10 million Ukrainians without power because of Russia. Help us purchase electrical generators for churches.
Consider helping today!

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Wandering Stars

Additional Links

The Epistle of Jude is an earnest warning against false teachers with a strong denunciation of them. In Judges 1:12-13 the writer uses one metaphor after another to depict the falseness, sensuality, and apostasy of these men. The list ends with ‘wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved for ever.’ ἀστέρες πλανῆται are words used to distinguish the planets from the fixed stars; but the regular motion of the planets would supply no fit comparison for the author’s idea, and we must rather see a reference to meteors or shooting stars, whose sudden and terrifying appearance, rapid transit, and speedy disappearance into a darkness rendered more intense by contrast would be a fitting picture of the short-lived fame and hurtful influence of the false teachers, and a prediction of that abyss of darkness into which they were hurrying.

Morley Stevenson.


Of the three great Asiatic religions which have poured into Europe, the youngest has never found any difficulty about war; to Islam war is a power, not a problem. The Qur’ân sanctions and enjoins warfare upon non-Muslims as part of the propaganda of the mission. To ‘fight in God’s way,’ i.e. on a, jihad, or holy war, is a pious duty, and the Muhammadan who falls in battle against the infidels is ipso facto a martyr.

‘Say, “Fighting therein [in the sacred month] is a great sin; but turning folks off God’s way, and misbelief in Him and in the Sacred Mosque, and turning His people out therefrom, is a greater in God’s sight; and sedition is a greater sin than slaughter” ’ (Qur’an, tr. E. H. Palmer, ii. 213); ‘What ails you that ye do not fight in God’s way, and for the weak men and women and children?’ (iv. 76); ‘O thou prophet! urge on the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty patient men, they shall conquer two hundred’ (viii. 67); ‘When ye meet those who and bind fast the bonds!’ (xlvii. 4); ‘O thou prophet! fight strenuously against the misbelievers and hypocrites and be stern towards them; for their resort is hell, and an evil journey shall it be’ (lxvi. 9).

In practice toleration of infidels has been not uncommon, partly owing to political considerations, but in theory the ‘curse and smite’ policy is put forward.

Muhammad held up Joshua for the admiration of his followers as a model fighting captain of the Lord, and in ancient Israel also war was sanctioned by religion. Jahweh was a ‘man of war,’ and Israel fought their way from the Red Sea into freedom. ‘He teacheth my hands to war’ (Psalms 18:34) is the proud, grateful word of David, or of the community voicing the Davidic ideal. But the altered political situation after the Exile had re-set the primitive and naive view of war (cf. HDB v. 635 f.). In Judaism the Semitic custom which determined the relation of the people to war as tolerated, or even under certain circumstances enjoined, by the principles of their faith, as an enterprise for which warriors were consecrated before they fought at all, had undergone a change at the period when Christianity arose in Palestine. Even earlier, in a battle-song like the 68th psalm, militarism is abjured: ‘Scatter thou the people that delight in war’ (Psalms 68:30). Judaism, before Christianity, abhorred aggressiveness and discouraged military rapacity. The Hebrews warred in later days for the defence of their religion and country rather than for aggrandizement. But even the older conception of a theocracy under arms for the defensive, which had flashed up brilliantly in the Maccabaean wars (cf. 2 Maccabees 15:15 f.) against a corrupt and domineering civilization, had given place to a fairly general repudiation of revolt against the Romans-a repudiation which the authorities, who were passivists, voiced for more or less prudential reasons. ‘The Zealot and the “passivist” were really agreed on the general principle, but they differed on the question of expediency. The former would exercise his military rights at once, while the latter would wait for God to take the initiative’ (S. J. Case, ‘Religion and War in the Graeco-Roman World,’ in AJTh xix. [1915] 190). Pious Jews were not agreed whether they were bound to start the rebellion which would inaugurate the armed intervention of Messiah or whether they were to wait for His orders or even whether He would not do all the fighting for them. At the same time, the working compromise at the opening of the 1st cent. a.d. covered hot ashes, which might flame up; two elements still survived in Jewish religion-the intractable passion for national freedom and supremacy which was represented in an extreme form by the Zealots, and the strain of militant messianism which glowed in apocalyptic circles.* The problem of Christianity’s relation to war, during the primitive period, is partly determined by these two factors in the contemporary situation. We must therefore begin by taking account of their bearing upon the ideas and practice of the early Church.

1. The teaching and practice of Jesus in relation to war.-The religion of Jesus was never intended to spread by force of arms. So much is clear from the teaching of the Gospels. He never aimed at heading a Galilaean revolt against the Roman power, and in fact. He explicitly discouraged all attempts to exploit His personality and influence for nationalistic ends. He deliberately disappointed such hopes. It is a fair verdict that some sections of His teaching cannot be understood (cf. H. M. Hughes, in ExpT xxvii. [1915-16] 151 f.; K. Lake, The Earlier Epistles of St. Paul, London, 1911, p. 392 f., The Stewardship of Faith, London, 1915, p. 30 f.) apart from the theories of the Zealots or the dagger-men of the age (cf. DAC i. 103; H. B. Sharman, The Teaching of Jesus about the Future, Chicago, 1909, p. 113 f.), whom He implicitly repudiates. He is not an Essene, opposed to war, but He is not a Zealot. One of His disciples, Simon, had originally belonged to that party, but Jesus evidently had offered him a nobler outlet for his enthusiasm. The mere fact that He stood aloof from such aspirations must have seemed intensely unpatriotic, even to the Pharisees. Josephus is speaking more as a pro-Roman than as a Pharisee when he argues that, as the Jews have never succeeded in war, they are evidently meant by God to be pacifists (see below), but the Pharisaic party practically acted on a policy of inaction. They opposed the Zealots. Only, they opposed Jesus even more.

