Often we hear criticism of the history of Christianity coming from folks in the ranks and atheism and also from the Jews, who have suffered ignominious and violent things at the hands of professing Christians throughout our 2000 year history. Moreover, Christian history is soiled with the violent behavior of one denomination against another. Some futurists believe that Jesus will kill 200 million soldiers in a great battle located in Israel, called Armageddon. Still others believe Jesus will destroy the whole of creation and with it all the wicked unbelievers. Violence seems to be not only a part of Christianity’s past, but also, if these prophecies of some are true, it is a part of our future as well—even of the Second Coming of Christ. What can we say of this?
We cannot deny the claims of history. We can say only that such attitudes and practices were not encouraged or commanded by Christ. He told his followers not to resist violence done to them (Matthew 5:39), nor did he permit violent behavior among his own (Luke 22:50-51). If Jesus instructed his followers to allow violence to be done to themselves, but not to react violently, how can anyone blame Jesus, if his followers (or pretenders) refused to obey him?
On the other hand, if Jesus was such a pacifist, how would we explain Luke 16:16:
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presses into it. (Luke 16:16)
Matthew renders it:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)
Is Jesus encouraging violence here? Does he mean to say the only way into the Kingdom of God is violent behavior? The context of Jesus’ remarks in Matthew’s account is John the Baptist was in prison, and he sent is disciples to Jesus with a question (Matthew 11:2). In other words, John was being persecuted. The context of Jesus’ remarks in Luke’s account is the Pharisees scoffing at Jesus’ words. That is, Jesus was preaching under the persecution of mockers (Luke 16:14). Therefore, Jesus’ remark that the Kingdom of God suffers violence has to do with unbelievers persecuting and intimidating John the Baptist and Jesus.
The phrase: “every man presses into it” or “violent men take it by force” also concerns unbelievers. It does not concern believers storming its walls or anything of the sort. Rather it has to do with the Jewish authorities using violence to seize it or snatch it away from folks who were willing to enter in (cf. Matthew 23:13). The verb “take (it) by force” (Matthew 11:12) is harbazo (G726) and means, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: “to seize, carry off by force; to seize on, claim for one’s self eagerly; to snatch out or away.” Therefore, Jesus isn’t encouraging violence in these verses, Rather he is condemning it.
Jesus absolutely repudiated a kingdom gained through violence. The Kingdom of God suffered violence committed against itself. When Jesus returned in 70 AD to destroy the Jewish nation by destroying Jerusalem and its Temple, it wasn’t to “snatch away” the Kingdom of God from them. It had already been taken away from them and given to the elect—Jews and gentiles who believed the Gospel. The Church of the first century continually suffered violence against it by the Jews who wanted to violently snatch the Kingdom of God away and take it to themselves. So, the 200 million man army mentioned in Revelation 9 is a figurative number representing the Jewish war with Rome, when Jesus came to judge Jerusalem, as he promised to do, when he came to save his elect and vindicate their blood that was shed in his name (Matthew 16:27; 26:64).
Therefore, the picture of the Second Coming that is painted by the futurists, really has no foundation in scripture. The context of the Second Coming scriptures points to 70 AD rather than some 2000 years into the future.