Ukraine, Russia, and Jesus: Should We Intervene in Foreign Wars?

“You may immediately think: what relevance does the ministry of Jesus have to this whole situation with Ukraine? If you are a Christian, then let me tell you, this is precisely the problem with how we engage in world affairs as Christians.”

Ukraine. What to say about Ukraine. I am not going to give my expert opinion on Ukraine, because I am not one. If you wish to hear an expert opinion click here.

I do, however, have an opinion that I have shared in various places, and it would be roughly similar to John Mearsheimer’s, who is a foreign policy expert. I am strongly against the West intervening more in the situation, and indeed, I am generally against intervention in most circumstances. There are many ways to address this topic, what I want to do is look at this whole affair from a different perspective: The ministry of Jesus.

You may immediately think: what relevance does the ministry of Jesus have to this whole situation with Ukraine? If you are a Christian, then let me tell you, this is precisely the problem with how we engage in world affairs as Christians.

We think too much like the world and too little like the Scriptures, and the Lord of those Scriptures. Many Australian, and indeed American, Christians are big believers in intervening militarily in foreign wars. Never mind the fact that none of these interventions have been successful since 1945, and even the “successful” intervention of World War 2 ended up empowering the Soviet Union and is part of the causal chain underpinning the current crisis.

Despite all of the West’s disasters, many people believe that Western interventionism, though imperfect, is still benign and therefore should be encouraged in times of crisis. Troops on the ground prevent larger wars, sort of thinking. People believe this still, despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  

This is worldly thinking. It is not righteous thinking. It is not our job, even as part of some global policing alliance, to interfere in wars of other nations with military force or support. Especially when they are far away, constituted of a very alien culture, and regard issues that are none of our concern, and I want to demonstrate that this is biblical thinking. I particularly want to demonstrate this from the ministry of Jesus.

Have you noticed how rarely if ever Jesus criticizes or speaks about the actions of the Romans? This is remarkable to observe because Jesus was a Jewish man living under an unjust occupation of his own homeland and people, yet very rarely does he even speak about the Romans.

We know from the few times he does that he doesn’t appear to like them very much (except of course the Roman Centurion c.f. Matt. 8:5-13). We never see anything even kind of similar to an, “I stand with….fill in the dots to support the current country,” statement in Jesus’ ministry. Yet, Jesus lived in the same world of conflict that we do. Look at this (the numbers are years in the first century, for example, 9AD, etc.):

  • “Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (9) – German leader Arminius ambushes three Roman legions under Publius Quinctilius Varus.
  • Battle at Pontes Longi (15) – Indecisive battle between a Roman army under Aulus Caecina Severus and German tribes led by Arminius.
  • Battle of the Weser River (16) – Legions under Germanicus defeat German tribes of Arminius.
  • Roman conquest of Britain (43–96)
    • 43 – Battle of the Medway – Claudius and general Aulus Plautius defeat a confederation of British Celtic tribes. Roman invasion of Britain begins.
    • 50 – Battle of Caer Caradoc – British chieftain Caractacus is defeated and captured by the Romans under Ostorius Scapula.”

This is a list of major wars that were happening in the general era of Jesus’ ministry (these wars date from 9AD to 50AD[i]). None of these wars were co-terminus with the ministry of Jesus, yet the Romans were committing all sorts of atrocities around their empire, and they had continual border skirmishes on every boundary of the empire.

The Germans along the Rhine were a particular problem for the Romans and would eventually conquer Rome and pretty much all of Europe. Small scale border conflict was pretty much continual. Rome was up to its neck in attacking various peoples often.

So where is Jesus’, “I stand with Germania Libera”[ii] statement? Where is Jesus’ I stand with the victims of Roman aggression statement? We don’t have one, because Jesus was not focused on such things in his ministry. He was a Jewish man (also God in the flesh) who was concerned about how the Jewish leaders were treating his people, and he was here to achieve salvation for all people in the midst of the Jewish people.

It is important to note in this context that we never see Jesus railing against the Jewish leaders for not involving themselves in the affairs of other nations. Indeed, we never see Israel being judged for this reason anywhere in Scripture.