‘At great political crises he who opposes the patriots is not so likely to be considered their worst foe, as he who ignores them. It was not that our Lord preached submission to Rome, though no doubt the decision as to the tribute money was capable of being represented in that light-it was that He raised a spirit which moved in another plane than that of resistance or submission to imperial power. He created a weapon (it would seem) and withheld it from the service of the State. It will be found, in genera], that no other treason is felt so deadly as this. To use power against the State is penal;-to hold power, and not use it for the State, is, to the zealot for the State, far more hateful. Christ would neither join the alliance with worldly power, nor the fanaticism of revolt against worldly power.’†

And, as Jesus declined to be drawn into any revolutionary movement of His own nation, as He ‘withdrew’ (John 6:15) when an enthusiastic crowd of Galilaeans would have forcibly made a king of Him, as He seems to have shown no sympathy with the Galilaeans whom Pilate had ruthlessly murdered (Luke 13:1-2), so He withheld His own party from resenting by force any attack or outrage on themselves. When the Jew would retaliate, if he could, and take up arms against any foreign power which violated his religious scruples or profaned his sacred possessions, the disciple of Jesus was to suffer patiently and passively. Neither hot word nor quick blow was to defend His faith. Like the great prototype of their Leader, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, His followers were to let their throats be cut, unresisting sheep as they were, butchered by the cruel knife (cf. Romans 8:35-36).

In the apocalyptic address of the Synoptic tradition the disciples in Judaea are warned that they will ‘hear of wars and rumours of wars’ (Mk, Mt; ‘of wars and disturbances,’ Lk); but they are not to be scared. Why? Because this does not mean the end of all things yet. Mark and Matthew regard these terrors as the first stage of the end, while Luke, who omits the apocalyptic ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων ταῦτα, rather suggests that they are simply prior to the end; but in either case the outlook is the same. There will be international strife as well as physical catastrophes. But Christians are never for a moment supposed to take any part in the former; it is a clash of pagan powers. In the invasion of Judaea the disciples will suffer, but they are bidden withdraw to the hills and leave Jerusalem to its fate, since the ‘City of Peace’ had failed to recognize ‘the things that belonged to’ her true peace. There is no active rôle for them in this grim prelude of the final tragedy. It is now the period of the end, but they have no concern with the issue between Jews and Romans; it will be a miserable time, throbbing with social anarchy and the horrors of an invasion, with convulsions and delusions, but soon the Son of Man will appear to muster His non-combatant elect for safety and bliss, lifting them right out of the jarring, untoward world. It was not His design to ‘restore the kingdom to Israel’ (Acts 1:6). He had no faith in the nationalistic fury and programme of Judaism. He foresaw a catastrophe, and His regulations for the disciples were made in view of a crisis, not only for the Jews but for the universe.

When the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans was imminent, the local Christians did withdraw to Pella. Whether this was in consequence of the apocalyptic oracle preserved in the Synoptic tradition, or whether this oracle reflects to some extent the course of affairs, it is not easy to say. The main point of interest for us here is the interpretation of the spirit of Jesus upon which the primitive Church acted, and out of which this apocalyptic address arose. The Palestinian Christians disavowed any connexion with the national cause of Judaism. The vultures were gathering over the corpse of Jewish nationalism. Why should they linger beside it? It is possible that this policy was not adopted unanimously; the language of Matthew 24:10-12 may hint at Jewish Christians who, in the excitement of the crisis, took a more popular line. ‘The Jewish war saw at least one Essene heading the rebels, and others in the ardent ranks of the Sicarii and the Zealots’ (ERE v. 400). If the stress of war produced this cleavage in the ranks of the pacific Essenes, it may have had a similar effect upon the local Christians. But the majority, or at any rate the vital section, must have been those who fled to Pella and abandoned Jerusalem to its fate. That policy of abstention from the use of force in aid of Jerusalem or in defence of themselves against persecution may have been trying, but it was thoroughly consonant with the trend of the teaching of Jesus. Under no circumstances did He contemplate any active measures on the part of His disciples as patriots or as attacked persons. The position of affairs indeed ruled out a militant attitude. The eschatological outlook rendered the downfall of Jerusalem a foregone conclusion, and in this way made for quietism. Besides, His kingdom was not of this world; no Christians who had understood His instructions could dream of allying themselves with the dagger-men in Jerusalem or even with the loyalist Jews who manned the walls of the city so heroically, in the spirit, though not with the success, of their ancestors who faced pagans with ‘the high praises of God on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hands’ (Psalms 149:6). As for self-defence, His own word in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:52-54) to the disciple who impulsively struck with a sword was sufficient: ‘Put your sword back into its place; all who draw the sword shall die by the sword. What! do you think I cannot appeal to my Father to furnish me at this moment with over twelve legions of angels? Only, how could the scriptures be fulfilled then-the scriptures that say this must be so?’ He had already told the disciples that they were being sent out like sheep among wolves, defenceless against any brutal attack; He had censured the Elijah-spirit in the two disciples who were indignant at the churlish behaviour of a Samaritan village; He had bidden His followers face arrest, ill-treatment, and death itself, rather than be untrue to their confession; and the refusal of armed help for Himself was only the climax of the regulations which He had laid down for their conduct.*

