The Divine Right of Resistance
The Divine Right of Resistance
Phillip Kayser
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THE USE OF NARRATIVE PASSAGES IN THIS BOOK

This book draws from over 200 Scriptural examples of men and women who resisted tyranny.

Some people caution against drawing lessons from narrative. “Narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive,” they point out. But we do have ways of knowing how God wants us to interpret and learn from the narratives He has given us in His Word. As we look at the actions of a character from Scripture, we should ask:

  • Does God’s moral law speak to whether the actions here were right or wrong? How do this character’s actions line up with God’s moral law? (Obviously, any moral rule we think we find in the passage must be laid down first in the law of God. If it isn’t commanded or forbidden in the law, it isn’t a rule.)
  • Did God Himself speak favorably or unfavorably of the action?
  • Did Jesus engage in an action?
  • If the disciples did it, did Jesus approve?
  • If it’s in the Prophets, do we see God blessing or judging the people for doing it?
  • Does the structure of the passage give clues to defining the ethical lessons? (For instance, the parallelism in Proverbs and other chiastic structures are used to contrast good and bad, wisdom and folly, and more.)

The heroes and heroines used as good examples in this book all followed actions that were lawful (as defined by God’s law). These actions were either praised by God, blessed by God, praised by Jesus, instructed by Jesus, or demonstrated by Jesus.

May God give us the grace to learn from the saints He has given us as examples.

1. THE WHY OF CHRISTIAN RESISTANCE

CAN A CHRISTIAN RESIST TYRANTS AND OBEY ROMANS 13?

Church shutdowns, Christians forbidden to meet, Christian businesses forced to close, weapons outlawed, sidewalk preaching banned, accusations of thought crimes — are today’s dystopian headlines a sign that the end is near?

Actually, this list is not from today’s headlines; it’s from the 1st century AD. This was Jesus’ own political landscape. This was the political climate in which He and the apostles stood before unjust judges, faced illegal arrest, navigated illegal weapons bans and gave the church concrete examples of the why, when, where, and how of godly resistance to tyranny.

As our own political situation gets hotter, the questions of how and when to resist become ever more practical and urgent. Is there anything I can do to stop my state’s slide into madness? What should I do if I’m arrested for singing psalms? Or when officers come into my church because we are meeting? How will I know how to respond to whatever the next election throws my way? Do I have to obey every state mandate except ones that require me to sin? Are “liberty or death” my only options? When is a ruler a tyrant? Doesn’t Romans 13 forbid resisting authorities at all?

These are not new challenges — not to God, or to the church. God has filled His Scriptures with principles that answer these questions, as well as hundreds of examples of ordinary men and women living out those principles in situations a lot like ours — when their civil rights were denied, when their magistrates were flaunting unlawful marriages, when weapons were banned, when they were forbidden to preach or meet together.

Tyrants have always used these same tactics (and worse) to try to wipe out or silence God’s people, and God’s people have a glorious history of overcoming “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11). Of preaching in defiance to tyrannical Caesars. Of engaging in centuries of civil disobedience to occupying powers, like the saints praised in Hebrews 11:33-38 as “men of whom the world was not worthy.” Of calling kings to repentance (like Jonah and Nathan the prophet did) and seeing repentance actually happen.

Those biblical heroes and heroines kept the faith and fought the good fight by practicing the divine right of resistance to tyranny during tests just like ours. And it’s time for us to learn how to do the same.

Does Romans 13 Keep Us From Imitating Biblical Heroes?

If our theology is producing a different kind of Christian than we see God praise in the Bible, it’s worth taking another look. The current popular interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 would never produce men and women like the ones praised in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11.

What is the “authority” in Romans 13 that we are not to resist? Authority (ἐξουσία, exousia) is the freedom or the right to act within boundaries set by God. Only God has absolute authority, and any human that claims absolute authority is a tyrant. God delegates authority to individuals (see Adam and the dominion mandate), to families (see role relations in marriage, the authority to procreate, discipline, etc.), to churches (the authority to disciple, give or withhold sacraments, discipline, etc.), and to various branches of civil government (the authority to enforce limited penalties on the specific sins that Scripture defines as crimes). This authority to act within a God-authorized sphere is a right delegated by God and bounded by God’s law.

Most modern interpretations of Romans 13:1-7 say that God gives the state absolute authority in civil matters, and that we’re to be subject to all civil laws except those that command us to sin or renounce Christ.

This “submit-with-some-exceptions” view of Romans 13 fails to explain two things:

  1. Scripture’s God-condoned examples of resistance, including Christ’s own example, go far beyond the typical exceptions allowed by this viewpoint.
  2. The absolute and universal language found in Romans 13:1-7 (e.g. “let every soul be subject,” “there is no authority except from God”) leaves no room for any exceptions (including commands to sin).

There are only two views that take the absolute and universal language of these verses seriously:

  • The Divine Right of Kings view, which says that the king’s law is as God’s law and the king’s authority is as binding as God’s authority, making any disobedience to the king or his officers automatically disobedience to God. This is sometimes summarized as Rex Lex (the king is law).
  • The Regulative Principle of Government view (the dominant Reformed view in history), which says that the king can command and enforce no law other than the law of God contained in the Scriptures. Christ as the King (1 Tim. 6:15) and only Lawgiver (James 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:16-17) demands that civil magistrates neither add to nor subtract from His statutes (Deut. 5:32) and be subject themselves to all His statutes, not turning “aside from the commandment to the right or to the left” (Deut. 17:19-20). This is sometimes summarized as Lex Rex (the law is king).

I believe Romans 13:1-7 completely rules out every other view except the Regulative Principle of Government (Lex Rex). Let’s look at seven clauses in the text:

 

1. “Let every soul be subject…” (v. 1a).

Whatever type of obedience God is commanding here, He leaves no human exceptions. How then do we understand the example of Jesus, Who disobeyed direct orders of civil authorities on several occasions (Matt. 26:62-63; Matt. 27:13-14; Matt. 26:68) and commanded His disciples to disobey civil authorities on certain issues — like commanding them to illegally possess swords1 (Luke 22:36-38) or commanding them to refuse to turn themselves in to magistrates who persecute them (Matt. 10:23)? What about the apostles, who when commanded to stop preaching, disobeyed, saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)? Our interpretation of Romans 13 must be able to reconcile all such examples with the command that “every soul” must be subject.

The Regulative Principle view says that every soul must be subject to the civil government as it exercises the authority God has granted it within the pages of Biblical law, and that to disobey that rightful authority is indeed to disobey God. This verse commands submission to lawful authority, and forbids revolution.

 

2. “For there is no authority except from God” (v. 1b).

The Divine Right of Kings theory would insist that all authority exercised by Pilate, Caesar, Ahab, Pharaoh, and other civil magistrates was truly God-given authority. If so, why would God have authorized resistance to them? Would that not be authorizing resistance to Himself? When Christ gave Christians authority (ἐξουσίαν, exousian) over the nations to smash them with Christ’s rod of iron for their rebellion against Christ’s authority (Rev. 2:26-27 with Psalm 2), would that not be smashing God’s authority? If this verse means that all human authority, of all types, is from God — rather than that all legitimate human authority is delegated by God — why does God say it was “the dragon who gave authority to the beast”? (Rev. 13:4). Revelation explicitly says that civil tyrants exercise the authority (ἐξουσίαν, exousian) of demons. Revelation 6 describes Tiberius (vv. 1-2), Caligula (vv. 3-4), Claudius (vv. 5-6), and Nero (vv. 7-16) as all being ministers of the demons who controlled them (the demon-riders of the horses). The emperor of Rome at the time Revelation was written (cf. 17:10 for timing) was explicitly said to be serving the Beast and under the authority of this demonic “Beast” (Revelation 13:1-10; 17:1-18) who came up from the pit of hell (11:7; 17:8). “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority (ἐξουσίαν, exousian)” (Rev. 13:2; cf. ἐξουσία, exousia in Rev. 13:4, 5, 7, 12; 17:12-13; etc.).2

The text of Romans 13:1 literally says, “there is no authority (ἐξουσία, exousia) if not (εἰ μὴ, ei mē) from God.” The word “authority” is in the feminine case. Paul was not be referring to the people in charge (like Nero, Pilate, and Caiaphas). Instead, he must be referring to either the legal authority or the office in which the authority resides. It is not a reference to a particular emperor (such as Nero), but a universal application of a principle.

With James Willson I define ἐξουσία, exousia as “the institution of civil rule.”3 This includes the God-given offices and the legal authority that God has invested in those lawful offices.

The Regulative Principle interpretation interprets this passage to mean that there is no legitimate authority except the authority delegated from God in the pages of Scripture.

 

3. “…And the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (v. 1c).

This may actually be the strongest argument in favor of the Divine Right of Kings theory. Surely this clause means that the governmental officers that currently existed when Paul wrote this epistle were all appointed by God — and since each one was appointed by God, everything that follows applies to Nero and therefore to any other de facto king or ruler. Surely the word “exist” will rule out the Reformed theory that we respect and submit to the office, but not necessarily to every whim of the officer! But no, we will see that such an interpretation contradicts passages such as Hosea 8:4, Revelation 13:4; etc. Let’s tease this clause apart.

As already mentioned, scholars have taken the Greek word for “authorities” (ἐξουσίαι, exousiai) as either referring to the institutions of civil rule (as James Willson takes it — see above) or as referring “to the individuals who are in office.”4 The Divine Right of Kings view takes it to refer to all individuals who are in office. Second, the Greek word for “appointed” (τάσσω, tassō) has two definitions: “1. to bring about an order of things by arranging, arrange, put in place… [or] 2. to give instructions as to what must be done, order, fix, determine, appoint.”5 If the first definition is meant, then it would refer to God’s providential putting of the individual officers into position, and if the second definition was meant it would refer to the authority of God by which officers find their legitimacy. Divine Right of Kings viewpoints generally take the first definition — in other words, we are to submit because God placed those kings in government by His providence. But even if a Divine Right of Kings advocate were to say that it means that God approves of each and every civil magistrate, we have the same problems throughout clauses 4-7. Consider the following problems with the Divine Right of Kings viewpoint on this clause.

Does God set up kings in the first definition of τάσσω, tassō? Obviously yes. He ordains all things that come to pass, including Satan. He is sovereign over all things and His providence has raised up evil empires, sickness, plagues, and other calamities to punish Israel. As James Willson points out, “Even the devil has ‘power’ in this sense from God,”6 and though God allows Satan to be the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) for a time, that does not warrant our blind subjection to Satan, sickness, or other plagues. Willson points out that evil governments are providentially ordained in the same sense that “pestilence is God’s ordinance, existing in his providence, but to be shunned and banished as soon as possible.”7 But that does not seem to fit the context of submission that Paul is advocating. Providence alone does not warrant blind submission since providence even governs the sins of sinners (without involving God in sin).

Let’s consider the alternative definition: Does God ordain all kings in the second definition of τάσσω, tassō (“to give instructions as to what must be done, order, fix, determine, appoint”)? Hosea 8:4 said of the current rulers of northern Israel, “They set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.” It is clear that the rulers were duly chosen by the people (“They set up kings… they made princes”) yet God denied that He had set them up and He insisted that He would not acknowledge them to be legitimate authorities since “Israel has rejected the good” (v. 3). This was very similar to the situation of King Saul. God explicitly rejected Saul as king (1 Sam. 15:26; 16:1), and therefore the people should have impeached him as unqualified for office. Yet, until the people impeached Saul or until Saul was providentially removed by death, David felt that he could not resist any of Saul’s lawful orders. In other words, David honored the office, but did not have blind submission to the person. Likewise, with the bestial kingdom of Revelation 13:2, “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority” and God fights against that empire in the book of Revelation.

The bottom line is that no matter which definition of either Greek word a Divine Rights of Kings advocate might apply, he will find his interpretation contradicted by other Scriptures. It is better to understand the phrase the way Andrew Melville, James Willson, and other Reformed greats have understood it. The word authorities (ἐξουσίαι, exousiai) should be seen as referring to the civic institutions (that is, the God-given offices and the legal authority that God has invested in those lawful offices) and the word “ordained” (τάσσω, tassō) should be seen as having the second definition. As Willson worded it:

God has willed the existence of a national organization and polity; and, in so doing, has fixed its ends, which it must subserve; has given it a supreme law, which it must observe; has bound it by limits which it may not pass over. In short, God has ‘ordained’ [his footnote says “ordered”] civil government as Christ has ordained the ministry of reconciliation, not by merely willing its existence, but by prescribing its duties, its functions, its ends, and its limitations.

No other meaning can be affixed to the language of the apostle, consistently with due reverence for Him who is the Holy One and the Just, the rightful and beneficent moral Governor.8

 

4. “Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God…” (v. 2a).

