The favorite passage of pacifist Christians is Matthew 5:38-39, where Christ commands us to “turn the other cheek.” However, this is not a command to let people walk over us. The slap on the right cheek was an insulting backhand slap, not an assault. Christ is commanding us here, as he does in other places, not to return insult for insult. The words “don’t resist an evildoer” do not indicate that we should not seek justice, or that we should not defend ourselves when threatened with serious bodily harm. Remember, Christ was a Jew, so He upheld the Mosaic Law unless he explicitly stated a change. Christ did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17)
So, Christ was not doing away with a law, He was explaining it, in order to correct tradition’s misapplication of it.
Christ explained that “an eye for an eye” was given, not as a mandate for personal vengeance, but as a principle to guide courts in determining appropriate punishments. It was meant as a check on extreme vengeance, and surprisingly, non-Christians who study law understand this better than many Christians. When I took a Policing class at Edinboro University, the professor amazed me by how much respect and admiration he stated he, and others who studied the law, had for the Mosaic Law. One statement has burned into my memory, “The Mosaic Law was the first truly fair legal system, and the only one for many centuries. With its checks and balances, proportionate punishments and reciprocities, it was a truly just system. That’s why America’s legal system is based heavily on it.” My professor actually mentioned the “turn the other cheek” passage, and talked about how it was meant to check any further retaliation. If you lost an eye, the most that could be done to the other person was equal retribution.
Christ, however, took this and pointed out that while that law is in place, it is not an obligation; we have the choice not to retaliate, and Christ states that this is the best course of action in the case of personal insults, because as far as it concerns us, we are to be at peace with all men, as Paul puts it.
And if that wasn’t enough evidence, I like to point out the times when Roman soldiers would come to Christ, accept Him, and ask Him what they should do with their lives. Does Christ command them to get out of their line of work? Does He say it’s ok to be a soldier as long as they don’t kill anyone? No – He commands them to be satisfied with their wages, not to extort money, and not to accuse people falsely (Luke 3:14).
Christ was the most peaceful man who ever lived, but He most certainly was not a pacifist; and He’s coming back as a conquering King to destroy all His enemies. “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” – Rev. 22:20