them.
But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
1 Peter 2:20-21
Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”
1 Peter 3:14
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Consider Your Sin To Be Worse Than Terrorist’s
As sinful as we may think terrorists are, we are to consider our own sin to be worse. In fact, those of us who have accepted Christ, and yet choose to judge, are committing the very great sin of self-righteousness.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
1 Timothy 1:15-16
A God Who Dies For Terrorists
It is important to remember that many of those who were originally given these teachings subsequently endured the agony of watching their families fed to lions or burned alive before being tortured and executed themselves. The “enemies” the New Testament talks about are not just grumpy neighbors or personal enemies. They include national enemies, enemies who are terrorists, life-threatening enemies, and enemies who threaten not only us but also our loved ones.
Yet, rather than retaliate or “protect” themselves with violent force, these early Christians considered it an honor to follow Jesus’ example by letting themselves get crucified. In fact, the gracious way they died was one of the main catalysts for the rapid growth of the Church throughout the first three centuries.
Many find these teachings offensive if not insane.
At the same time, however, this insanity in an odd way “makes sense” in the context of the revelation of God in Christ. Think about it. How “sane” was it for the Creator of the universe to become a human, experience the guilt and condemnation of sin, and die a God-forsaken, hellish death on a cross for the very rebels who crucified him (ultimately, all of us)? We are explicitly and repeatedly called to follow this insane example: “Be imitators of God,” Paul says, “…live in love as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
In essence, Jesus is saying, “Do unto your enemies what I did unto mine.” At the very least, this has to mean: “Be willing to die for your enemies rather than make them die for you.” So yes, the New Testament’s teaching how to respond to terrorists is insane. But isn’t that precisely what we should expect, given the kind of God we’re following?