Would resisting Pharaoh, Saul, Ahab, or Caesar have counted as resisting God? If so, why were Moses, David, Jehu, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Paul praised or blessed for doing it? What authority is God forbidding us to resist? If He means all authority exercised by all magistrates, then this universal “whoever” leaves no exceptions for the resistance of Jesus, the apostles, or any of the others outlined in later chapters. However, as seen in the previous point, Revelation distinguishes between the de facto authority of demons (which some magistrates do exercise, and which God authorized His saints to resist) and the de jure authority of God.

 

5. “…And those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (v. 2b).

Notice again that the verse leaves no room for exceptions. Why then, did the Holy Spirit stir up the entire church to pray with one voice that God would empower them to disobey Pontius Pilate, Herod, and the Jewish leaders (Acts 4:23-31 — after Peter and John had been arrested for disobeying preaching bans)? Biblical heroes who resisted even unto death are honored by God and not judged. This verse is describing those who resist God’s authority, not those who resist demonic authority.

 

6. “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same” (v. 3). “For he is God’s minister to you for good” (v. 4a).

Is God here describing all rulers — such as Caligula and Nero, who were a terror to good works, and practiced and supported evil? How about the “rulers (ἄρχοντες, archontes) [who] delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him” (Luke 24:20)? How about the emperor of Rome, of whom God said, when he was about to cast some of the saints of Smyrna into prison, “The devil is about to throw some of you into prison” (Rev. 2:10)? Were Pharaoh, Jezebel, and Herod God’s ministers for good?

Neither the Divine Right Theory nor the “submit with exceptions” theory can satisfy the absolute statements being made in this verse. God is either describing all rulers, or only those for whom these statements are actually true — rulers who rule in accordance with God’s Word, as they rule in accordance with God’s Word.

 

7. “But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (v. 4b).

Does this verse describe Herod and Pharaoh and their use of the magisterial sword to kill Hebrew babies?

Notice the lack of exceptions: All magistrates described in this verse 1) act as God’s ministers, 2) do not bear the sword in vain, 3) avenge wrath on those who practice evil (and on no others), and 4) instill fear in those who practice evil. Does this describe all magistrates?

Romans 13:1-7 only makes sense if the command to submit refers specifically to those magistrates who meet the qualifications it lays out. These descriptions simply are not true of the tyrants in Scripture. Romans 13 makes no sense as a tribute to all human authority, or a command to submit to all human authority. As John R. Stott worded it, Paul “is stating the divine ideal, not the human reality.”9 This passage actually demoted the authority of the Roman officials, clarifying that they stand under the authority of the one true God and have power and authority only insofar as he has given it to them.

In other words, I believe Romans 13 is describing what has been historically held as the Regulative Principle of Government: That the state has no powers except the powers given specifically by God, and is only divinely authorized to command and enforce what God specifically allows them to command and enforce. Christ as the King (1 Tim. 6:15) and only Lawgiver (James 4:12) defines the jurisdictions and powers of the magistrate. When kings transgress the limits of their authority, they stand in sin.

The text literally says, “there is no authority if not from God,” which means there is no legitimate authority if that authority does not come from God in the pages of Scripture. Civil officers have zero authority (“no authority”) to command anything of their citizens that the law of God has not authorized them to command. When Pilate claimed that he had authority to crucify Jesus or to release Him (John 19:10), Jesus absolutely denied that “Rex Lex” statement, saying, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11 ESV). Let’s examine this latter verse in full:

Jesus answered, “You could have no authority (ἐξουσίαν, exousian) at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)

It might be thought that Jesus was simply saying that Pilate could have no authority unless the emperor Tiberius (the authority directly “above” Pilate) had given Pilate that authority. Such an interpretation fails on several levels. I will just mention one. Jesus’s “therefore” in the second clause of John 19:11 shows a logical connection between the “greater sin” of Caiaphas10 who handed Jesus over to Pilate and the first sentence. If the first sentence means that Tiberius gave Pilate his authority over Jesus, then why does that logically necessitate that Caiaphas had greater sin? If, on the other hand, the first sentence (in parallel with the first B of the chiasm) shows that Pilate could have no authority over Jesus unless God had authorized that authority, then the next sentence makes perfect sense — especially if the “one who delivered Me to you” is Caiaphas, the high priest. The phrase “greater sin” shows that Pilate is in sin to a lesser degree. But how could that be true if Rex Lex were the standard? It only makes sense that Pilate is in sin if Rex Lex is false and Lex Rex is true. The first sentence affirms the Lex Rex statement that Pilate has no authority except the authority that God Himself gives. This would demonstrate Pilate’s sin in condemning Jesus. But Caiaphas is held in even greater sin since he had the Scriptures, and with greater knowledge comes greater guilt.11

Psalm 94:20 says, “Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You?” God defines justice by a different standard than what a civic administration says is justice. Rulers who institutionalize injustice through their statutes are wicked; they do not have His approval. This whole psalm calls rulers to account for their refusal to submit to God’s wisdom in civics. Likewise, Psalm 2 clearly shows kings to be in sin when they throw off God’s laws (vv. 1-3), when they fail to be instructed by the Lord (v. 10), when they fail to serve Jesus with fear (vv. 11-12). Acts 4:25-28 makes it clear that Psalm 2 was predicting opposition to the kingship of Jesus in New Covenant times, putting sinful blame upon Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the rulers of Israel for casting off the bonds of Christ.

Put simply, Romans 13 does not forbid civil disobedience. It cannot. On the contrary, it lays the groundwork for why resistance is sometimes necessary. It’s not just instruction for us on how to respond to our magistrates — it’s also instruction for the magistrates themselves. It’s the divine definition of the role of ruler, and gives us the absolute standard we are to hold our magistrates to, so we can determine when a magistrate needs to be instructed, rebuked, resisted, or replaced.

Why Your Magistrate Is Your Business

Too many people take a passive approach to civics, as if it were a one-way relationship: Magistrates decree and we obey. Magistrates tax and we pay. Magistrates run and we vote (or don’t). But God calls us to be involved in the lives of magistrates on several levels. Godly rule is a team effort. Just as magistrates should praise and support upright citizens (Rom. 13:3), citizens should support and submit to godly magistrates (Rom. 13:1-8).

Our relationship with our magistrates is not — despite what secular views of government say — a civil contract. The kings of Romans 13 are not called servants of the people, but servants of God. In other words, the relationship is vertical and horizontal; it is a three-way covenantal relationship between magistrate, God, and citizen. God is the boss who defines their every duty and civil officers are the “servants” who obey their duty to their master. Magistrates and citizens alike are bound to duties to one another, under God, by this same covenant. The citizen and the magistrate both report first to God, and they each have responsibilities to hold each other to that obedience to God.

King Josiah and his people illustrated this covenantal reality of their relationship in 2 Kings 23:1-3, when King Josiah summoned “the priests and the prophets and all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord. Then the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people took a stand for the covenant.”

In this story, each party of the covenant had duties and authority, and God built this covenantal aspect into every institution He established. In biblical law, the family, church, and state were clearly defined and separated, and the leaders and followers in all three institutions were given mutual responsibility to make sure the covenant was kept intact. The authority of a father over his family, for instance, was not absolute; Deuteronomy 13:6-11 shows that if any family member became an idolater, the other family members could interpose and turn them over to the Lord. The same chapter said that if a city broke covenant with God, other magistrates could interpose and resist those apostates. No civil magistrate had absolute power to expect obedience, just as no father or priest had absolute power to expect obedience; the obedience required was always “in the Lord” (cf. Col. 3:18 and Eph. 6:1).

Romans 13 says that magistrates are to be God’s servants (Rom. 13:4) with the role of implementing the “ordinance of God” (Rom. 13:2), being a terror to what God considers evil, and praising what God considers good (Rom. 13:3). When they carry out their duty well, 1 Timothy 2:2 says that it will promote peace and godliness in society. Psalm 2 is a prophecy of Jesus in the New Covenant which Acts 1 applied to Herod, Pilate, and the rulers of Israel as all being accountable to God and about to be dashed with Christ’s rod of iron because they failed to kiss the Son. Psalm 2 is quite clear that all kings are responsible to covenant with Jesus and follow His laws, and that they will perish if they cast off His laws.

If, on the other hand, citizens break the covenant by being lawless, the state has authority to enforce the covenant if crimes have been involved, and the church has authority to enforce the covenant if public sins have been involved.

Before we look at what each party in this civil covenant should do when the covenant is broken, let’s look at the duties of the covenant.

 

The Magistrate’s Responsibilities to You

  1. The state is authorized by God to execute murderers, kidnappers, and in special cases can give capital punishment as a maximum penalty for 19 other capital crimes (Gen. 9:5-7; Ex. 21:12-14; Numb. 35; etc.).12
  2. A local, state, or national government can engage in defensive wars (Deut. 20:1-20). I say defensive because the whole tenor of the law is against offensive wars that meddled in the affairs of other nations (Deut. 2:5,19; 17:16). They were also able to have a selective draft for the military, though this was able to be avoided by citizens (Numb. 31:3-7).
  3. Courts and executive branches of civil government were authorized to enforce restitution to a victim based on the guidance given in God’s law (Ex. 22:1-17; Lev. 6:5; Numb. 5:7). This includes loss from theft (Ex. 20:1-15; Deut. 23:24-25), moving of landmarks (Deut. 19:14), damages to private property due to fires and other direct damages (Exodus 21:19-36), and the use of unjust weights and measures (Lev. 19:35-37; Deut. 25:13-16).
  4. Imposing Biblical penalties upon those who in any way harm others through physical assault (Ex. 21:18-27; Lev. 24:19-20). Those laws at least punish people who deliberately spread AIDS, Hepatitis, and other diseases. Connected to this there is the possible imposition of limited quarantine to protect the healthy from virulent life-threatening diseases (Numb. 31:19-24; Lev. 13-14).
  5. To punish adultery (Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10; Deut. 5:18; 22:22-25), rape (Deut. 22:25-29), prostitution (Deut. 23:17 with Lev. 19:29; 21:9), seduction of a virgin (Ex. 22:16,17; Deut. 22:28-29), incest (Lev. 18:6-18; Deut. 22:30), and sodomy and bestiality (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 18:22,23; 20:13,15,16; Deut. 23:17)
  6. Protecting the defenseless (Ex. 21:22; Deut. 10:18; 24:17-22; 27:19).
  7. A very limited role in defining safety codes, but not policing them (Ex. 21:28-36; Deut. 22:8).
  8. A very limited role in ensuring sanitation (Deut. 23:9-14).
  9. A very limited role in building main-artery roads that interconnect the borders of the nation for defensive purposes and to allow citizens access to courts of justice (Deut. 19:3; see Judges 5:6; 20:31-32; 21:19; 2 Sam. 20:12-13; Isa. 33:8; cf. Isa. 11:16; 19:23; 49:11; 62:10 for God’s positive views about highways).
  10. Collecting taxes for the purpose of carrying out the just mentioned civil functions (Rom. 13:6f.). This tax was a head tax of one half shekel of silver (about one-fifth of an ounce) per male adult once a year (Ex. 30:11-6).

You can search the Bible from cover to cover and you will be hard pressed to find anything beyond these things allowed in civics. There is no mention in the law for any role of the civil government in education, welfare, printing money, overseeing the nation’s economy, or any of the other myriad agencies, boards, and committees that control most nations today.

Note that the powers God gives to the state are explicitly enumerated (Deut. 17:19-20; cf. 5:32; Rom. 13:1). Everything the king could do was laid down in “this law and these statutes” (Deut. 17:19), and he was commanded to “not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left” of those laws (Deut. 17:20). This means that God’s laws were not simply general guidelines; they were limits on the king’s power. If the powers aren’t enumerated in the Bible, they don’t exist.

And even with the spheres God entrusted to the state, God also specified that he doesn’t want the state getting too big or powerful. So, the powers God gives the state are also limited in degree and scope13 (Deut. 5:32; 17:18-20; Rom. 13:1; 2 Kings 23:3; John 19:11). In Deuteronomy 17, God imposed three severe restrictions14 on state growth:

  • Limits on kings’ military power (forbidding them to multiply horses, the offensive weapons of the ancient world, v. 16a).
  • Limits on their political alliances by marriage (forbidding them to multiply wives to themselves, v. 17).
  • Limits on the size of their financial war-chests (“nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself,” v. 17). This restriction, plus the fact that the only tax allowed on citizens was the head tax (see above), would severely limit the powers of a civil government.

In other words, the state was responsible before God to protect and empower its citizens by protecting good and punishing evil, staying in its lane, and staying a manageable size.

 

Your Responsibilities to the Magistrate

Romans 13 shows that citizens, as subjects of this covenant, also have duties to their magistrates. Their duties to the magistrate involve submission to lawful authority (v. 5), paying lawful taxes that are owed (v. 7), giving fear and honor to those in authority (v. 7), and being responsible and loving citizens (vv. 8-10). They do this not as a social contract, but as a duty to God, and thus their conscience in this relationship is bound by God’s Word — not by the state’s requirements.

