The people were being oppressed. Like their ancestors, first-century Jews no doubt prayed repeatedly to God for relief, this time from the oppressive yoke of the Roman Empire. Then they heard of Jesus. Would he prove to be the foretold Messiah? Not surprisingly, many “were hoping that this man was the one who was going to deliver Israel” from their Roman oppressors. (Luke 24:21) But no relief came. Instead, in 70 C.E., Roman armies came and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.
What happened? Why did God not fight for the Jews, as he had in the past? Or why did he not authorize them to engage in warfare to free themselves from oppression? Had God’s view of war changed? No. But something had drastically changed regarding the Jews. They had rejected God’s Son, Jesus, as the Messiah. (Acts 2:36) Therefore, as a nation, they lost their special relationship with God.
The Jewish nation and its Promised Land no longer enjoyed divine protection, nor could the Jews ever again rightly claim to engage in warfare that had God’s approval or backing. As Jesus foretold, the blessings associated with having God’s favor had been transferred from the fleshly nation of Israel to a new nation, a spiritual nation, later referred to in the Bible as “the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16; Matthew 21:43) The congregation of spirit-anointed Christians proved to be the spiritual Israel of God. Pointedly, in the first century, they were told: “Now you are God’s people.”
Since first-century Christians were now “God’s people,” did God fight in their behalf, so as to free them from Roman oppression? Or did he authorize them to wage war against their oppressors? No, he did not. Why not? When it comes to God-ordained warfare, God alone determines when such warfare is to take place, as the preceding article showed. God did not fight battles for first-century Christians, nor did he authorize them to engage in secular warfare. Clearly, the first century was not God’s time to war against wickedness and oppression.
Thus, like God’s servants of the ancient past, those first-century Christians were to wait until God’s time to bring an end to wickedness and oppression. In the meantime, they were not authorized by God to take it upon themselves to engage in warfare against their enemies. Jesus Christ made this clear in his teachings. For example, he did not direct his followers to engage in warfare, but instead he told them: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Foretelling the time when first-century Jerusalem would be attacked by Roman armies, Jesus instructed his disciples, not to stay and fight, but to flee
Additionally, under inspiration the apostle Paul wrote: “Do not avenge yourselves, . . . for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says Jehovah.” (Romans 12:19) Paul was quoting what God had stated centuries earlier as recorded at Leviticus 19:18 and Deuteronomy 32:35. As seen in the preceding article, one way God avenged his people in ancient times was by aiding them in waging war against their enemies. Thus Paul’s words show that God’s view of warfare had not changed. In the first century, God still viewed war as a legitimate way to avenge his servants and bring an end to various forms of oppression and wickedness. However, as was true in the past, God alone determined when such warfare was to take place and who was to be involved.
Clearly, God did not authorize Christians in the first century to fight in wars. But what about today? Has God authorized any group of people today to engage in warfare? Or is now the time for God to step in and wage war in behalf of his servants? Just how does God view war today? The final article in this series will answer those questions.