These regulations were followed by the early Church. There was never any serious fear of armed rebellion on the part of Christians against the Roman power. From St. Paul onwards responsible Christian teachers inculcated submission to the legal authorities. Christians had to accept civil government as they had to accept the weather in the world of God. Towards the end of the 1st cent. the insane suspicions of Domitian led him to arrest some grandsons of Judas the brother of Jesus, on the ground that rumour connected the descendants of David with a revolutionary movement. But, when he found they were horny-handed sons of toil, simple peasants of Palestine, instead of turbulent Jews or influential agitators, and when he heard that Christ’s kingdom was a pious dream of the far future, he dismissed the alleged revolutionaries with contempt (Eus. HE iii. 20). Malicious cries might be raised by the Jews that these Christians were overt agitators, setting up ‘another king, called Jesus’ (Acts 17:7); but the conduct of the Christians disarmed suspicion as a rule. It is true that in the 2nd cent. Christianity did seem often to the authorities to be a secret, immoral, Eastern society, which might be harbouring political designs. But, whenever investigations were made, the idea of a political menace disappeared. Although the Christians were still regarded as adherents of a perverse superstitio, i.e. a religion which was not the Roman religion, they were steadily drawing away from the Jews, and this helped to clear their character, so far as the suspicion of rebellion went. Whoever were ‘assidue tumultuantes,’ it was not they. The authorities did not know much about Jesus, but they knew plotters when they saw them, and Christians had little difficulty in establishing their peaceful character. To the Romans both Jews and Christians seemed obstinate creatures. Only, Jewish obstinacy would seethe into rebellion now and then; the Christians merely offered a passive resistance. When they were afterwards put to death for high treason, it was not because they rose in armed revolt. The charge of disloyalty did not rest upon their disposition to fight for themselves. Their Jesus had not come to draw the sword.† What they believed about His policy is well expressed in this beautiful description from the 2nd cent. Epistle to Diognetus (7): ‘Was He [Christ] sent, as one might suppose, to set up a sovereign rule, to make men fear and shudder? By no means. He sent Him in gentleness and meekness,* as a king might send his royal son; He sent Him as God, sent Him as a man to men, sent Him to save, to use not force but persuasion-for force is no attribute of God (βία γὰρ οὐ πρόσεστι τῷ θεῷ). He sent Him to summon, not to persecute; sent Him to love, not to judge.’ There is a slight flavour of sentimentalism in these words, but, so far as they go, they are adequate and accurate. It is the Fourth Evangelist who says that Jesus set Himself to win the heart of the world (‘he that hath the bride is the bridegroom’), but the truth that Jesus came to reign by other powers than those of the sword is written over all the Gospels.

It is in the Lucan writings, not only in Acts (cf. S. Buss, Roman Law and History in the NT, London, 1901, p. 322 f.) but in the third gospel as compared with Mark and Matthew, that the most numerous references to war and the army are to be met. Luke, e.g., not only omits the disarming rebuke of Jesus in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:52), but (i.) preserves the tradition that John the Baptist, instead of ordering the soldiers† who consulted him to leave the army, merely told them that it was their duty to abstain from what was called concussio, or the ill-treatment of civilians, i.e. from extorting money by violence‡ and making false charges; they were also to be content with their pay (Luke 3:14). The negative part of the counsel (μηδένα διασείσητε μηδὲ συκοφαντήσντε) is not quite clear. The ‘violence’ may mean overbearing poor civilians, and soldiers had many opportunities of taking such unfair advantage, not only in war but in the police-duties which they discharged during a peace. If extorting money by threats is pot covered by διασείσητε, it is embraced by συκοφαντήσητε, which also could connote rough treatment, as is plain from the Passio S. Perpetuae (iii.), where the hapless martyrs are exposed not only to privations in gaol but to hard usage from their guard of soldiers (στρατιωτῶν συκοφαντίαις πλείσταις). The soldiers bullied the prisoners, in order to get money from them for certain privileges and slight relaxations of the prison regime. The general sense of John’s advice is therefore plain, and the point is that, if John the Baptist was not a Theudas, he was not a ‘pacifist.’ Furthermore, among the special parables, or rather illustration’s, of St. Luke’s gospel, we find (ii.) the only§ military one (Luke 14:31-32) which Jesus is recorded to have spoken. It is an illustration of forethought and deliberation. ‘What king sets out to fight against another king without first sitting down to deliberate whether with ten thousand men he can encounter the king who is attacking him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, when the other is still at a distance, he will send an embassy to do homage to him.’ The prudent action of Toi, King of Hamath, as told in the LXX text of 2 Samuel 8:9 f. (cf. H. St. John Thackeray, in JThSt xiv. [1918] 389-399), is an OT illustration, if not a source, of the parable. But this analogy is as old as Socrates. When Glaukon asked him how it was possible to enrich a State at the expense of its enemies, he replied that it was quite possible if the State first made sure that it was stronger; otherwise, it would run the risk of losing what it already possessed. ‘Consequently, when one will consider with whom he may fight, he must find out his own State’s strength and the strength of his opponents, so that, if the force of his State be superior, he may counsel aggressive measures, whereas, if it be inferior to its opponents, he may advise caution’ (Xen. Mem. iii. 6, 8; and again in iv. 2, 29). A third item (iii.) in St. Luke’s contribution to the martial aspect of the gospel-story is the detailed reference to the siege-operations of the Roman army when it invested Jerusalem in the war of a.d. 67-70 (Luke 19:39-43, ‘a time is coming for you when your enemies will throw up ramparts round you and encircle you and besiege you on every side and raze you and your children within you to the ground, leaving not one stone upon another’; also Luke 21:20, where the apocalyptic allusion of Mk. and Mt. to Daniel 12:11 is replaced by the concrete and historical ‘Jerusalem surrounded by armies’). This, like the sentence in Matthew 22:7 (where the Roman στρατεύματα are agents of God’s retribution on His disobedient people, as the Assyrians had been in Isaiah 10:4, etc.), is a water-mark of the date of the gospels. But the outstanding item (iv.) is the puzzling bit of conversation just before Jesus and His disciples left the upper room for Gethsemane, a fragment of tradition preserved by St. Luke (Luke 22:35-38) alone. ‘And he said to them, “When I sent yon out* with neither purse nor wallet nor sandals, did you want for. anything?” “No,” they said, “for nothing” (Luke 22:35). Then He said to them, “But he who has a purse must take it now (ἀλλὰ νῦν), and the same with a wallet; and he who has no sword must sell his coat and buy one (Luke 22:36). For I tell you, this word of scripture must be fulfilled in me: he was classed among criminals. Yes, there is an end to all that refers to me (καὶ γὰρ τὸ περὶ ἐμοῦ τέλος ἔχει)” (Luke 22:37). “Lord,” they said, “here are two swords!” “Enough! enough! (ἱκανόν ἐστι),” He said (Luke 22:38).