In more detail, our responsibilities as citizens are:

  1. To pay all taxes owed. Biblical law allows for two taxes: a head tax (which amounts to one silver coin per year per male adult), and reparations owed due to broken treaties, government theft, or restitution for ungodly wars.15
  2. If an adult male, to serve in the military in the event of a just war. Judges 5 pronounces God’s curses upon citizens who refused to join in a just war of defense. Even so, the law authorized several exemptions from military service, including for the fearful (Deut. 20:3-9). Knowing how to own and bear arms is a duty expected in God’s law (Numb. 1:45-46, Ex. 32:27).
  3. To engage in jury duty in order to deliver a citizen out of the hands of an unjust civic officer (Numb. 35:24-25).
  4. To support lower magistrates in interposition, and where possible, to engage in interposition oneself (Judges 5:23, Psalm 94:16).
  5. To respect and honor civil officers (Ex. 22:28; Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13f.). Anarchy and revolution would be a violation of these Scriptures.
  6. To regularly pray for civil magistrates (1 Tim. 2:1-4; 2 Chron. 17:4; Jer. 29:7).
  7. To help godly candidates into office (implication of Deut. 1:13; and the example of those who support David in 2 Sam. 2:3-4; 17:27-29; 1 Chron. 12:17-18; etc.).
  8. To bring moral rebuke against tyranny (Mark 6:17f.).
  9. To support the realm by faithfully living out the individual callings we have to the dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-30).
  10. To call the nation to come into covenant with Christ (Psalm 2) and to submit to Christ’s universal Lordship by observing God’s law (Matt. 28:18-20), saying, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths” (Isa. 2:3).

 

Conclusion

2 Kings 11 shows the three-way nature of this covenant that gives civic responsibilities to both rulers and ruled: “Then Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD, the king, and the people, that they should be the LORD’s people, and also between the king and the people” (v. 17). The Lord covenants with the king and the people; the king covenants with the Lord and with the people; and the people covenant with the Lord and with the king. They are bound in mutual dependence and mutual accountability. There are several things we can deduce from this three-way covenantal concept.

First, because this is a three-way covenant with God and mediated by God, we are always dealing primarily with God, and the results will always be determined by God. This means that God’s word, rather than pragmatics, has to be our rule of conduct, just as it must be for the magistrate. If they are not above the law, neither are we; if God’s law limits what they can do, it limits what we can do too.

Second, there are consequences to both ruler and citizen for breaking this covenant. If our magistrates break covenant, God will not hold them guiltless (Psalm 2). And if we break covenant, as (for instance) Israel did when they rejected God as king in 1 Samuel 8, God will deal with us too — possibly chastising us by giving us a tyrannical magistrate (as He did in response to the Israelites, 1 Sam. 8:9-18).

Third, since we are in covenantal relationship all the time, not solely during crises of liberty or justice, our responsibilities to civics continue as long as there are civil governments — even when civil governments are righteous, even during non-election years, even when our favorite candidate is in office, and even when our biggest personal hot-button issues aren’t at stake. Our relationship with our magistrates should be continuous, not be emergency-response only:

  • Making sure rulers understand (or are reminded of) what the covenant requires.
  • Praying for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1-7), and asking God to judge rulers who refuse to kiss the Son (Psalm 2).
  • Seeking to be faithful citizens as unto the Lord.

Christ’s Insistence That You Help Turn the Tide

But what if my magistrate isn’t a Christian, you might ask? How can I expect him to care about what God says about his job? Are you saying we need to work on the symptoms instead of the root? Isn’t evangelism a higher priority than political change?

Jesus answers all these questions in Matthew 28:18-20, in his final instructions to his disciples regarding their work on earth: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The four uses of the word “all” in Matthew 28:18-20 — when we look at them closely — should revolutionize our lives and give us a fire and energy to be active and bold with our civil magistrates and our culture.

All Authority: Jesus said, “All authority has been given me in heaven and on earth.” It is especially the civil government that many think is exempt from Christ’s authority. But Psalm 2 commands kings and nations to serve the Lord with fear, and to kiss the Son lest He be angry and that nation perish in its way. We have to remind our magistrates that the power they wield is delegated authority from Christ (Rom. 13:1-7; Deut. 17:18-20). Jesus said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).

Issues of state overreach aren’t just about us and our rights; they’re first and foremost about Christ’s rights. When Christ’s magistrates are disobeying His words, rejecting His claims, and oppressing His people, we have responsibilities to disciple these kings and nations and teach them to observe what Christ has commanded. Representing God and His word to your magistrates is not just about your rights; it’s about making disciples of all nations.

All Nations: Christ commands us to make disciples of all the nations. Not just of a few individuals — the literal Greek reads disciple “all nations.” His goal is a comprehensive vision of victory: Christian nations. That makes sense if He has been given all authority on earth. Go therefore implies that the commission is as extensive as His authority. And if you’re tempted to wonder what one person could do, remember — He was talking about world conquest to twelve disciples!

All the Word: “…teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” We are not authorized to pick and choose what we will teach. In Matthew 5 Jesus told us what to teach — the whole Bible. In Matthew 5:17-19, He says, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ wants us to teach every one of the Old Testament laws relating to nations. Old Testament law teaches us stewardship principles of ecology, not socialistic green ecology. It teaches us principles of economics, politics, art, mathematics, and philosophy. In fact, it gives us every axiom needed to form the foundation for our nation, and our assignment from Christ is to teach these things to all nations — including the nations’ magistrates.

All the Days: The Greek says literally, “Lo, I with you all the days (πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας, pasas tas hēmeras), even to the end of the age.” We are not left on our own. It would have been a farce to think twelve disciples could conquer the world without Christ. Hebrews 13 calls us into the spiritual conquest with exactly the same stirring words God gave to Joshua just before His physical conquest: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5-9). But here is an important point: God will not fight our battles in place of us. He has not promised to go instead of us; He has promised to go with us.

In other words, the Great Commission is the risen and conquering King commanding His foot-soldiers to advance His Kingdom until every individual in all nations are baptized and are obeying all things found in the Word of God. Those are our marching orders. We may not quit until that is accomplished. The same Jesus who has all authority and power both commands us and goes with us in His Great Commission.

Christ’s Promise That He Will Turn the Tide

There are many who feel like giving up on their civic duties during times of apostasy like ours. Why resist a specific overreach of government when everything is going downhill anyway? I can understand people’s discouragement when our efforts seem wasted. But I want to encourage you with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58. Because the cross reverses history, Paul said:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Your labor is not in vain. Some people argue that the Scripture itself says that it is too late for repentance. But we must never say it is impossible for God. Jonah’s message of repentance may have seemed impossible when he came to the wicked city of Nineveh, yet that entire city repented because he did what he was supposed to do, and Christ said that it was a genuine repentance. Can God do the same today? Yes, His hand is not too short that it cannot save. The question is, do we have faith?

Jeremiah 18:7-9 says that we should not give up on a nation as being too far gone. It says, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it.” He’s saying, “Don’t give up on a nation. Call it to repentance. Do something. There is always hope if there is still time for repentance.”

But aren’t we fighting against prophecy by trying to change civics? Doesn’t Jesus say that things are going to get worse and worse in the last days?

My response is twofold. First, regardless of results, the duty is ours. In Isaiah 6 God called Isaiah to the ministry and explicitly told him that he was to preach his heart out, but the nation would not listen. Was that wasted preaching? No. God was still glorified. And the remnant were benefited as well. And a later generation used his words to help rebuild civilization.

But second, the prophecy of things getting worse and worse in the last days is a reference to the last days leading up to AD 70. I explain why more fully in my Revelation sermon series,16 but if you examine every reference to the phrase “last days” you will see that it refers to the last days of Israel as a nation. Once Jerusalem was destroyed and Israel scattered among the nations, the last days were ended. And Christ had prophesied He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).

People might respond, but doesn’t Paul describe Satan as “the god of this world”? Yes, he does (2 Cor. 4:4). And what happens to the god of this world? He is conquered. Revelation 12 says that the 1st-century saints overcame Him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. Unlike the saints of the Old Testament, we are dealing with an enemy that has “fallen” and was “thrown down” (Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:9). His kingdom has been replaced by God’s (Dan. 7; Luke 11:20). He was “crushed” under the foot of the early church (Rom. 16:20). His works have been and are being destroyed (1 John 3:8). He is defeated, disarmed, and spoiled (Col 2:15; Rev. 12:7f.; Mark 3:27). His power is restricted and restrained (2 Thess. 2:6f.). He has been rendered “powerless over believers” (Heb. 2:14). He has lost “authority” over Christians (Col. 1:13). He must “flee” when “resisted” (James 4:7). His demonic hordes are subject to the authority of Christians (Matt. 10-12; Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1; 10:19; 1 John 4:4; Rev. 12:9; etc.)

Isaiah 9:6 tells us who is ruler over this world now, beginning in the 1st century. It says: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” Notice that His kingdom doesn’t come in all at once with a bang — it starts at the first coming and grows gradually. It keeps increasing.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be resistance. Isaiah 42 promises, “He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles… He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law” (vv. 1-4). Isaiah acknowledges that there will be a long time of resistance to Christ’s purposes, but that Christ will not get discouraged until He establishes justice in the earth.

Psalm 22 prophesies the crucifixion of Jesus, and then goes on to say, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You” (Psalm 22:27). Psalm 86:9 says, “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” Zechariah 9:10 says, “He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:10; cf. Psalm 72:8).

The expansion of Christ’s kingdom is a progressive redemptive act likened both to a tiny mustard seed that grows and grows until it becomes a large tree (Luke 13:19) and to leaven which permeates the whole loaf (Luke 13:21). No one can question that there has been progress from the 120 disciples in the upper room in Acts 1 to the hundreds of millions of Christians around the world today. The increase of Christ’s kingdom has been sure and steady. And the successful evangelism of the world will continue to the end of history “for He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:25).

God has promised victory to us just as surely as He promised victory to the Israelites in taking the Promised Land. But the spies who went into the land of Canaan could only see the giants in the land, and were so discouraged they refused to take the conquest that had been promised to them. Joshua and Caleb saw the same giants, but their focus was not on the giants; it was on the greatness of God and the surety of God’s promises, and they triumphed. And when we’re faced with the giants of communism, Islam, the homosexual movement, the pornography and abortion industries, and others, we too can take hold of God’s specific promises — assured that if we fight, we’ll hear God’s “Well done” and He’ll grant the victory in His time.

Luke 24:47-49 promises that Pentecost will give us power from on high to accomplish the Great Commission. And the Great Commission is a call to disciple the nations. Do we really believe that Jesus’ last command will fail?

2. THE WHEN AND HOW OF RESISTANCE

Different situations call for different measures. And different jurisdictions call for different tactics. We need to understand the specific tactics saints used at different times — and why — before we start making our own strategies.

In theory, we have a right to challenge anything the state requires that God doesn’t authorize it to require. But that doesn’t mean we should. Not every state overstep must be resisted. There are times when it can be both lawful and profitable to forfeit an actual right. Christ Himself set an example of knowing when it was better to fold than to hold. There were cultural battles that Jesus absolutely would not back down on, and there were others where Jesus avoided conflict because it was not an issue He needed to fight that day. For example, in Matthew 17 Jesus made it clear that He didn’t owe the tax that the officials were trying to collect from Peter and Jesus, but had Peter pay for both of them anyway, for the reason, “lest we offend them” (v. 27). Why did He not want to offend them? He was quite willing to offend the governing authorities on many other issues — for instance, when He disobeyed the direct orders of Pontius Pilate (Matt. 27:13-14), and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9); when He refused to answer their interrogations in court; and when He refused to perform a miracle (Luke 23:8-9) or to prophesy (Matt. 26:68) when officers desired him to do so. Why?

Jesus says that even earthly kings have enough wisdom to count the cost of resisting another king or not (Luke 14:28-31). When the Philistines stopped up the wells that Isaac had been using and asked him to move away (Gen. 26:15-22), Isaac could have insisted on his contract with Abimelech — and he had the superior force to win that fight. But he chose not to. Isaac rightly recognized that the lives that would be lost were worth more than the water rights and contract. When Jesus willingly paid a tax He did not owe, His example authorized obedience to earthly rulers beyond what is strictly required by God.

There are also times when either option, resistance or compliance, would technically be lawful — for instance, when Paul was asked to leave his prison cell quietly in Acts 16:35-40 — but there are important strategic advantages in choosing to refuse, as Paul did. Many of Scripture’s exemplars of resistance could have obeyed without sinning — but they were honored by God for their resistance to tyranny regardless.

In Part III, we’ll look at how to personally strategize through these difficult decisions. But first, let’s examine the kinds of situations where compliance is not an option.

SITUATIONS WHERE COMPLIANCE IS NOT AN OPTION

When innocent life is at stake

The Hebrew midwives are an excellent example of individual citizens interposing themselves between a tyrant and the innocent to save innocent lives. Obviously the parents of Moses likewise interposed themselves (Ex. 1:15-21; 2:2-3; Acts 7:20; Heb. 11:23).

Rahab defied and deceived the authorities in order to save the lives of the Hebrew spies (Joshua 2) and was praised by God for it (Heb. 11:31; James 2:25).

