In the early years, citizens of Rome saw Christ’s followers persecuted, tortured, brutalized, and murdered in huge numbers, throughout the Empire. In most cases, they did not resist the evil that was done to them – but rather, they went willingly to their painful deaths. Why? Of course they had faith – a giant faith, a faith rarely seen in human history. But many in the pagan world had faith, and yet, when threatened, they resisted. The world had never before seen anything like the willing martyrdom of these early followers of Christ.
The world had never before seen it simply because it was a completely new and radical idea introduced by Jesus and described in Matthew 5 (38-39, 43-44): “You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, resist not evil: but whoever smites you on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…. I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
Now if that is not a revolutionary concept, we don’t know what is. And the proof lies not only in the rapid spread of Christianity among the Romans who witnessed these martyrs and were awestruck by their example. The proof can be seen in our own time, in the civil rights revolution that in less than 50 years brought America from Bull Connor to Barack Obama. It was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s doctrine of nonviolence in the face of evil that made the movement unstoppable by any human force. It is one of the most powerful ideas known to man – and yet it did not come from man, in fact for human beings it is completely counter-intuitive – our first instinct is to strike back, not turn the other cheek.