(a) The least unsatisfactory interpretation is to suppose that Jesus was speaking of the dangers that awaited the disciples in the immediate future, when His arrest and death would alter their circumstances. Formerly, they did not need to provide for themselves. Now, they must look to their livelihood and even their very existence, for neither will be secure. ‘Take your purses and wallets with you now, and equip yourselves with swords.’ We can imagine Jesus uttering these words with a realistic touch of grave suggestiveness. The supreme crisis is at hand. You are going now into an enemy’s country, and you will need to cut your way out of the difficulties created by My death as a so-called criminal. He did not mean literally that they were to use force against force, or to defend themselves against physical attacks; His words were a proverbial and metaphorical expression for alertness in view of the critical situation ahead. But the disciples were too prosaic to catch this meaning. They evidently thought that He intended them to defend Himself and themselves against the Jews; they were armed with a couple of swords or long knives (cf. Luke 22:49), and they naively hastened to assure Him of their equipment. They pulled out the weapons. Would these do? ‘Enough! enough! that will do!’ Jesus replied, with a sigh and a note of something like irony in His words. It was useless to discuss the matter any further with men who could so misunderstand Him.

This allusive interpretation (‘Totus hic sermo allegoricus est: quasi dicat, “Vixistis adhuc in pace, commilitones, nunc vero hellum instat acerrimum, et caeteris rebus omissis de unis armis cogitandum. Quaenam autem illa sint arma, ipse, quum in horto precarctur et Petrum gladio ferientem reprehenderet, suo exemplo docere maluit, quam importune hoc loco stupidis adhuc et ad res istas non satis attentis discipulis explicare’ [Beza]), favoured by writers like Strauss and Keim, has been recently defended by Burkitt, in his Gospel History and its Transmission, Edinburgh, 1906, p. 140 f. The words of this passage, he observes, ‘are among the saddest words in the Gospels, and the mournful irony with which they are pervaded seems to me wholly alien from the kind of utterance which a Christian Evangelist would invent for his Master.… It is impossible to believe that the command to buy a sword was meant literally and seriously: it is all a piece of ironical foreboding.’ He adds that the words ‘afford us a very welcome glimpse into the mind of our Lord. They shew us that there was in Him a vein of what I have no other name for but playfulness, a tender and melancholy playfulness indeed, but all the more remarkable that it comes to outward expression in moments of danger and despondency.’ But the passage, even in this light, remains unique. On any interpretation of it, the connexion of the verses is a difficulty. Luke 22:35 f. seem to refer to the future experiences of the disciples by themselves; it is almost impossible to believe that they were expected to make all these new preparations before they started for the garden of Gethsemane. Yet Luke 22:38 seems to imply that the disciples at any rate, if not Jesus Himself, thought of the imminent danger in the garden. Furthermore, Luke 22:37 comes in abruptly, although it is possible to see a link between it and the foregoing words without undue straining. This is furnished in one way by-

(b) The literal interpretation, which assumes not only that Jesus advised the disciples to defend themselves in future by force, if need be, but also that He intended to use force in order to prevent Himself from being assassinated. It was only when He found that He was to be arrested officially by agents of the government, instead of being murdered by the hired ruffians of the hierarchy, that He stopped His disciples from taking active measures in His defence (Luke 22:51). The latter verse, however, docs not fit in smoothly with this reconstruction of the scene.