Even though Saul commanded, “Return, my son David” (1 Sam. 26:21), David refused to do so, knowing that to turn himself in would cost him his life.

Jehosheba rescued the infant Joash from the murderous intentions of Queen Athaliah (2 Kings 11:2-3).

Joseph fled to Egypt to save Jesus from the edict of Herod (Matt. 2:13-15).

When the means of protecting or sustaining life is at stake

Food is essential to life. Thus it is proper to hide or protect your food supply from authorities that want to seize it. Example: Gideon defended his right to provide food for his family by hiding parts of his crop to keep it from being seized by the Midianite authorities (Judges 6:11). The right to survival food allowed David to eat the showbread under the oversight of godly Ahimelek (1 Sam. 21). When civil authorities in Revelation prohibited any buying and selling of food without the mark of the beast, it is clear that the 144,000 and others resisted that unlawful decree, and did so with God’s permission (Rev. 12:11-14:5).

The right of self-defense is essential to life. Scripture clearly gives us the right to bear arms in self-defense against common enemies (Luke 22:35-38; Ex. 22:2; Neh. 4:16-18, 23; Esth. 8:11; etc.). When that right is removed by authorities, citizens have the right to disobey and to keep their weapons of self-defense. Jesus Himself commanded civil disobedience to weapons-control mandates when he commanded His disciples, “He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” (Luke 22:36). As has already been mentioned, it was illegal for private citizens to possess swords in Israel, so He was urging the purchase and carrying of illegal concealed military weapons. Two of Jesus’ disciples were already conceal-carrying short swords. When they whipped their swords out, Jesus said they were enough (v. 38).

David also exercised this right (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:4; 21:8-10, 13; 25:13) in times when the government sought to disarm the citizens (the Philistine disarmament in 1 Sam. 13:19, 22 and Saul’s inferred disarmament in 1 Sam. 22:13).

Though God wanted only a small on-call army (Deut. 17), He authorized a large militia consisting of every male 20 years of age and older (Numb. 1:3,18-45; 26:2; 2 Chron. 25:5; cf. 1 Chron. 5:17-18; 12:23-40). Thus every male had the responsibility to be trained, armed and ready for war at a moment’s notice should a civil magistrate need them for a just cause (Judges 3:27; 4:10; 5:13-18, 23; 7:1-8:1; etc.). The militia always had the option of refusing to fight for a king (Deut. 20:5-9; cf. a sinful use of this option in Judges 5:14-17, 23), and always had the option of following a lower magistrate in resistance to a king (2 Sam. 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16; 2 Chron. 10:16; cf. the calls of God in Judges). Because of this, tyrants sought to disarm the people, and relied on a paid standing army instead (Judges 5:8; 1 Sam. 13:19-23).

But despite the clear right to own weapons and to even form militias, Scripture never authorized private citizens to use those weapons against a civil magistrate — unless another lawfully-instituted civil magistrate had called them to war. This is one of the differences between lawful resistance and unlawful revolution: The civil magistrate alone is authorized by God to use the sword in the “ministry of vengeance” (Rom. 13:1-5). Vengeance (Hebrew נָקָם, nāqām; Greek ἔκδικος, ekdikos) means the infliction of justice upon a criminal after the time of the crime. Killing a criminal in self-defense is not vengeance, whereas hunting down a criminal to kill him is. Vengeance is prohibited for the individual citizen (Lev. 19:18; Rom. 12:19) whereas it is commanded of the civil magistrate (Numb. 35:19; Rom. 13:4).

David is a great example in this area. He was willing to own an illegal weapon (1 Sam. 21:8-10) and use it for defense against common criminals and raiders, but refused to use it against Saul, the civil magistrate, except in two situations: 1) when using it on behalf of the civil ruler of Keilah (1 Sam. 23:1-13) and when he himself was the mayor of Ziklag (1 Sam. 27:5-7; 28:2; 30:1-26). He treated as murder any private attempt to kill a magistrate, whether that magistrate was Saul (1 Sam. 24:4-7, 26:9, 2 Sam. 1:15-16) or Ishbosheth (2 Sam. 4:11-12). He understood that our powers to resist tyranny are limited to the powers we as individuals have been given by God. We can try to stop runaway authorities through the powers we have access to (rebuke, recruiting other magistrates, etc.), but not by taking up powers we don’t (e.g. excommunication, execution, etc.).

When the state oversteps the family’s jurisdiction

In 1 Kings 21, Ahab tried to use eminent domain to take away Naboth’s family farm, his children’s generational inheritance. This was a matter of family jurisdiction and Naboth refused the state’s unlawful intrusion.

When the state oversteps the church’s jurisdiction

In 2 Chronicles 26:16-23, King Uzziah overstepped the jurisdiction of the temple when he went in and offered incense. God honored Azariah and 80 other priests when they withstood him at great peril to their lives and pushed him out of the temple. Though “Uzziah became furious,” they held their ground, saying, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have trespassed!” (2 Chron. 26:18).

When we are commanded to stop doing what God commands us to do

Obviously, if we are asked to sin, we must disobey. When God commanded the apostles to preach in Jerusalem, and the civil authorities countermanded Christ’s command, ordering them to stop, they had to respond, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

When Darius signed an edict making it illegal to pray to any other god for thirty days, Daniel disobeyed that order (Dan. 6:5-10).

The prophets Haggai and Zechariah ordered the Jews to rebuild the temple, in direct disobedience to Artaxerxes’s edict (Ezra 4:19-5:3, Hag. 1-2).

Paul and Silas were commanded to preach in Philippi; when the magistrates beat and imprisoned them and then asked them to leave quietly, they refused (Acts 16:35-38).

When we are commanded to do what God prohibits

The parents of Moses refused to throw Moses into the river, choosing “illegal” obedience to God’s laws rather than “legal” obedience to man’s laws (Ex. 1:15-21; 2:2-3; Acts 7:20; Heb. 11:23).

Jonathan refused to obey King Saul’s order to kill David, since that would be murder (1 Sam. 19:1-3).

King Saul’s army refused to obey his order to kill the priests of Nob (1 Sam. 22:17), leaving Doeg (poster-child of the Divine Right of Kings theory) to do the deed.

Daniel and his three friends refused to eat the food that Nebuchadnezzar demanded they eat (Dan. 1:8, 16).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to violate the second commandment by bowing before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (Dan. 3).

Mordecai refused to pay the commanded homage to Haman (Esth. 3:1-5), since God had forbidden any honor for the Amalekites but instead had declared “war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:16).

TYPES OF LAWFUL RESISTANCE TACTICS

Resistance Tactics for Individuals

 

Repent

Since God often uses the sinful actions of tyrants as a spanking stick to discipline His people, we need more than simply moral outrage or good resistance strategies against the tyrants: We need a proper response to God.

Louis DeBoer said, “Ultimately, what is the church confronting when it faces the issue of tyranny? We may say we are dealing with wicked men. We may go a step further and say we are not dealing with mere flesh and blood but are confronting principalities and powers, even Satan himself. But ultimately we are dealing with God. He is the great first cause of all things. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, ‘it is with Him that we have to do.’ If we face the question of the problems of tyranny squarely, we cannot possibly do so apart from the recognition of its source and its place in the providential purposes of a sovereign God who works all things according to His purpose.”17

So rather than complaining about the increasing tyranny, we should recognize that this may be God’s tool to bring the church to repentance, and the sooner the church comes to repentance, the sooner the tyranny can be removed. We are looking at things backwards when we start with politics. Without repentance there is no deliverance.

Daniel, as ruler over almost all of the Babylonians (and thus, the exiled Israelites), prayed a prayer of repentance on behalf of the whole nation (Dan. 9).

The priest and scribe Ezra began a personal prayer for forgiveness for Israel’s sin of intermarriage with pagan nations, “and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel,” weeping bitterly for their sins. And they bore fruit in keeping with their repentance, making a covenant with God to put away their pagan wives (Ezra 9-10).

The governor Nehemiah, with Ezra and the Levites, led the whole nation in a ceremony of public repentance, confession of “their sins and the iniquities of their fathers,” reading of the Law, and entering “into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law” (Neh. 9).

 

Evangelize and disciple

Paul preached the Word to a proconsul in Cyprus who then believed (Acts 13:12), and went out of his way to create opportunities to witness to Felix, Festus, King Agrippa, and by inference, Caesar (Acts 23-25.)

Jehoiada instructed King Joash until his own death (2 Chron. 24:2, 2 Kings 12:2), during which time Joash was a model king. After Jehoiada’s death, Joash forsook the Lord and went his own way, proving that discipleship didn’t accomplish regeneration — but was still a powerful restraint.

Jonah called the degenerate pagan nation of Nineveh to repentance, and “the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them.” The king himself repented and commanded that everyone ‘“cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?’ Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (Jonah 3).

Do we believe that God’s Word is powerful enough to accomplish this again?

 

Rebuke, protest, cry out

From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of rebukes against unjust or tyrannical authorities. In fact, the whole book of Revelation is a rebuke against statism. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament had to rebuke civil magistrates for violating the law of God, which they were bound to uphold.

Abraham rebuked Abimelech because his servants had stolen a well from him (Gen. 21:25).

Nathan the prophet rebuked David for his dealings with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 12).

Abigail appealed to and reproved David for planning to kill Nabal and the men of his household (1 Sam. 25).

Joab protested David’s numbering of Israel (1 Chron. 21:3), then reluctantly carried out the orders at first (vv. 4-5), but eventually stopped doing so (v. 6), passively resisting David’s unlawful command.

The wise woman of Abel of Beth Maachah reproved Joab for not following due process in besieging the city. Her intervention ended the siege, saving the city from destruction (2 Sam. 20:14-26).

Daniel called Nebuchadnezzar to “break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity” (Dan. 4:27).

John the Baptist rebuked Herod Antipas for his incestuous marriage to his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, which disqualified him from office (character does matter in politics), and also for “for all the evils which Herod had done” (Luke 3:19-20).

An important caveat: Exodus 22:28 commands us, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” The Christian’s general disposition to rulers should be one of respect and submission. Honoring the office sometimes requires rebuking those who abuse the office (Matt. 23:13-28; Luke 13:32; John 18:23; Acts 23:1-4; etc.), but the right attitude and motive is critical. If our rebukes are accompanied with bitterness, wrath, hatred, or malice, they become sinful even if they might have otherwise been righteous (Eph. 4:31-32; Col. 3:8 — note that “all” such attitudes must be put off).

1 Timothy 5:1 says, “Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers…” The word for rebuke there is ἐπιπλήξῃς, epiplēxēs, which has the idea of bullying with words. The normal words for rebuke (ἐλέγχω, elenchō, and ἐπιτιμάω, epitimaō) both involve disagreeing with and pointing out the wrong, but in a very different spirit. One kind of rebuke is forbidden, the other is commanded.

 

Expose and denounce rulers’ sin

When rulers are in sin, exposure of their sins to the public is a valid option.

In Ezekiel 8, Ezekiel writes down for all generations the idolatry that the “elders of the house of Israel [did] in the dark” (v. 12).

In Matthew 23, Jesus’ woes against the scribes and Pharisees, some of whom were civil rulers, were not pronounced in private and one-on-one, but “to the multitudes and to His disciples” (v. 1).

Ephesians 5:11 says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.”

 

Deceive or hide

Gideon hid his crops from the Midianite government (Judges 6:11).

Michal, David’s wife, deceived her father, King Saul, enabling David to escape from Saul (1 Sam. 19:11-17).

Jehosheba rescued the infant prince, Joash, from Queen Athaliah’s agents sent to slaughter him (2 Kings 11:2-3, 2 Chron. 22:11-12).

The priest Jehoiada hid Joash, the rightful heir to the throne, in opposition to Queen Athaliah (2 Chron. 22:11, 12).

Obadiah disobeyed the orders of Ahab and Queen Jezebel and instead hid God’s prophets (1 Kings 18:4).

The Hebrew midwives deceived Pharaoh about helping Hebrew mothers — saving Hebrew babies in opposition to his command (Ex. 1:15-21).

Rahab deceived Jericho’s king and soldiers and hid Israel’s spies in Joshua 2.

 

Disobey

During Jesus’ six trials He refused to answer His interrogators at least four times — under Caiaphas, the high priest (Matt. 26:62-63; Mark 14:60-61); under Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee and Perea (Luke 23:9); and twice under Pontius Pilate (Matt. 27:13-14; Mark 15:4-5 and John 19:9-10).

Jesus also refused to perform a miracle (Luke 23:8-9) or to prophesy (Matt. 26:68; Mark 14:65; Luke 22:64), even though officers desired him to do so.

The Hebrew midwives and Moses’ parents defied the Pharaoh’s orders to throw baby boys into the Nile (Ex. 1:15-21; 2:2-3).

Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Joshua the high priest ignored the orders of Artaxerxes (Ezra 4-6) and began to rebuild the temple. They didn’t wait for an appeal or for a reversal of orders — they just disobeyed.

The wise men from the East clearly disobeyed a direct order from Herod the Great by not returning through Jerusalem and not reporting the location of the newly-born Messiah as Herod had ordered (Matt. 2:7-12).