Jesus’ ministry is thoroughly consistent with the teaching of the Old Testament, when God judges a nation’s leaders it is because: (a) they have committed idolatry; (b) have been unrighteous; (c) have harmed their own people; (d) have harmed or interfered with other peoples. There are many variations of these themes. Yet, never are leaders in the Bible challenged to solve the problems of other nations, and never does Jesus rebuke the Jewish leaders for not seeking to interfere, in say, the border regions of Rome.

Jesus was concerned with the Jewish leaders’ neglect of his own, and their own, people.

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:35-38).  

People often forget that at least one of the statements about the harvest being plentiful was in the context of the utter neglect and abandonment that the Jewish leaders had shown for their people, creating great desperation and need. Jesus observed on many occasions how the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were hurting or neglecting his people, the Jewish people. This infuriated him.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matt. 23:23-26).

Jesus criticized the Jewish leaders on many occasions and he was not afraid to list their many faults. Never among those faults was that they were not doing enough about issues far afield in other nations.

Indeed, think about how silly such an accusation would be, national leaders have no sovereignty over foreign nations. The Pharisees and Sadducees were among the national leaders of Israel, especially the Sadducees. Remember in this day the religious and secular leaders were not distinguished, the religion of Israel was intrinsically wound up in the state.

So, it is reasonable for us to observe how Jesus weighed and measured the Jewish leaders and apply this to our own modern national leaders. His priority is clearly the neglect of their duties to their own subjects and people, and the temporary sojourner within their midst.  

Make no mistake, Jesus himself was focused on the Jewish people in his ministry. We see an interesting example of this in the gospel of Mark:  

“And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone” (Mark 7:24-30).

This is a remarkably brutal passage on the behalf of Jesus. Over the years I have seen people try to explain the response of Jesus here away because he hits the woman with a pretty harsh statement, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Here is this woman, who comes to him in need, and he appears to slap her down, almost appearing to want to drive her away. Why would Jesus respond like this?

Well, simply because he is a Jewish male, and she is a Syrophoenician woman. Matthew calls her a Canaanite (Matt. 15:22). The Syrophoenicians[iii], or ancient Phoenicians, were a Canaanite people who were often allies of the Israelites, evening aiding in the building of the temple under Solomon, but they also had an incredibly negative impact on the Israelite nation.

Jezebel, for example, was a Phoenician woman, from Tyre and Sidon, and she had great influence over the corruption of the worship of Yahweh in Israel greatly encouraging the worship of the Baals and Asherahs:

“(There was none who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord like Ahab, whom Jezebel his wife incited. 26 He acted very abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord cast out before the people of Israel)” (1 Kings 21:25-26).

Women like Jezebel were literally the epitome of a dangerous snare to a righteous Jewish male. Indeed, Jesus himself would speak about this in Revelation (Rev. 2:19-23). When you understand the danger such Canaanite women posed, it is not surprising that Jesus would respond with contempt and suspicion.

But this is also an important nationalist argument about the role of national leaders, the children should be fed first, before the dogs. Leaders should prioritize their people. Because Jesus is a good leader, he is prioritizing his people.

You may not like how Jesus phrases this, but this is simply the meaning of his statement: I must prioritize my own people first and foremost, others can wait.

Matthew states this directly in his version of the account where Jesus says to the woman, “He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matt. 15:24). Jesus did not care about political correctness at all in his ministry, which is part of why he was so cruelly executed.  

The woman’s response is remarkable because she shows that she understands this. What does she say, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In other words, the dogs get the leftovers.

Jesus loves this answer because it shows she is: a) not a threat to his ministry, and b) she recognizes her place as not being part of his Jewish people, and so he grants her the answer to her request, “’For this statement, you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’ And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

We see here that Jesus has a deep understanding of the role of a leader of his people. A national leader should be focused on his people. Of course, once your people’s needs are met, then it is reasonable to help others.

In the case of Jesus, he has unlimited resources, in the case of national leaders they do not, and they have no right to use tax power funded resources that are to be dedicated to their own peoples to help foreign peoples. Unless of course, their nation is not in need of it. Such a society doesn’t yet exist, does it?