(c) A more plausible modification of the literal interpretation is to suppose, with J. Weiss (Die Schriften des NT 2, Göttingen, 1907-08, i. 513 f.) and F. von Hügel, that this word of Jesus was connected with a special situation which never recurred. He went up to Jerusalem to set men ablaze (Luke 12:49 f. to kindle a fierce conflict in which He was destined to perish Himself, but out of which He hoped His disciples would be able to force a passage. His words refer to this exclusively. He is momentarily depressed, and reverses His earlier instructions to His followers. When He says, ‘Enough!’, He resigns Himself to the disciples’ misapprehension of the seriousness of the situation for Himself; there is no thought, in His mind, of offering any resistance to His enemies. Jesus has no illusions about His own fate; ‘but, as to His disciples, He hopes that, they will be able to cut their way out and escape, and He feels that they will be morally free to do so. But even this much He adverts to only for a moment; since, when they offer Him the two swords, and He says “It is enough,” He has already dropped that passing attention to this earthly contingency, and, in a sad, ironical reference to the non-comprehension by the disciples of the magnitude of the coming trouble, and to the obvious inadequacy of these physical defences, if physical force were really to be used, He breaks off the discussion by this short, ambiguous word’ (F. von Hügel, in CQR lxxix. [1915] 262). This is preferable, at least, to the literal interpretation, according to which the closing words are either couched in a vein of sad, ironical resignation, as if Jesus felt how little the disciples realized that their physical preparations were quite inadequate to the crisis, or as if Jesus seriously thought that two swords would be sufficient for the defence which He intended should be made against His captors in the garden. The early Church was divided as to the meaning of the passage. Augustine (c. Faustum, xxii. 77) appears to take the words literally, though he is not clear about what the injunction meant. Peter, he thinks, was told only to carry a sword, not to use it! ‘No doubt the intention of the Lord in ordering them to carry arms and not to make use of them was obscure. But it was for Him to give proper orders and for them to obey without any reserve.’ Origen, as we might expect, spiritualizes the words of Jesus. But by the middle of the 9th cent. Isho dad of Merv reports that ‘in many copies, instead of “Let him buy a sword and take it,” it is written, “Pray for your enemies.” ’ The text evidently was so difficult that early pacifists tampered with it. Isho’dad himself spiritualizes the words of Jesus, as an injunction ‘to teach them figuratively that henceforth they must take care of themselves’ (M. D. Gibson, Horae Semiticae, v. [Cambridge, 1911] 193 f.).

The choice lies, in all likelihood, between (a) and (c) and the balance of probability is slightly in favour of (a). In either case, the singular and militant tone of the saying is the best proof of its genuineness; it is more easy to understand why it should have been passed over by the other evangelists, if they knew it, than how it could be invented by apostolic tradition. What measures of self-defence could it have been devised to justify? The early Christians did not defend themselves against attacks (cf. Romans 8:38; 1 Peter 3:14). Even the peaceful Essenes carried arms, to defend themselves against robbers (Jos. BJ ii. 125: διὰ δὲ τοὺς λῃστὰς ἕνοπλοι). But, so far as we know, the primitive disciples of Jesus did not go about their work armed. We do not find anything in their primitive record that would suggest the need of putting a word like this into the lips of Jesus. That is one inference to be drawn from the passage. Another is that, whether it is taken in the light of (a) or of (c), it cannot be set up against the other pacific sayings which are so characteristic of the teaching of Jesus; if it is literal, it is only meant for a special occasion, and not laid down as a rule which supersedes the entire earlier instructions of our Lord against resisting evil. No more flagrant abuse of it could be imagined than that of Pope Boniface viii. in his famous Bull Unam Sanctam (Nov. 1302), which gave the imprimatur of the Lateran Council to the view not only that the two swords denoted the spiritual power and the temporal power (‘in hac eiusque potentate duos esse gladios, spiritualem videlicet et temporalem evangelicis dictis instruimur’), but also that the latter as derivative must be subordinate to the former (‘oportet autem gladium esse sub gladio, et temporalem auctoritatem spirituali subjici potestati’).

2. Militant messianism and the primitive church.-The influence of the militant spirit in some circles of messianic faith presents a more complicated problem. So far as Jesus was concerned, the views of His mission which we have already outlined are enough to prove that He stood aloof from all the current expectations of a national supremacy for Judaism as the dominant power on earth. He compared the spread of His kingdom to the dropping and the sprouting of seed; His emissaries were sent out to teach and to heal, not as an organized force of armed adherents. Even the apocalyptic aspect of His kingdom was non-militant. The conceptions of a book like Enoch were influential; yet, when we read a passage like lvi. 5f., which describes the last onset of the pagan powers upon Israel, stirred up like lions and wolves to attack the holy city but ruined by quarrels and finally annihilated, we feel at once the difference between this apocalyptic outlook of nationalism and the hopes of the primitive church. The Son of Man whose sword is drunk with the blood of the mighty opponents of Israel (lxii. 6f.) is not the Son of Man in the Gospels; Jesus can be stern, but this is not His kind of sternness; and, when a sword is given to the sheep (i.e. the pious Jews) wherewith to rout their brutal enemies (90:19), we instinctively think of the sword or knife by which the early Christians were constantly butchered (Romans 8:36; cf. Revelation 5:6). Yet the apocalyptic eschatology did carry with it suggestions of martial exploits, which may have appealed to some members of the primitive church. We have only to look at the setting from which the fulfilment of a prediction* about Jesus as the peaceful conqueror was taken, in order to see how closely the OT predictions of Him were bound up with more or less incongruous elements. War weariness had prompted some fair dreams of peace in the older Jewish literature, but it should never be forgotten that the peace was to be the result of a conflict;† only, as the international situation had so altered that the saints could not win the battle for themselves, they were generally content to wait till God or His messiah chose to intervene super-naturally in order to win it for them, or at any rate to call on them for aid. The very increase of a belief in demons and in the Satanic dominion which confronted God and stood behind the opposing powers of human life, did not altogether remove this conflict from the region of actual war. No stable peace could be looked for in the future unless and until the non-Jewish world had been reduced to subjection or annihilated along with the devil and his angels. The messianic interpretation of psalms like the 2nd and the 110th, which originally depicted a martial monarch, like the mediaeval St. Louis of France, kept such beliefs and hopes alive. No doubt, when the little groups of Christians succeeded to this tradition, it was reset for them by their conception of Jesus. Their ardent expectation of His return in order to take them safe to heaven prevented the large majority of them from cherishing the least interest in the fortunes of the world around them. Eschatology tended to insulate and isolate the Christians far more than the Jews. Their faith detached them from the destinies of nations. The figure of Diocletian would have been intelligible to them; the figure of Constantine never. The last thing of which they dreamed was the conversion of the Roman empire, and much less its subjugation by their celestial Lord. The sovereignty of God meant to them another kind of rule than that of a theocracy on earth, such as the fanatical Zealots dreamed of, who believed that God would not help them in their messianic hope unless they struck together a blow for faith (Jos. Ant. XVIII. i. 1). But, while this was true theoretically and, in the main, practically, while the rôle of Christians was to hold the fort till they were relieved by the appearance of their messiah on the clouds of heaven, their literature shows occasional traces of another mood.