The apostles in Acts 4 and 5 disobeyed the orders of the civil magistrates prohibiting their preaching.

The 144,000 refused to wear the mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18; 14:9-11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) and ignored the orders against buying and selling without the mark (Rev. 13:7, 16-17).

If you go this route, be willing to pay the price. In Acts 4, illegal preaching and meeting resulted in beatings. For many of the prophets of old, faithfully carrying out their calling resulted in death. Many of the examples of civil disobedience laid out in Hebrews 11 suffered for their stands. But others were given miraculous victories. God sometimes leads people to resist even when the potential cost is far greater than the earthly return, and He rewards “the one who overcomes” for their faithfulness regardless of earthly success or failure.

 

Flee

Jesus said, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt. 10:23). Thus, if the government commands you to turn yourself in to be jailed or executed, there are circumstances where Christ says it’s legitimate to run.

When “a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem” in Acts 8:1-4, the believers scattered and took the word throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.

David’s flight from Saul is a classic example of disobedience to a tyrant while still honoring the tyrant. Saul clearly commanded, “Return, my son David” (1 Sam. 26:21), yet David refused and continued to flee.

The Exodus is the classic example of people leaving an oppressive nation to go to where they can worship and serve God freely.

These are tactical retreats — a decision to take the fight elsewhere, not just to run away and give up.

 

Hire a lawyer and/or use the law against the government

Besides appealing to Caesar in Acts 25, the Apostle Paul frequently stymied his persecutors by appealing to their laws. (Paul’s appeal to Caesar also gained him more chances to preach the gospel before heads of state.)

In Acts 22:24-26, Paul avoided a scourging by appealing to his rights as a Roman citizen.

Paul’s personal lawyer Zenas (see Tit. 3:13) no doubt helped him strategize on how to use the law against the government.

 

Pit wicked people against each other

In Acts 23, Paul gained support from one of the political factions by highlighting what he had in common with one party, and why persecution of him could result in persecution of them. He slowed down the persecution by getting the enemies to fight with each other. It was only a slowdown — it was not a long-term strategy. But it is an option that needs to be in the Christian’s arsenal in our culture wars. The same tactic can be used by pitting political party factions (or bureaucrats, or agencies, or other government entities) against each other.

 

Appeal to other civic officers to help

Esther appealed to King Ahasuerus to save the Jews from murder by Haman (Esth. 7:3-4).

Nehemiah appealed to the Persian king to allow him to assist Israel (Neh. 2:5-8).

When one magistrate persecuted the early Christians, they could appeal to another magistrate (or faction within government) to use force to protect them (Acts 21:31-36; 22:24-29; 25:11; 27:42-43).

When Paul’s nephew found out about a Jewish conspiracy to kill Paul, he informed the Roman commander about it, and the Roman commander used his power to protect Paul by moving him to a safer place (Acts 23).

The main job of a civil officer is to protect his citizens from harm — that includes protecting them from tyrants.

 

Get magistrates to use their “power of the sword” to declare war against tyrants

See the following section, Tactics for Magistrates, for more detail on this.

 

Pray the war psalms against these persecutors

Pray the imprecatory psalms and prayers asking for God’s judgment to come (Acts 4:25-31; Rev. 6:10; 8:1-7; etc.; see David’s use of Psalms 52, 54, 57, 59, 63, 109, etc.). Many of the imprecatory psalms were written by David against Saul or Absalom. These prayers were asking God to give justice where no justice was available on earth.

Jehoshaphat had the Levites sing as they advanced against the aggressor tyrants, and God answered in a miraculous way, with the enemies killing each other off (2 Chron. 20:19-23).

Acts 4 shows the early church praying imprecatory prayers against Pontius Pilate and the Jewish leaders.

The book of Revelation is filled with the imprecations of the saints against the bestial kingdoms of Rome and Israel. Of the twenty-eight songs in Revelation,18 the majority pronounce God’s judgments on the persecuting state, while others affirm God’s kingship over nations.

 

Jury nullification

Numbers 35:25 gives an example of the men of a city being appealed to by a man accused of murder. When they deliberate and find him innocent, “the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood.”

 

Make a statement by going the extra mile where you can

Submission itself can be an act of “resistance” when we make it obvious that we submit of our own free will. Jesus said, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matt. 5:41). This way it is clear that our submission is in our power, not simply compelled. When Joseph was unjustly thrown into an Egyptian prison in Genesis 39, he could have insisted on his rights even if it meant his death. But instead, he went the extra mile and the LORD granted Joseph the favor of his guards and fellow prisoners. Friends of mine in underground countries have ministered to their persecutors and as a result won grudging admiration and openness to the Gospel. The Holy Spirit can prompt us when to go the extra mile, versus when to rebuke or in other ways resist.

Resistance Tactics for Churches

Of the four governments (individual self-government, family government, church government, and civil government), the church is often overlooked when it comes to resistance to tyranny. But Revelation shows us a picture of the church’s power, as the primary human force in resisting the kingdom of the Beast. The united prayers of the church corporate (Rev. 8:1-6) are what unleashed regiments of angels from the heavenlies and unleashed God’s judgments (the seven trumpets) upon the world (Rev. 8:6-11:19). It was the church corporate who overcame the dragon (Rev. 12:1-12). And when church elders are willing to practice church discipline (including on magistrates within the church who are out of line), God honors it by binding in the heavenlies what the church binds on earth (Matt. 18:15-20). Throughout history, church discipline has been used to stay the hand of many a tyrant. Though there is some overlap between what individuals, families, and churches can do, there is additional weight to the actions of Christ’s body, the church.

 

Challenge unbiblical statutes

Churches sometimes have to break man’s edicts (such as prohibitions of church gatherings and communion, capacity requirements, requirements for licensure, etc.) when they thwart God’s purpose and instructions for the church.

Though Jesus perfectly kept the Sabbath laws of the Old Testament (Heb. 4:15), He “broke the Sabbath” laws of the civil leaders of Israel (John 5:18). (See Lev. 23:1-3, Isa. 58, and Neh. 8:9-12 for God’s intent for the day). Jesus went out of His way to heal, eat, and fellowship on the Sabbath. He was challenging man’s unbiblical statutes and in the process was teaching his disciples the joyous true intent of God’s Sabbath.

When Ahab and Jezebel outlawed worship of Yehowah and put all the prophets they could find to death, one hundred prophets refused to leave Israel (1 Kings 18:4,13) and Elijah challenged Jezebel’s ungodly religion, her murders, and her rebellion against God (1 Kings 18-19).

By the time Revelation was written, Nero had outlawed Christianity and was seeking to stamp out the church. This means that every church in Revelation 2-3 was willing to challenge those ungodly edicts by their very existence.19

In Revelation 12:13-17, the church hid them from the persecuting decrees of Herod, and this challenge to Rome’s decrees lasted three and a half years.

 

Go underground

In the book of Acts, the church not only refused to be licensed by the Jewish state (Acts 4:1-31; 9:2; etc.), but it also clearly violated Roman statist law when it established churches without applying for the collegia licita or corporate status from Rome.20 In Acts 18:12-17, as one example, Paul was teaching “contrary to the law.” This indicates there was a lawful way to teach that Paul neglected. It is precisely Rome’s insistence that all religious groups get licensed and incorporated that explains both 1) the boldness of Jewish lawsuits against Paul in Roman courts and 2) later Roman persecution of Christianity.

As just one Old Testament example, Abiathar joined David’s men in starting an underground church (1 Sam. 23) after Saul killed all the priests of Nob (1 Sam. 22). He ministered God’s Word to David’s growing band over the next seven years.

Revelation 12:6, 14-17 shows that God authorized and protected an underground, unlicensed, illegal church that continued to operate on every level without heeding the government’s restrictions. In China and many restricted countries, simply existing is a constant act of disobedience on the part of churches.

 

Provide a long-term hiding place

Even when the church is “above-ground” and public, the church can hide individuals from the state. The temple priests engaged in righteous treason by hiding Joash for six years to prevent Athaliah from killing him (2 Kings 11:3). The most famous modern parallel of this is the hiding of Jews from Nazi German persecution.

 

Support sympathetic leaders and godly causes

Saul disqualified himself in 1 Samuel 15 and the LORD rejected him as king, sending Samuel in chapter 16 to anoint a replacement. Even though Saul didn’t step down, God chose a replacement (David) to wait in the wings.

After hiding Joash for six years, the priests joined with nobles in putting him on the throne (2 Kings 11) even though that was considered treason by Queen Athaliah (2 Kings 11:14).

This was very similar to the joint efforts of clergy and nobles to interpose and force King John to sign the Magna Carta.

 

Stop and hold accountable civil leaders within the church

David was censured and restored by Nathan the prophet over his dealings with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 12).

2 Chronicles 26:19-20 is an example of the church stoutly resisting state intrusions into the church’s jurisdiction — Azariah forcing King Uzziah out of the church for offering incense there.

Through history, many magistrates have been put under church discipline because of their tyrannical acts or gross sins. The most famous was the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, who was excommunicated by Bishop Ambrose of Milan for executions without due process. Only after repentance and restitution was he brought back into the communion of the Church. Likewise, Patrick of Ireland called for the excommunication of the murdering and slave-trading Chieftain Coroticus.

For tyrants outside the church (or for tyrants whose church officers refuse to discipline them), see the next section about appealing to the heavenly court.

 

Arraign the enemies of God before the court of heaven in corporate prayer

When justice is not available on earth, Luke 18:1-8 calls us to bring our case before the Judge of all the earth and receive justice from His hand. When we do so according to the protocols of His heavenly courtroom, He guarantees that He will avenge His saints speedily (v. 8). But He ends that parable by saying that this courtroom appeal must be done in faith. Acts 4:23-31 is an abbreviated window into this process. I have also developed two extended lessons from Psalm 5 on how to go about getting a heavenly court judgment.21

Resistance Tactics for Civil Magistrates

Civil governments have powers entrusted to them that individuals and churches don’t — the power of the sword, the power to take vengeance, the power to enforce contract law, etc. — and can challenge or restrain each other in ways that others can’t. This resistance can come either from the top down (see the reformations brought on by Joash, Josiah, Hezekiah, and other kings), or it can come from the lower magistrate against the tyranny of a superior (for example, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Jephthah in the book of Judges), or it can go sideways (nobles protecting Jeremiah from other nobles and the king) or it can take place between the branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial branches nullifying what is tyrannical in the other branches).

A brief summary of the rights of resistance by the civil magistrate:

 

Interposition

Interposition is any act of protection by coming in between an aggressor and a person or body that will otherwise be harmed. In many books (including Black’s Law Dictionary), interposition only refers to a lower magistrate protecting citizens under them from the tyranny of the federal government, but Biblical interposition in civics can involve any branch of local, state, or federal government protecting citizens or groups being harmed by any other branch of government that is threatening that harm. Likewise, individuals and families can come between a tyrant and a defenseless citizens by hiding the citizen.

Judges is filled with examples of lower governments resisting a national government, sometimes passively; other times actively (see particularly Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar in Judges 3, and Jephthah in Judges 11-12).

Jonathan (a prince) interposed himself on behalf of David in defiance of King Saul’s order to kill him (1 Sam. 19:1-3).

Four civil leaders, heads of the Ephraimites, “stood up against those [Israelites] who came from the war” and refused to let them keep their Judean captives (2 Chron. 28:12-14).

 

Nullification

Saul’s army rescued Jonathan from King Saul’s unjust death sentence (1 Sam. 14:24-45), which was a clear example of nullification.

Prince Jonathan nullified his father’s death decree against David (1 Sam. 19:4-7).

Nicodemus unsuccessfully attempted to engage in nullification when he tried to stop the conspiracy against Jesus by asking, “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:51).

 

Protest

Jonathan’s words to King Saul (which Saul heeded, that time) in 1 Samuel 19:4 are one of many examples of lower magistrates protesting the actions of higher magistrates.

In 2 Samuel 24, Joab rightly thought that it was wicked for David to try to number Israel the way he was doing it and protested. (When David prevailed, Joab did part of the job, but didn’t finish because he found it so disgusting. This was a form of passive resistance.)

 

Secession

The book of Judges gives us many examples of secession from tyrants — and Hebrews 11 showcases them as models of faith.

In 1 Kings 12:22-24, when Jeroboam led the northern ten tribes in secession from the south’s grossly tyrannical taxation, and the south mustered an army to stop the secession, God sent a prophet to warn Rehoboam in these words: “Thus says the LORD, ‘You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel. Let every man return to his house, for this thing is from Me.’” In these words God enshrined the right of secession into His Word.

The Levitical city of Libnah (cf. 1 Chron. 6:57) seceded from Judah because the king “had forsaken the LORD God of his fathers” (2 Chron. 21:10).

 

War

Jesus said that if He were a civil magistrate, “My servants would fight [against the authorities who arrested him], so that I should not be delivered to the Jews” (John 18:36). This is as explicit an authorization of war by magistrates against tyrants as one could get from Jesus.