Jesus’ unique love for his own people carries through to the end of his ministry:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:37-39).

Jesus loved his people, like a loyal son of Jerusalem should. Modern readers forget that most people in the world today do not, and most people in history did not live in a state of cultural or ethnic self-loathing.

This is particularly sinister wickedness of modern westerners; any loyalty to your own nation is seen as out of date, not right, even evil in some quarters. But the Bible is not like that, read the Psalms, see how the Jews loved their nation, the Romans loved theirs just as much, as did the Greeks, so did the Persians, Egyptians, and more.

Jesus is truly a Jewish man, he truly did come in human flesh, and he felt the loyalty and love for his own that is natural for a person to feel. Of course, Jesus’ ministry has multinational implications, and his message has as much application for Gentiles as it does for the ancient Jews; but you can see in his focus a determined dedication to his own people.

Now, he did not believe that people of other nations were not of value, or should not be extended grace, that is not my point at all, and I want to state that outright so there is no confusion, for the parable of the good Samaritan displays this deeply. So does Jesus’ answering this woman’s prayer. He just shows with his perspective where a leader’s loyalties should lie; with his own. This is not radical; it used to be normal, but in a globalist world it is frowned on.

If a national leader is supposed to interfere in other nation’s affairs, why does God never condemn them for not doing so? Why does Jesus never even broach the topic? Because this is not the purpose of a government; this is the Satanic-Babel-empire-building-corruption of the purpose of government that has infested many nations.

The kind of thinking idea that leads to ideas or movements such as: nations should be joined together into empires, one king ruling over many nations with many vassal states, or nations interfering with each other for global goals, should be condemned. This is not God’s intention for the nations, it’s an evil inversion.  

God determined for nations to be separate and self-governing, limited by their own borders: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26).

It is the human desire for empire, and for going beyond our God-given role that causes us to want to do more. For a nation to seek to enlarge its borders is unrighteous: “Thus says the Lord: ‘For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, that they might enlarge their border’” (Amos 1:13).

Note here it is the ripping of pregnant women and enlarging borders that are sins. In fact, Proverbs says, “Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your ancestors” (Pro. 22:28).

A government only has sovereignty up to its borders, it ends there, and its borders are not to be moved. Of course, people move them all the time and many modern borders are disputed, which is part of why we have so much trouble in the world.

But here is the good news: the Scriptures DO give believers ONE way to interfere in the power structure of other nations; through the spreading of the Gospel. Jesus told us to take the Gospel out into the world and command the nations to obey him (Matt. 28:18-20). When you do this, you will come up against pagan kings who are opposed to the gospel, or sometimes open to the Gospel:

“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:17-20).

God has given us authority to come before kings and leaders of people to tell them to repent, turn to God and submit to the King of kings. I am not one of those people who believe Christians should not be involved in politics; the gospel has direct implications not just for people, but for nations:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” (Romans 1:1-6).

As citizens our priority as people of our nation is to work for its good, the priority of national leaders is to focus on their own people, and if there are leftovers they can go to other peoples.

But as Christians, we have the authority to take the gospel to all nations and seek to work for the obedience of kings and presidents and all kinds of leaders. The Church is for all people everywhere, and the world needs this message.   

I encourage those Christians who are eager to get involved in Ukraine that this is your avenue of influence: take the gospel. Stand before leaders you disagree with like the brave Roman and Irish missionaries that stood before Anglo-Saxon kings and proclaim repentance.

The Church has a history of such brave missionaries. Don’t get me wrong, at times the Church was advanced at the point of a sword, Charlemagne comes to mind here. But that isn’t how we were told to spread the message. The mandate we have been given from our king, if we choose to accept it, is to say to people and national leaders everywhere: turn to Jesus and bow before the King.

But outside of this, we need to follow the example of our Lord, and stop interfering with other nations because it causes more trouble than it solves. If you love your neighbour you don’t constantly interfere and make things worse.  You treat them how you want to be treated: in this case, as a sovereign nation.

[i] C.E. is for losers.

[ii] Free Germania. Note the German people were not called “Germany” in Jesus’ day.

[iii] This was the name of their territory under Roman Rule.

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