So far as the gospels go, it is again St. Luke’s which suggests that the Apostolic Age had slightly affected the primitive outlook.

Twice we meet suggestions of this kind. The first group (a) is less important, viz. the references in the birth narrative; the second (b) in Luke 18:7 f. carries more significance, (a) The former contains the militant imagery of the Magnificat and the Benedictus-for the only allusion to the sword (Luke 2:35 : ‘a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also’) is of course metaphorical. But the warlike terms of the songs are religious reminiscences of the OT-e.g. of Hannah’s song-and are fundamentally* figurative also. Jesus did not come to ‘put down the mighty from their seats’ in Caesarea Philippi or at Rome; John was arrested by Herod, according to Josephus, because the Jewish ruler feared that his popularity would develop revolutionary tendencies, but John’s mission was not to ‘deliver the Jews from the hand of their’ Roman ‘enemies.’ Oriental symbolism is enough to account for such terms in those hymns of the primitive Palestinian church (cf. J. G. Machen, in Princeton Theol. Review, X. [1912] 1-38). This interpretation is not affected by the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14), which, in the mistranslation, ‘on earth peace, good will toward men,’ especially when it is unconsciously read in the light of Milton’s Ode. on the Nativity, seems a definite programme of peace. The peace proclaimed is between God and man, however, not between man and man. The gospel is not announced as an international league of peace. Charles Wesley was right when he put these two lines of interpretation into his Christian hymn-

‘Peace on earth, and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled!’

The line of the angels’ song is meant to allay any suspicion of God’s goodwill towards men. ‘Of God’s goodwill to men, and to all creatures, for ever, there needed no proclamation by angels,’ says Ruskin (Val d’Arno, X. 253). But this was precisely what did need to be proclaimed, in view of human sin and ill-will towards God. The coming of Jesus implies and proves that the divine thoughts to men are thoughts of peace and not of evil, that the suspicions of God which sin prompts are unjustified, and that He intends to create harmony between men and Himself. There is now ‘peace on earth for men whom He favours.’ And this message is sung by a detachment of the angelic στρατία!

It is a very different matter when we turn to (b) the language of Luke 18:7 f., where, after describing how even a selfish and callous magistrate will attend to a widow’s complaint, if she is only persistent enough, Jesus asks: ‘And will not God see that Justice is done to his elect who cry to him by day and night? Will he be tolerant to their foes [ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς, as in Sir 35:22, of which this passage is a reminiscence]? I tell you, he will quickly see justice done to his elect.’ The wording is judicial, but justice in the East was military in the last resort, and that is the meaning here. The Sirach passage describes the confident hope that God will effectively interpose on behalf of the oppressed who cry out bitterly against the tyrannical power of the overlords. These pagan oppressors will be put down from their thrones, and Israel, the mourning widow, relieved. The Lucan words suggest that some saying of Jesus has been sharpened in the course of transmission through a period of what seemed to the Apostolic Church to be almost intolerable misery. It is a momentary relapse into the terms if not into the spirit of militant Jewish eschatology. But the wonder is that such relapses were not more frequent. Besides, the cry for vengeance on the foes of religion is the Oriental expression of the innate yearning for justice in the moral order. The note of impatience with God’s apparent toleration of evil men and His intolerable delay (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), as well as the longing for the speedy end of things in order that the present distress may be relieved, is not so definite and characteristic as the appeal for retribution, however, and, as this is loudly echoed in Revelation 6:10-11 -the great Quousque of the church-it obliges us to look back upon the course and trend of religious feeling which prompted it.