The judges Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar in Judges 3 and Jephthah in Judges 11-12 protected the citizens through war against foreign rulers.

Kings including David, Asa, and Jehoshaphat fought to protect Israel and Judah from encroaching foreign tyrants.

3. MAKING BIBLICAL DECISIONS ABOUT RESISTANCE IN YOUR SITUATION

HOW DO I KNOW WHAT TO DO WHEN?

We’ve just looked at a lot of examples of what types of resistance are lawful, and when.

As we now try to apply these biblical principles to real-life situations, we need to understand that Biblical ethics has more layers to it than merely “the rules.” There are many rules for speech (e.g. “let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth” – Eph. 4:29). But the Bible also says that our speech must fit the situation (“in due season” – Prov. 15:23; “according to the need of the moment” – Eph. 4:29), must have a proper motive (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph. 4:15), and must have a godly goal (“for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” – Eph. 4:29).

Proverbs 27:14 shows that a person can still be in sin even when a biblical rule or formula is being followed to the T. We are commanded in Scripture to bless one another. However, this passage says, “He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.” If this man was only focused on rules, he could insist that he is obeying God. But if his motive in loudly blessing was to irritate his friend, that would violate biblical principles of heart attitude and motive, and he would be in sin. If he blesses his friend with a loud voice at 3AM, then the Bible would say that he has not taken his situation of sleep-time into account, and that would also make it sin. And if the consequences or end result do not actually bless or encourage the neighbor, but instead irritate and are counted as a curse, then we have violated the relational and end-goal sides of the equation.

In other words, Biblical ethics does not stop with the rules of the Bible (what theologians call Deontology) — it requires applying Scripture across multiple ethical dimensions including the rules, but also motives, situations, and goals. I highly recommend Greg Bahnsen’s Ethics Course and his Christian Ethics Intensive (both available on SermonAudio.com through the Bahnsen Project) for developing a well-rounded, multi-perspectival understanding of ethics.

Ethical decisions should be approached from all four of these angles (an approach I call Quadperspectivalism):

Deontology means the laws, rules, or standards that God has given in the Bible. Deontology without the other three facets of ethics is useless. The Bible tells us not to murder, and then clarifies what that means in unique situations (self-defense is not murder; some war is murder, but some is not, etc.).

Situationalism is not pragmatism (like secular situational ethics is). It means sensitivity to the details of the situation (e.g. Is it 3AM?) and how those may change things.

Personalism involves the details about the unique individual. God has different considerations based on differences in the person’s life. For instance, his status — is he a person in authority, or a person under authority? Married or unmarried? A child or an adult? Scripture indicates that babies must be treated differently than adults, so, when God says, “If a person will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), He is referring to able-bodied people who are mooching off of others, not to babies or the comatose. God also weighs our attitudes and motives, our level of knowledge, whether we were deceived into doing something wrong or did it with outright rebellion, and so on.

Teleology is when we apply the Bible to the trajectory of a decision — the goals, future opportunity cost, the consequences for actions (for ourselves and for others), and what other dominoes will fall if we (fill in the blank).

Why God cares about all four: If a person is only interested in rules, but not in a proper heart attitude toward God or others, he can become a Pharisee. If he only cares about “the heart,” but neglects goals or rules, he is a subjectivist and a postmodern relativist (or possibly a “lawless” man). If he is interested only in the goal or situation, he is a pragmatist. Godly character and action require caring about all four perspectives.

 

Case Study — Applying this Quadperspectival Approach to Politics

Now let’s look at a relevant hot-button scenario through all these layers of ethical considerations.

Case Study: The state confiscates all weapons and bans the acquisition of new weapons of self-defense

People tend toward one of two extremes on this subject — let’s either obediently turn in all weapons, or let’s go down shooting if officers come to claim them. When we tease the four sides of ethics apart, we see that neither option is biblical.

 

Deontology (Laws, Rules, Standards)

What does the law say about having or keeping weapons of self-defense, and about using lethal force against magistrates?

Embedded right into the law was the right to defend yourself against common criminals, rioters, and bandits. Exodus 32:27 says, “Let every man put his sword on his side…” This implies that every man was expected to have a weapon. Weapon ownership was expected of all men (Ex. 22:2; Neh. 4:16-18, 23; Esth. 8:11; etc.) and David exercised that right (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:4; 21:8-10, 13; 25:13) even when the Philistines disarmed the population (1 Sam. 13:19, 22) and later when Saul (by inference) seems to have disarmed the citizens (1 Sam. 22:13).

Interestingly, Jesus continued that tradition in Luke 22:36. He said that He had sent them out once before without money, extra clothing, or swords to show that He could miraculously provide for them. But now that He was leaving them, He gave an abiding principle: “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it [in other words, don’t presume upon God financially], and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” That passage is saying that owning a weapon is more important than owning a second garment. It is one of the most fundamental of the God-given rights in Scripture. And as mentioned previously, Jesus gave that command in a society that had prohibited sword ownership. It was a clear-cut case of civil disobedience. In other words, Jesus was saying that the illegalization of firearms is not a good reason to avoid owning arms.

But Scripture was just as clear that a private citizen could not raise the sword against the civil magistrate. I have a lengthy discussion of the details of this situation in my Life of David sermon series,22 but my summary of the evidence is this:

  1. Though God disapproved of Saul’s tyranny and said that Saul had no Biblical right to be a king (1 Sam. 15:26-29, 35; 16:1, 14; 28:15-19; etc.), until Saul could be impeached or removed with some other lawful means, David refused to raise his hand against him (1 Sam. 24; 26).
  2. Though David had the right to own weapons for self-defense (Luke 22:35-38; Ex. 22:2; Neh. 4:16-18, 23; Esth. 8:11; etc.), he did not raise the sword against his civil government while he was a private citizen (1 Sam. 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; 2 Sam. 1:14, 16; cf. Matt. 26:52).
  3. Though David had the right to form a private militia and to defend against common criminals (1 Sam. 25:7-8) and roving bands of thugs (1 Chron. 12:21), he knew he could not use it against Saul except under two circumstances: a) when fighting under the magistrate of Keilah (1 Sam. 23:1-13) and when he was the magistrate of the city of Ziklag (1 Sam. 27:5-7; 28:2; 30:1-26).

Christ affirmed the same situation. He told His disciples that as private citizens, they could not physically fight against the civil tyrant even to protect innocent life (Luke 22:50-51 with Matt. 26:52). In stark contrast to this principle, Jesus said that if He were a civil magistrate, He would be obligated to fight and his servants would be obligated to fight for Him: “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). This clearly implies that godly lower magistrates have a duty to interpose themselves and to fight against a higher magistrate in order to protect the citizens under their charge. If they do not do so, then they are failing to follow Christ.

 

Teleology (Trajectory, Consequences)

What will be the trajectory or consequences of each option?

Luke 14:31-32 gives a practical example of looking at teleology: “What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.” What is true of kings is also true of subjects — Scripture indicates that it is always worthwhile to count the future costs of our actions. There are times when being ripped off or deprived of a right is better than the alternative.

Jesus, who commanded the disciples to take swords during a time when swords were outlawed, also warned his disciples when they sought to use one of those swords against a tyrannical agent of the state who had come to arrest him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). Christ did not contradict His earlier command to carry swords. Indeed, He reinforced that command by telling Peter to put the sword back into the scabbard rather than to discard the sword. Instead he insists that the just consequence of revolution (a citizen raising the sword against the civil government without authorization from another magistrate) is capital punishment. As Lenski points out:

This statement does not include those to whom God delegates the sword (government and legal authorities) but those who, like Peter, arrogate the sword to themselves, i.e., the sword that represents violence and bloodshed. This sword shall strike back at them with just retribution. It is the old law of Gen. 9:6, the basis of all Jewish criminology, which is reiterated in Rev. 13:10. Jesus holds it up to Peter in warning, and it is futile to quote him and the Scriptures against capital punishment.23

When we count the cost of resisting with the sword (losing our lives), we may see that other options (hiding, relocating, using the black market, etc.) would be better.

 

Situation (Details of the particular circumstances)

What special considerations does the situation introduce?

The situation might call for any of the different responses we saw previously in the Tactics section. For example, when it’s possible to appeal to a lower magistrate (or a higher magistrate), then that providential situation needs to be pursued. Paul used the court system to defend his rights (Acts 23:1-10; 24:1-26:32; 28:19; Titus 3:13) and appealed to the law against the actions of magistrates (Acts 16:35-40; 22:25-26; 23:3; 25:11). Other circumstances might warrant fleeing or hiding stuff (Ex. 2:2-3; Joshua 2:4, 6, 16; 6:17, 25; Judges 6:11; 1 Sam. 20:5, 24; 1 Kings 18:13; Matt. 2:13; 10:23; 24:16; Acts 14:6). Others might warrant using the imprecatory psalms (Acts 4:25-31; Rev. 6:10; 8:1-7; 16:5-7). There are rare times when citizens should side with a magistrate and go to war against tyrants (Heb. 11:34 summarizes the many Old Testament passages that called for this). However, when the types of resistance listed above were not available or did not work, Christians were willing to submit to confiscation of goods rather than resist the government with the sword (Heb. 10:34).

 

Personalism (Details about the unique individual)

Personalism asks “Who?” If you’re a magistrate, for instance, you have powers available to you that a private citizen, without magisterial back-up, does not. If you’re a magistrate, shooting back to defend citizens during a gun-confiscation campaign might not only be your right, but your duty.

However, let’s say you’re a citizen, and the Sheriff in your county deputizes all citizens of his gun-sanctuary county to resist with force. Now it may now be lawful for you to use deadly force (though it still may not be prudent (teleology) or achievable (situation)). The authorization of the Sheriff could take this out of the realm of revolution and into the realm of supporting a civil office in interposition. This is obviously treading into dangerous waters, and Junius Brutus’s book, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, is perhaps the best resource on the Biblical limits and contours of lethal resistance to tyranny.

Personalism also asks about the motive of the “who.” Sinful motives could involve rebellion, pride, anarchy, hatred, fear, etc. Godly motives could include courage, humility, submission, love for others.

The 6th commandment is intended to preserve life, not to destroy it.

Conclusion

In other words, when we ask, “What should I do?” or “Would it be right to resist X?,” the Bible doesn’t give us a simple, one-size fits all answer for questions like these. The Bible does give hard and fast rules (deontology) like the 10 Commandments and the rest of the law, but there’s a reason so much of the Bible is either narrative passages (case studies in how the law plays out in different situations, motives, and trajectories), wisdom passages, like Proverbs (fleshing out how “the rules” apply in different situations), poetic passages (showing the inner war over right attitudes, motives, etc.), and historical and prophetic passages (full of warnings and examples of consequences of both obedience and disobedience — teleology on an individual and national scale).

Questions about civil disobedience are complex, multi-layered decisions, and we need to apply the whole counsel of God to them. “All Scripture is given… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). We need to stop searching for cookie cutter answers, and start saturating our minds with the Word that is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). And then we need to let that light guide us through questions more like this:

 

Deontology Questions — What rules from Scripture apply to this situation?

Are there instructions from Scripture that support resisting in this situation, in this way? Is there anything in Scripture that would forbid it?

If it’s lawful, would it require my doing something else that is forbidden, or keep me from doing something that is commanded? Am I neglecting the weightier matters of the law in pursuing this? (Matt. 23:23)

Are there other commands in Scripture that would overrule this otherwise fine goal? For instance, the widow who gave her all to the church was praised as righteous, but the Pharisees who gave to the church what they should have given to support their parents were condemned, because they were breaking the 5th commandment (Matt. 15:5-6).

Do I even know God’s commands? Have I ever read through the entire Bible, even once? Do I know and understand the 10 Commandments? Jesus says that Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 6 contain the greatest commandments — do I know what is in them? Am I reading the Scriptures regularly, praying that God open my eyes that I will be softened rather than hardened by the Word? Am I sure my convictions are coming from Scripture, and not the traditions of men? Have I compared everything in Dr. Kayser’s book with Scripture, like the noble Bereans, or am I just taking his word for it?

 

Teleology Questions — What consequences or effects will there be?

If I’m going out of my way to resist, have I counted the cost? Is this stand worth what it would cost me, my wife, my children, my employees, or my church?

Are there other good solutions that wouldn’t negatively affect the people in my care?

Will rebelling at every tyrannical parking ticket help or hurt my opportunities to influence the magistrate on the bigger issues?

What would be the consequences if I did not resist?

 

Situation Questions — What are the specific details of this situation?

Have I sought to get legal exemptions?

Have I approached the authorities humbly by way of petition?

Am I doing the other things I can and should be doing to turn the tide?

Am I praying for my magistrates?

Have I ever talked with my mayor, county commissioners, state representative, or state senator about Jesus and what His Word requires?

If my rulers are church-goers, have I talked with their pastors about their involvement in discipling this leader? Have I offered to help?

