What the Bible Says About Political Rebellion and Revolution

Is political revolution biblically justified? Recent events in the Middle East have raised this question in my mind. For the most part the evangelical Christian community seem to be sympathetic of these "revolutionary" movements, but I can't help wondering whether the Bible supports this kind of activity. Isn't it simply rebellion against the governing authorities? How can this be reconciled with Paul's exhortation to "submit" to the state (Romans 13:1-7)?

We’ve fielded inquiries like this before, specifically in connection with the subject of the American Revolution. Perhaps we can apply the principles gleaned from that discussion to the broader issue of civil disobedience on a global scale.

Was there a genuinely biblical basis or justification for the American Revolution? That isn’t as easy to resolve as it seems at first glance. Jefferson, Madison, and the other architects of America’s independence didn’t actually trace their ideas to a scriptural source. Instead, they were working directly off of concepts developed by writers such as John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau were philosophers who had played a major role in developing the Social Contract Theory during the 17th and 18th centuries. This theory, in turn, was a synthesis of a number of different lines of philosophical thought. A couple of these have distinctly biblical roots: first, the idea that man, as a creature made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), has been “endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights” (the Declaration of Independence); and second, that the authority of kings and other human rulers is subject to and contingent upon the absolute sovereignty of God. This implies that when these two authorities come into conflict, the righteous have an obligation to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

As you can probably see, there is a connection here. But it isn’t necessarily as tight and neat and tidy as we might prefer. At any rate, these are the conclusions that many Christian preachers and theologians came to during the American colonial period. The best we can do is to suggest that their ideas may also apply to similar situations in other countries.

You may be interested to know that this subject was at one time a topic of ongoing debate on the discussion board of Focus on the Family’sTheTruth Project®. During that period, Dr. Del Tackett, author and presenter of The Truth Project, weighed in with a few pointed questions intended to provide some helpful food for thought related to the issue of rebellion, revolution, and the kingdom of God. Among other things, Dr. Tackett asked whether we should regard Moses as a “rebel” or a “traitor” to the governing authorities. Why or why not? Did Moses act in accordance with God’s direction in requesting “independence” for the Jews and then engaging in a “war” against Pharaoh (God and Moses versus Pharaoh) until Pharaoh surrendered and capitulated? If so, was this sinful? Again, perhaps it can be helpful to view current events in the Middle East in light of these questions.

If you’d like to discuss this subject at greater length, call us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


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