Did Jesus Come to Bring Peace—or Turmoil?
by Caleb Colley, Ph.D.
[NOTE: During the February 12, 2009 Darwin Day debate with Kyle Butt, Dan Barker listed 14 alleged Bible discrepancies as evidence against God’s existence. He stated (nine minutes and 50 seconds into his opening speech) that the Bible gives contradictory descriptions of God and Christ being peaceful, while at the same time bringing about turmoil and war. His allegation is refuted in the following article written by Caleb Colley in 2004.]
Militant, violent, religious extremists have caused legitimate concern for America’s security. In Palestine, on the very soil Jesus walked, people kill each other in warfare motivated by religion. Do the teachings of Christ authorize or encourage such behavior? In John 14:27, Jesus said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Some have charged that Jesus’ promise of peace in that verse contradicts His message in Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Did Jesus come to Earth to bring peace—or turmoil?
Based on scriptural evidence, it is indisputable that Jesus wants His followers to have peace. The words “Christ” and “peace” are found together in the same verse no less than 24 times in the New King James Version. Consider Philippians 1:2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:2 reads: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul urged the Thessalonians, “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13). The message of Christ is called “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15), and Philippians 4:7 says that the peace of God “surpasses all understanding” and that peace will guard the hearts and minds of Christians. Jesus, Who is called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6, most definitely came to bring peace.
Could it also be that Jesus came to bring turmoil? Certainly. In the context of Matthew 10:34, Jesus was explaining to His disciples that the Gospel, in some cases, would cause division. A son would believe in Jesus, but his father might not. A mother would believe, but her daughter might refuse even to hear the Gospel. In Matthew 10:37-38, Jesus presented a hard truth: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” Richard Lenski offered insight into the implications of the “turmoil” brought by Christ:
The idea is this: if Christ had not come, the earth would have gone on undisturbed in its sin and its guilt until the day of its doom. Now Christ came to take away that sin and that guilt. At once war resulted, for in their perversion men clung to their sin, fought Christ and the gospel, and thus produced two hostile camps. Christ foresaw this effect and willed it. Emphatically He declared that He came to throw a sword on the earth. Better the war and the division, saving as many as possible, than to let all perish in their sin (1943, p. 415).
Many react with hostility to the Gospel. This is not because Christ’s teaching promotes hostility (see Matthew 5:44; 7:12; John 13:14; 13:35), but because Jesus’ teachings are highly controversial. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus did not mean to suggest that His purpose was to bring hostility or turmoil, but that hostility would, in some cases, be an effect of His teaching (Barnes, 1949, p. 115). It always will be the case that some people will respond negatively to Christ’s teachings, for some always will prefer spiritual darkness to the light of Jesus (John 3:19). Christ, Who came to Earth to bring both peace and turmoil, never contradicted Himself.
Barnes, Albert (1949), Notes on the New Testament: Matthew and Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Lenksi, Richard C. H. (1943), The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).