War, in the present, had been regarded by Israel as occasionally a punishment of the nation for wrong-doing; the prophets had taught that faithlessness to Jahweh might he requited by invasion and defeat at the hands of a foreign power raised up by Jahweh for that purpose. The people might need to be chastised or purged by some ‘bitter and hasty’ outside conqueror, although eventually Jahweh throws away His very tool (cf., e.g., the Book of Habakkuk and Deuteronomy 32:25 f.). This is still recognized not only in the Psalms of Solomon but as late as the Pirke Aboth, where (Deuteronomy 32:11) ‘the sword comes upon the world for the suppression of justice and the perversion of justice, and for those who do not explain the Torah according to rule’ (i.e. for heterodox ways).* Even in the Zadokite document (Charles, Apocrypha and Pscudepigrapha, ii. 816) the militant messiah himself destroys the disloyal by the sword for their disobedience to the new covenant (ix. 9f.). But the last-named prediction is eschatological, and it suggests the three war-scenes in the last act of the drama, as eschatology usually shaped the future course of the world, (a) Wars and bloodshed, the ‘wars and rumours of wars’ of which the Gospels speak, precede the dawn of the messianic age; international strife ushers in the new era here as in the contemporary astrological scheme of Hellenism,† but it is not war waged upon Israel. The people of God may suffer in the conflict, but they are not the objects of the pagan campaign. (b) Then comes a campaign of God or messiah against the opponents of Israel, who are supposed to be instigated by Satan and his agents. This hope, which thrills through one class of apocalypses, including Enoch, Baruch, the Psalter or Solomon, and the early Jewish strata of the Sibylline Oracles, is still maintained in 2 Esdras 13:33 f. the colours of the sketch vary, from Isaiah 24-27 downwards, but the general outline remains the same; the assault of the massed pagans is a failure, and they are enslaved or annihilated, so that the saints can now enjoy the peace for which they have lived and longed. Nevertheless, these dreams of peace are always based on war; Jahweh or messiah must do for the people what they cannot do for themselves, i.e. rout and overpower the foe. ‘The allegiance of the nations is evidently thought of as growing out of their fear and awe in the presence of the irresistible God. He reigns as a great conqueror. He fights no more because there is nobody left to oppose him. The peace that is to prevail is a peace that has been conquered by the sword of Yahweh. The day of Yahweh which is to usher in the Golden Age is the day of battle upon which he from the heavens sets the battle in array and once for all overthrows all his foes, whether spiritual or temporal.’‡ As the demonology developed, the foes became more supernatural, not so much isolated powers as agencies of a transcendental evil realm; but the human instruments of the Satanic delusion were never entirely left out of the picture. Then (c) the closing battle between God and the spiritual hosts of Satan rounds oft’ the campaign and the drama of the ages. This is a single combat, so far as God or messiah is concerned; even less than in (b) is there any real place for hosts of men or of angels aiding the divine conqueror. They may escort Him, but by a breath or a word He wins the victory single-handed. Thus evil is finally routed where it originally arose-in the spiritual, supra-natural region.

Living in an atmosphere which was charged with such militant elements, an atmosphere breathed by some of the most ardent and earnest souls of the age, did Christianity in the early church become affected by this hot air? To answer this question, we must first of all glance at the Pauline eschatology and christology.

The prevalent idea that the crucifixion had been a disastrous strategical error on the part of the supernatural Powers of evil in the universe (1 Corinthians 2:8) was naturally connected with the idea that Jesus had then and there triumphed over these dethroned authorities of the present age. The forgiveness secured by Christ at His death and resurrection is, in one aspect, a signal triumph over the hostile demon-spirits (Colossians 2:13 f.): ‘he cut away the angelic Rulers and Powers from us, exposing them to all the world and triumphing (θριαμβεύσας) over them in the cross.’ They are disarmed and rendered impotent to injure Christians. St. Paul drives home the paradox by his military metaphor. The cross is not the ignominious defeat of Jesus; it marks the open subjugation of His supernatural foes, it is a trophy of His victory, which has decisively stripped them of their power. The metaphor is military, as in the martial quotation of Ephesians 4:8, but it is more than a metaphor. The human soul is beset by those real supernatural forces, and the victory of Jesus inaugurates the peace and freedom of His people (so 1 Peter 3:22). Thus it is that Athanasius (de Incarn. xxiv. 4) takes the crucifixion-although he proceeds, in his passion for demonology, to add (xxv. 5f.) that Jesus was lifted up on the cross to ‘clear the air’ from the demons who infested it and beset the human soul with their stratagems. In 1 Corinthians 15:23 f. the last battle in the campaign is described, when death is finally annihilated after the rout of all the anti-divine authorities and powers; then and only then does the triumphant Christ, at the end of the ages, hand over His royal authority to the Father. Even if τάγμα (‘each in his own division’) in 1 Corinthians 15:23 is not a military metaphor, as παρουσία, the visit of a potentate, certainly is, the following passage definitely depicts a Christian replica of (c) above, and human as well as supernatural foes are included in the rout which brings the messianic reign to a successful conclusion.* The influence of the tradition in the 110th psalm is felt here as elsewhere, even, e.g., in an epistle like Hebrews, where the primitive eschatological idea of the enthroned Christ waiting in heaven until His enemies are humiliated and forced to do homage, or, as the Oriental phrase went, ‘put under his feet’ (1 Corinthians 10:12 f.), is out of keeping with the author’s characteristic scheme of things. In Hebrews the expression is almost entirely figurative. But in the Pauline eschatology the realistic idea emerges in the apocalyptic prediction of 2 Thessalonians 1:7 f. and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 f., where the apostle hints that King Jesus must ultimately intervene to defeat the lawless one whom even the restraining power of the Roman empire could not hold in check. The mysterious opponent is a sort of false messiah, issuing from Judaism, and invested with a Satanic authority which produces apostasy on the verge of the end. The delusion sweeps Jews and pagans alike into an infatuated rebellion against God. St. Paul has nothing to say about the fate of Satan, who instigates the outburst. It is the victims and tools of Satan who are destroyed, those who at present persecute Christians and those who dare to engage in the last and imminent struggle to their own doom-‘men who will pay the penalty of being destroyed eternally.’ This apocalyptic prediction draws upon sagas like those in Daniel and in the Ascensio Isaiae; it is from the former especially that the note of self-deification as a trait of the last deceiver is derived.

