Did Jesus Demand We Kill His Enemies?

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Whoa, that doesn’t sound like the meek and mild-mannered Jesus we know. Did He wake up on the wrong side of the bed? What’s going on?

When I teach on “Never Read a Bible Verse,” I often cite this passage because it’s a great example of how someone who reads (or hears) only a single Bible verse out of context can easily mistake its meaning.

This verse, though, is not a command of Christ. When you read it in context, you quickly realize that Jesus is telling a parable (a fictitious story) about a king whose subjects hate him. It’s the king in the story, not Jesus, who issues the order to kill his enemies.

Though this resolves the contextual concern, it raises another question: Who is the king in the parable supposed to represent? Jesus’ story is found in Luke 19:11–27. It’s the “Parable of the Minas.” In it, a nobleman travels to a distant country to be appointed king. Before he leaves, he gives ten of his servants minas (a mina is about a month’s wages) to invest until he returns. Many of his subjects hate him, though, and don’t want him to rule over them. So, they send a delegation to protest his appointment. Despite their protest, he still becomes king and returns. He calls his servants to account for their investments and also dispenses some rewards and punishments. Finally, he issues the command to kill those who protested his appointment.

The concern is that Jesus seems to be identifying Himself as the nobleman (or the king) in the story. Does that mean He was ordering His followers to round up those who refused to be under His rule and have them executed? No, for at least two reasons.

First, Jesus is telling a parable to His listeners. This is something He often did to communicate an idea or illustrate a point. One of the interpretive guidelines for this genre of literature is to remember that not every element of a parable is intended to have real-world carryover. Rather, we’re supposed to figure out the purpose of the story. The listener (or reader in our case) is supposed to ask, what’s the point of the parable? What’s the take-home message Jesus wants us to understand?

In the case of this parable, there are two reasons Jesus told it. Luke tells us the first reason in verse 11. Jesus “went on to tell them a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once” (emphasis mine). Jesus’ followers expected His kingdom to begin immediately, and He sought to correct them. A second point Jesus makes is to stress the importance of being a good steward with what God has given us until He returns. He illustrates this point with the minas.

Second, Jesus includes the king’s execution order in the parable because it was a reference to a historical event. After King Herod died, his son Archelaus went to Rome to claim kingship over Judea. The Jews sent an envoy to petition against his appointment because they opposed his rule. Archelaus was crowned king, however, returned, and then issued the command to kill those who were against him.

Jesus references this historical event in His parable. Although that’s unusual, Jesus is not commanding His followers to round up His enemies and kill them. Rather, He is referencing a recent event His listeners were aware of—Archelaus’ return and his order to execute his enemies.

Remember, with parables you want to ask, What’s the point? In this case, Jesus is telling His followers that He will go away and eventually return. When He does, He will exact judgment on His enemies (Rev. 19:11–16). His judgment, however, will be just and He will carry it out Himself.

Jesus, then, does identify Himself as the nobleman in the story. Although He’s not ordering us to round up and kill His enemies, there’s still a sober take-home message. While Jesus is away, we’re responsible for investing our resources for His kingdom. When He returns, He will hold us accountable for what we did with what we were given and judge those who did not trust Him as their King.

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Alan Shlemon