If my magistrate is trying to do the right thing through bad or statist means, have I gone to him to suggest an alternate solution for better accomplishing his goal, before starting an uprising? Is there a way to use this situation to seek the good of my magistrate, as well as of my freedoms?

Have I talked with my county officials about interposing and becoming a Sanctuary county? For the unborn, for Biblical marriage, for the 2nd Amendment, for the Crown Rights of King Jesus?

Should I be actively helping to replace the problematic magistrate(s) in question? Should I run for office, or help anyone in my church or community to run?

 

Personalism Questions — What am I bringing personally into this equation?

What is my motive, or attitude? Do I want to help this ruler rule for Jesus, or do I just want him gone?

Have I checked first to make sure I don’t have a log in my own eye (Matt. 7:2-5)? Am I expecting the same level of obedience to Christ in myself that I am in my magistrate?

Have I sought counsel from wise men (Prov. 24:6; 11:14; 15:22)?

Am I acting under authority? Would I be rebelling against the lawful authorities in my life (e.g. parents, elders, employer)?

Have I done the first things first (pray, repent, etc.)?

Do I have reason to believe God would fight on my side? Is there “sin in the camp” that might make God refuse to go with me in this fight (Joshua 7; Deut. 23:9, 14; Isa. 59:1-2)?

Have I armed myself with spiritual armor for this fight? Do I understand that taking on the forces of wickedness requires putting on the breastplate of righteousness, the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:10-20)? Am I doing this?

PREREQUISITES FOR GODLY RESISTANCE

If the church is to be successful in turning the world upside down like the early church did, we must be aware of the dangers of tyranny-resistance, and also of the prerequisites to success. We’re not just fighting with flesh and blood; we’re also fighting with the demonic hordes that move these tyrants. Resistance can go very badly if God is not in it and protecting those involved. Resistance must be anchored in Scripture, guided by the Holy Spirit, done from a transformed heart dedicated to Christ’s glory, and prospered by God’s favor. Many cautions could be mentioned, but here are my top four.

Four Things That Will Kill Your Resistance Efforts

 

Pride

Pride will sideline any ministry, no matter how noble, and the cause of resistance can easily attract the proud and ambitious. James and Peter wisely warned their persecuted church members, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). The world, the flesh, and the devil opposing us is bad enough, but if God is opposing us as well, our cause is hopeless. Resistance to tyranny must not be first and foremost about defending our rights; it must be done for the glory of God, even if that involves being slandered and misrepresented. The first essential in resisting tyranny is to crucify the pride in our own hearts. If we approach this area of ministry with humility, God will bless us above and beyond our own abilities. Psalm 9:12 assures us that “He does not forget the cry of the humble.”

 

Zeal Without Knowledge

Zeal without knowledge is dangerous (Rom. 10:2). We must not go off half-cocked; we must study the Biblical principles that give balance to this subject. The older writers are much better on this subject than a lot of what has been written in my generation. Junius Brutus’ book, A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, is a masterful treatise that clearly outlines the Reformed view of the limits to resistance. According to President John Adams, this book was a great help in guiding America’s Founding Fathers when they themselves had to navigate the minefields of interposition.

 

Autonomy from Authority

You have no authority if you are not under authority. Our age has been infected with egalitarianism and anarchism, and God blesses neither. The centurion of Matthew 8 was blessed by Christ because he understood the power that comes with being under authority, even recognizing that Christ had authority because He was under authority — “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:9). Only those who truly submit to authority will have the blessing of God in opposing tyrannical or false authority.

 

Fear

This fourth caution is critical. We must not allow fear of repercussions to make us quit having a prophetic voice in our culture. Fear is fulfilled just like faith is fulfilled. Because of the way fear kills faith, you tend to get what you fear. Fear and faith are incompatible. And since it is impossible to please God without faith, it is impossible to win our culture wars without a faith that clings to God and to His Word. The book of Revelation promises that Christ will fight against the church that lacks faith (Rev. 2:16; 3:3, 14-21). On the other hand, if we walk by faith and not by fear, we can do the impossible things that are listed in Hebrews 11. It may seem impossible to turn this nation around, but if the church will submit to God’s Lordship, embrace the blueprints of His law, and respond in faith, we can do the same things that the people in Hebrews did by faith. Yes, that faith led some to the privilege of martyrdom, but even there, they faced death with a faith that their labors in the Lord were not in vain and that their deaths would not be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58).

Fear can cause us to make unholy alliances with the enemies of God. Right-wing or left-wing, if they are against Christ, they are not our allies. And if they are for Christ, we can work with them in spite of massive differences.

In 1 Kings 20, God delivered Ahab from mighty Ben-Hadad, king of Syria, yet Ahab in unbelief of God’s protection promptly allied with Ben-Hadad; God condemned Ahab for sparing this man God had appointed to destruction (v. 42).

We should want no part in political safety from the enemies of God. What concord hath Christ and Belial? If you see a group of tyranny-resisters and its leaders hate Christ and His Church, be careful not to yoke yourself with these unbelievers. The book of Proverbs is a mine of wisdom about dangerous alliances.

Two Keys to God’s Blessing and Help in Our Resistance Efforts

 

The Filling of the Holy Spirit

Christ warns us that “without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But thankfully, the Bible also affirms, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). In John 7:37-39, Jesus affirmed incredible resources available to us through the Spirit:

“If anyone thirst, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

We must take seriously the fact that we need the Holy Spirit’s power, blessing, insights, leading, and aid in absolutely everything that we do — including resisting tyranny. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). We are commanded to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), “sing in the Spirit” (1 Cor. 14:15), “worship…in the Spirit” (Phil. 3:3) and to “rejoice in the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6; Rom. 14:17). If our prayers are to get past the ceiling,we must learn to “pray in the Spirit” (Jude 20; Eph. 6:18) since we do not know what we should pray for as we ought (Rom. 8:26). We must “love in the Spirit” (Col. 1:8), be “led by the Spirit” (Matt. 4:1; Rom. 8:14; Gal. 5:18), be “moved by the Spirit” (Luke 2:27), and be “compelled by the Spirit” (Acts 20:22 NIV). Every part of our being must be “controlled by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:6, 9) so that we literally “live in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25; Rom. 8:13). If we are taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13), demons cannot deceive us. If we are sanctified by the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11), God can keep us from stumbling (Jude 24). Engaging with tyrants automatically engages one with demons (1 John 5:19; Rev. 13:2). This makes it all the more critical to have the Spirit’s protection (Eph. 6:10-12 f.).

 

Spiritual Warfare Prayers

This means that we also need to learn how to pray spiritual warfare prayers. Too many Christians build their strategies around the “carnal weapons” of the world rather than the weapons of God which are powerful for tearing down strongholds (2 Cor. 10:5). And of all the Scriptural weapons, the warfare prayers (sometimes called the imprecatory prayers) are the nuclear weapons of the Christian faith. We have not because we ask not (James 4:2), and if we do not ask God to oppose tyrants in His ways, we should not expect tyranny to cease.

Praying according to God’s will (1 John 5:14) simply means praying Scriptural prayers. It involves claiming God’s promises, pleading God’s attributes, aligning our prayers with God’s commandments and filling our adorations, confessions, thanksgivings, and supplications with the text of the Bible. What a way to increase the faith of prayer warriors! If one examines the prayers of Nehemiah, Daniel, Moses, and other saints, one will discover that these prayer warriors confidently prayed because they filled their prayers with the promises of a God who cannot lie; they anchored their prayers in the character of a God who is faithful; and they aligned their desires with God’s revealed desires.

My sermon on Acts 16:16-2424 demonstrated that there is always demonic backlash against Christians when they engage on the front lines of a nation’s demonic strongholds. But when strongholds are torn down by spiritual warfare, great things happen. The book of Revelation was intended in part to be a spiritual war manual that teaches us how to overcome Satan and his hosts with the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11). And since demons stand behind every tyrannical civil leader mentioned in the book of Revelation, it is appropriate that we end with this subject. It’s not enough to know God’s ideal and to know our options. We must also have the spiritual blessing and power of the Lord behind our works.

May it be so, Lord Jesus. Amen.

PSALM 125

Those who trust in the LORD

Are like Mount Zion,

Which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,

So the LORD surrounds His people

From this time forth and forever.

For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest

On the land allotted to the righteous,

Lest the righteous reach out their hands to iniquity.

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,

And to those who are upright in their hearts.

As for such as turn aside to their crooked ways,

The LORD shall lead them away

With the workers of iniquity.

Peace be upon Israel!

MORE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DR. KAYSER ON CIVICS, RESISTANCE, AND ETHICS

Dr. Kayser has been teaching on resistance, interposition, biblical government, spiritual warfare, and leadership for decades. We’ve spotlighted his best sermons on these topics below — you can listen to or read transcripts of these sermons (and the others referenced in this booklet) at https://kaysercommentary.com/divine-right.md or by scanning the QR code at the back of this book.

Why Political Change is Often So Slow

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Why did Saul remain in power for decades after God had rejected him from being king? Why did Samuel do nothing, even after God had called him to “unquo the status”? And why do Christian voters continue to put up with politicians like Saul, instead of removing them as soon as they’re unqualified? Phil Kayser draws out lessons for us from Israel’s mistakes here.

An Unwilling Rebel

Psalm 5

Psalm 5 shows the heart of a “rebel” committed to God’s intolerance, glory, judgment, guidance, and authority, not his own. He was no rebel for his own cause, but neither was he willing to embrace a false peace when God’s interests were on the line. This sermon highlights the necessary heart attitudes for anyone forced by the state into civil disobedience.

Self-Control Under Tyranny: The Reformed Doctrine of Resistance

1 Samuel 23:1-13, Part 1

Before he was a magistrate, David was a private citizen on the receiving end of multiple forms of tyranny — and he demonstrated both extreme proactivity in resisting where he could, and consistent refusal to cross the line of unlawful resistance. Throughout Saul’s reign we see David disobeying unlawful orders, fleeing, harboring refugees, planning a future government, forming an underground economy, praying imprecatory psalms — but always refusing to take up the sword of justice against a magistrate. This message goes into great detail on the options and limits of civil disobedience.

The Practice of Resistance

1 Samuel 23:1-13, Part 2

A biblical theology of militia, from Phil Kayser’s “Life of David” sermon series. Dr. Kayser covers lessons from David’s own militia — how and when he used it, God’s authorization of it, the role of pastors within it, the strengths of it, and more — as well as critical questions to ask regarding militia use today.

Intervention When Things Get Sticky

1 Samuel 25:14-23

How do you intervene in the life of someone who is blind to his abusive behavior, addictions, or general destructiveness? What if he is in authority over you? This sermon on Abigail’s interposition between David and Nabal gets to the nitty-gritty on the difficult topics of intervention, enabling, and what submission is (and isn’t).

Revolutions, Revolutionaries, and Counterrevolutionaries

2 Samuel 16:15-23

In fighting wars of lawful resistance, we have to understand that the lines between good guys and bad guys aren’t always simple to draw. When Absalom seized the throne and David fought to get it back, who were the true revolutionaries? Both sides could have appealed to Romans 13. But who in God’s eyes held the rightful authority? This sermon examines questions of authority and legitimacy. It also follows the amazing example of Hushai, who rightly navigated a complicated situation, practiced God-honoring deception, espionage, and subterfuge, and worked within a wicked system for a righteous cause, all while avoiding sinning himself.

Another Peacemaker

2 Samuel 20:16-22

The Wise Woman of Abel stopped the siege of Abel, got a criminal executed, and ended a rebellion — all because of her initiative in starting a peacemaking conversation with the general tearing down her city. This sermon is all about practical lessons in interposition and peacemaking (and corrections to hyper-patriarchy.)

Godly Resistance vs. Civil Rebellion

2 Samuel 20:1-2

God gives options for resistance to anyone under abusive authority — but resisting can quickly turn into ungodly rebellion when resisters are poisoned by a revolutionary spirit. What’s the difference between resistance and rebellion? This sermon covers lessons from the rebellion of Sheba, how to recognize modern-day Shebas, and ten telltale signs of rebellion that ought to be avoided by every Christian.

The Disastrous Consequences of Rebellion

2 Samuel 20:3-15

Any godly resistance movement needs a strong aversion toward the destructive spirit of autonomy and rebellion. Studying the disastrous and destructive consequences of Absalom’s rebellion should provide strong motivation to check any subversive tendencies — both civil and personal — and to deal with the rebellion of others biblically.

When to Hold and When to Fold

How do you decide when to fight, and when to “live to fight another day”? In this message, Dr. Kayser walks through examples from the life of Jesus and others — showing how they weighed difficult situations with godless authorities — and 11 Biblical options and tactics for individual resistance.

“Useful Idiots” and Those Who Use Them

1 Samuel 26:1-4

Lenin praised the “useful idiots” who unknowingly helped his cause in spite of their political opposition to him. Israel suffered setbacks in their liberties through their own useful idiots, the well-meaning Ziphites who blindly supported Saul because of his stance on the Philistines. Their blind loyalty and patriotism kept them from realizing that Saul had become a centralist, that their support of him was eroding their liberties, and that David — the opponent of their hero — was now the true defender of liberty. How do we know when our own well-meaning activism is unwittingly helping the wrong side? This sermon covers multiple principles for checking the actual usefulness of your activism.