Half a century later the ardent messianic hope of a campaign against antichrist (cf. DAC i. 67 f.), which breathes through this passage in 2 Thess., broke out again under the strain of the Domitianic persecution. In 2 Thess. the hot air of the later Judaism, with its apocalyptic anticipation of the jus talionis applied by God to the enemies of His people and His cause, produces a climax of history which is judicial* rather than distinctively military. The moral order is vindicated by an overwhelming manifestation of the divine glory which sweeps all enemies of Jesus and of Christians to ruin. The outraged conscience becomes indignant and even vindictive at the sight of cruelty to itself or to others. The relief of the distressed elect means the doom of their foes, and the encouragement offered is the hope of such a speedy and crushing intervention. Christians need not stir a finger. Their very suffering sets in motion the divine engine of retribution against these wanton foes of goodness. This is emphatic enough, but it is when we pass forward to the apocalypse of St. John (cf. DAC i. 71 f.) that we come upon what is by far the most explicit reproduction of this militant messianism, from the livid horse of Revelation 6:8 (for the horse is invariably a martial figure; cf. DAC i. 585 f.) on wards, amid the horrors and terrors of the period which the prophet anticipates in the near future, when Christians are harried ruthlessly by the authorities for refusing to join in the Imperial worship. The prophet repeats unflinchingly the message of Jesus: submit patiently to the trial (Revelation 13:9-10), do not resent the cruelty and injustice of the ordeal.

‘Let any one who has an ear listen:-Whoever is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes:† whoever kills by the sword, by the sword must he be killed. This is what shows the patience and faith of the saints,’ viz. abstaining from the use of force, when they were sent to prison or put to death for declining to invoke the emperor’s genius and throw a few grains of incense on the altar. Even when the pagan hordes from the East are roused by God to attack and destroy Rome, the saints rejoice, but it is the rejoicing of those who ‘stand still and see the salvation of God’ in the rout of their oppressor; they take no active part in the campaign.‡ The prophet maintains the primitive Christian standpoint on this issue. There is no question whatsoever of an armed revolt against the State. The duty of Christians is simply to wait, under any storm of persecution, until God intervenes to inaugurate the reign of the saints by destroying their tyrant. But this passivity is accompanied by a certain vindictiveness (cf. the taunt-song in Revelation 18 and Revelation 19:1 f.). Now vindictiveness, which is the temptation of moral indignation, is often more likely to beset those who can do nothing but look on than those who are able to take some active part in avenging atrocities. So it is here. The Christians exult over Rome’s doom, and their satisfaction is bound up with an attitude of grim quietism. This is thrown into relief against a singularly dramatic background of militant supernatural power in action, depicted on the ordinary lines of apocalyptic hope. Such a hope becomes intelligible when it is remembered that its heart is ‘the doctrine of the approaching Judgement, and the doctrine of the approaching Judgement was in essence an expression of the Jews’ unquenchable conviction that God would not altogether allow His Chosen People to perish in their struggle with the Civilization of the heathen world’ (Burkitt, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses, London, 1914, p. 49). Already this had been partially moralized and made transcendental. Now it is Christianized, perhaps as far as it ever could be. The prophet will have his people remain unintimidated by the last threats; he assures them that it is the fury of desperation-of a foe whose end is near. ‘The devil is come down to you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.’ St. John encourages the church by the thought that the quarrel between them and the Roman power is God’s affair, a Satanic challenge of their God which can have only one ending. But this thought is worked out in a series of predictions which are sometimes truculent and weird; the adversary of God is no longer a political power, it is an incarnation of supernatural evil; the Roman State is an inspiration of the devil, and the final struggle is between the protagonists of good and evil. This Asiatic Christian prophet allows no considerations of patriotism to qualify or check his exultant anticipations of the doom that is to fall upon the Roman empire. He anticipates, as some of the later Sibyllinists did, the triumph of the East over the West; only, the antipathy is based on a resentment not of Rome’s economic maladministration but of her irreligious policy in the Eastern and especially the Asiatic provinces. There is to be an end, before long, to the fascination, the impiety, and the luxury of Rome-all due to her possession by the evil one! The victory already won over the dragon in the upper world is being followed by the dragon’s final campaign on earth;* in the crushing offensive taken by God the prophet sees a bloody rout of the enemy, messiah in action as a triumphant conqueror, and the total destruction of all Satan’s hosts, human and supernatural. The divine retribution is worked out in history. The transcendental and supernatural transformation of messiah’s conquest is as obvious as in the later Jewish apocalyptic, more obvious indeed at several points, but this does not mean that the historical process is evaporated into a spiritual sequence. The book lent itself to allegory, but allegory was the last thing in the writer’s mind. The author or prophet is dealing with realities of this world; the Roman religious policy is to him the supreme device of Satan, and the seriousness of the situation calls out the powers of God and His messiah. It is a holy war which ends in a ghas

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wandering Stars'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse:
Prev Entry
Next Entry