Self-Controlled Leadership

1 Samuel 26:5-12

David, a man of action and decisiveness, continually walked a fine line of self-control (even when it made him appear indecisive to his men). This sermon examines the biblical theology of why self-control is a key component of leadership, as well as one of the essential links in the chain of sanctification (2 Pet. 1:5-8) — and also covers lessons from some of David’s decision-making processes.

Bible Survey: Judges

What’s keeping America from turning and repenting? This overview and application of the book of Judges examines the sin-judgment-repentance cycles of Judges, and how they parallel our sin-judgment-revival cycles in America, and the lessons America needs to learn from Judges to reverse this cycle. It also contains helpful lessons on manhood and womanhood from the lives of Deborah, Barak, and Jael.

Civil Rights Asserted

Acts 16:35-40

A must-listen for anyone trying to weigh when (and how far) to press their civil rights. As Allan Dershowitz said, “In America they go after the S.O.B.’s first. And nobody cares about them. They establish bad precedents on them, and then they go after the rest of us.” Acts 16:35-40 gives us a detailed case study showing how Paul and Silas’s civil rights were trampled, how Paul brilliantly pressed the issue, and the many types of good outcome that came from it.

Why Revolutions are Usually Evil

2 Samuel 4:1-12

Until the church as a whole understands the distinctions between lawful civics and revolutionary civics, we won’t make a lot of progress in advancing liberty in America. This sermon examines ten revolutionary principles illustrated in 2 Samuel 4, and uses them to show the stark contrast between the American War for Independence and the French Revolution.

Arraigning Your Enemies Before God’s Courtroom

Psalm 5

God does not arraign any before His courtroom unless we bring charges. God follows the principles of justice that He laid down in the Bible. David models this for us in Psalm 5.

Part 1 More than our praying to Him as Father, certain cases should be brought to God as Judge. Doing so requires we establish our case in His sight. This sermon shows what makes a legitimate case.
Part 2 focuses on “winning” your case in God’s court. God calls us to present adequate grounds for judgment and charges that are not based on our standards or our selfish ends, but consistent with God’s standard and for His kingdom. When we appeal on the basis of God’s promises, Luke 18:7 (NASB) says, “Shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.”

Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s Ethics Courses

If Jesus is Lord, this has ethical implications. Jesus’ Lordship lays claim to our motives and goals, and He sets the standard for evaluating our actions. Every decision should have the goal, like Paul’s in 2 Cor. 5:9, “to be well pleasing to Him.” The ethics courses from the Bahnsen Project help Christians to slice through the ethical problems that seem like Gordian knots. Unbiblical ethical systems are, of necessity, reductionistic and Dr. Bahnsen walks Christians through the nuance and depth that arise from the Bible’s different perspectives of Personalistic, Situational, and Normative (Deontological) ethics.

James M. Willson, Civil Government: An Exposition of Romans XIII. 1-7 (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1853). Willson’s extended treatment of Romans 13 and summarization of the historic Reformed position is masterful. I highly recommend that it be read and digested.

Matthew J. Trewhella, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates: A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2013). A helpful modern introduction to this subject.

Junius Brutus, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, [1579] 2020). A masterful treatise that clearly outlines the Biblical limits and contours of resistance to tyranny. According to President John Adams, this book was a great help in guiding America’s Founding Fathers when they themselves had to navigate the minefields of interposition. Though he sadly relies too heavily on natural law theory (mainly to refute his opponents who used natural law to teach the divine right of kings), his Scriptural arguments are excellent.

Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex: The Law and the Prince (London: John Field, 1644), https://www.monergism.com/lex-rex-ebook. Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian. Lex, Rex is Rutherford’s classic defense of limited civil government (Lex Rex) and refutation of the Divine Right of Kings view (Rex Lex). After Rutherford’s death, his book was publicly burned by the tyrannical Stuart kings, but it influenced America’s Founding Fathers.

Pierre Viret, When To Disobey: Case Studies in Tyranny, Insurrection and Obedience to God, trans. Rebekah Sheats, ed. Scott T. Brown (Wake Forest, NC: Church & Family Life, 2021). Pierre Viret (1511-1571) was a Swiss-French Reformer and a close friend of John Calvin. This is a classic defense of the rights and limits of resistance to tyranny.

George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming: The Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated (London: Richard Whitaker, 1646). George Gillespie (1613-1648) was a Scottish Presbyterian pastor and theologian. This work defends the separate and independent jurisdiction of the church from state control against the Erastians.

The Magdeburg Confession: 13th of April, 1550 AD, trans. Matthew Colvin (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2012), http://magdeburgconfession.com. This Lutheran defense of resistance to tyranny influenced later Reformed theologians.

David W. Hall, Calvin in the Public Square: Liberal Democracies, Rights and Civil Liberties (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2009). This work explores John Calvin’s influence on civil government, politics, and society.

Robert E. Fugate, Tyrants Are Not Ministers of God: What the Bible Teaches about Civil Disobedience, Romans 13, and Quarantine (Omaha: Lord of the Nations LLC, 2020). This is a modern application of these principles to today’s current medical mandates.

Other Historic Defenses of Resistance to Tyranny

Heinrich Bullinger, The Decades, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, [1550] (1849), https://www.monergism.com/decades-ebook. Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) was Ulrich Zwingli’s successor as chief pastor of Zurich. The Decades are Bullinger’s exposition of the Ten Commandments. His discussion of resistance to tyranny can be found in his exposition of the Sixth Commandment.

John Ponet, A Short Treatise on Political Power (1556), https://faculty.etsu.edu/history/documents/ponet.htm. John Ponet (c. 1514-1556) was an English Protestant pastor who fled to the European Continent during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor. John Ponet was an English clergyman. His work was one of the first polemics against the Divine Right of Kings. According to John Adams (America’s second president), his work on civil covenants was the foundation on which John Locke would later build his theories of government. Ponet gave the theology, and Locke promoted it broadly.

Christopher Goodman, How Superior Powers Ought to be Obeyed of their Subjects: and Wherein they may Lawfully by God’s Word be Disobeyed and Resisted (Geneva: Christopher Goodman, 1558), https://constitution.org/1-Constitution/cmt/goodman/obeyed.htm. Christopher Goodman (1520-1603) was another English Protestant leader who fled to the European Continent during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen “Bloody” Mary Tudor. He also contributed to the Geneva Bible. His book convincingly justified Christian resistance to tyranny. Goodman indicated that he had presented the thesis of this book to John Calvin, and Calvin endorsed it.

John Knox, History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. Cuthbert Lennox (London: Andrew Melrose, [1564] 1905), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/48250/48250-h/48250-h.htm. John Knox (c. 1514-1572) was the leading reformer of the Scottish Reformation. He set forth his views on resistance to tyranny in conversations with Mary Queen of Scots in 1561 (p. 231 ff.) and Secretary Lethington in 1564 (p. 318 ff.).

Theodore Beza, The Right of Magistrates, trans. Henry-Loius Gonin, ed. Patrick S. Poole (1574), https://www.yorku.ca/comninel/courses/3020pdf /Beza.pdf. Theodore Beza (1519-1605) was John Calvin’s successor as chief pastor of Geneva. This book was published in response to the growing persecution of Christians in France. Building on Calvin’s political resistance theory, Beza gave the contours of what biblical revolt would look like. This book influenced many Americans during the War for Independence from Britain.

George Buchanan, De Jure Regni apud Scotos [The Law of Kings in Scotland], trans. Robert MacFarlan (Edinburgh: A. Murray, [1579] 1799), http://www.portagepub.com/dl/caa/buchanan.pdf. George Buchanan (1506-1582) was the tutor of King James VI of Scotland. His work argued that tyrants may be resisted.

Johannes Althusius, Politica Methodice Digesta [Politics Methodically Set Forth] (1603), https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/althusius-politica#Althusius_0002_403. Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) was a German Reformed jurist and political philosopher.

Jonathan Mayhew, Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (Boston: D. Fowle and D. Gookin, 1750), https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/etas/44/. This sermon, delivered in 1750, was said by some to be the spark that ignited the American War for Independence. John Adams claimed, “It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies… It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament.”

Find These Resources Online

https://kaysercommentary.com/divine-right.md

Notes

1The following books show that Rome (in reaction to Sicarii attacks) made private sword ownership illegal: Martin Goodman and Jane Sherwood, The Roman World, 44 BC-AD 180 (London: Routledge, 1997); Thomas Grünewald, Bandits in the Roman Empire: Myth and Reality, trans. by John Drinkwater (London: Routledge, 2004); Christopher J. Fuhrmann, Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 184; E. Mary Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule: From Pompey to Diocletian: A Study in Political Relations (Boston: Brill, 2001), 241.

2For resources on spiritual warfare and the demonic influence of Roman rulers, see my Revelation Series at BiblicalBlueprints.com, SermonAudio.com, or find The Revelation Project podcast on your favorite podcast app.

3James M. Willson, Civil Government: An Exposition of Romans XIII. 1-7 (Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1853), 19. Willson’s extended treatment of Romans 13 is masterful, and I highly recommend that it be read and digested. These brief quotes do not do justice to his summarization of the historic Reformed position.

4David Abernathy, An Exegetical Summary of Romans 9–16 (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2009), 236.

5William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 991.

6Willson, 25.

7Willson, 29.

8Willson, 31.

9John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 341. Here is another commentary that takes a similar view on the nature of the magistrate in Romans 13: Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 307–308.

10For further research, the following are a sampling of commentaries that seek to demonstrate why “the one who delivered Me to you” is a reference to Caiaphas: Andreas J. Kostenberger, John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004); D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991); Comfort, Phillip W. and Wendall C. Hawley. Opening the Gospel of John (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1994); Marcus Dods, The Gospel of St. John (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.); R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961); Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Gospel of John, Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1875), 339–340; etc.

11For further contextual reasons why this interpretation makes the most sense, see Rodney A. Whitacre, John, vol. 4, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 435, 450-453.

12There are some restrictions on the use of the death penalty — for instance, in relation to victim’s rights — which I explore further in my booklet Is the Death Penalty Just? You can find that booklet on BiblicalBlueprints.com or by scanning the QR code at the back of this book.

13State powers were also to be checked by separation of powers between geographic jurisdictions (tribes had power to choose or not choose a king, 2 Sam. 2:4-11; 5:1-5, or to war against another tribe, Judges 20) and between legislative, executive, and judicial branches (Isa. 33:22; Jer. 22:3; Deut. 1:17); and by the possibility of interposition (Joshua 2:1-16; 2 Sam. 24:3; 1 Kings 12:16-24; 18:3-4; 2 Chron. 21:10; 26:20; etc.) or jury nullification where “the people” could deliver an accused person from a magistrate (“the avenger of blood”) through their own deliberation (Numb. 35:25).

14God’s requirements in Deuteronomy 17 also imposed limits on who can rule. While 2 Samuel 23:1-7 and Psalm 2 give character requirements for God-honoring rulers, Deuteronomy 17:15 clarified that the highest office in the land must be occupied by citizens, not foreigners (v. 15). This would limit rulers to those known in character by the people, and with undivided loyalties.

15For the best explanation I’ve found on Biblical taxes, see Dr. Robert Fugate’s book Toward a Theology of Taxation (Omaha: Lord of the Nations LLC, 2016).

16My Revelation Series is available on BiblicalBlueprints.com, SermonAudio.com, or on your favorite podcast app as “The Revelation Project”.

17Louis DeBoer, “The Fundamental Tactic for Resisting Tyranny,” in Gary North, ed., Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium Edited by Gary North (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 13.

18Rev. 1:5b-6; 4:8, 11; 5:9-10, 12, 13b, 14; 6:10; 7:10, 12; 11:15, 17-18; 12:10-12; 14:3; 15:3-4; 16:5-6, 7b; 18:2-3, 4-7, 10, 16-17a, 19, 20, 21-24; 19:1b-3, 4, 5, 6b-8.

19This is documented in my sermon on Revelation 6:9-11, “The Cry Of The Martyrs: Was It Answered?” available on BiblicalBlueprints.com, SermonAudio.com, or on your favorite podcast app.

20This is also documented in secular history by Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People, II, vol. 2 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 257ff.; Simeon L. Guterman, Religious Toleration and Persecution in Ancient Rome (London: Aiglon Press, 1951); Charles Merivale, A History of the Romans Under the Empire (London: Spottiswoode and Co., 1865), 423.

21To hear these messages on Psalm 5, scan the QR code at the back of this book or listen to the Foundations Series on BiblicalBlueprints.com.

22This sermon series, “The Life of David,” can be found on BiblicalBlueprints.com, SermonAudio.com, or on your favorite podcast app.

23R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 1051–1052.

24This sermon, “Confrontation of the Python Spirit,” can be found in my Acts Series on BiblicalBlueprints.com, SermonAudio.com, or on your favorite podcast app.