The Death Penalty for False Prophecy Brad Jersak

JESUS CHRIST ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

I believe that when Jesus Christ said, He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7), he forever put to rest the question of the death penalty. This was his final verdict on the matter. Sadly, those who claim Christ as Lord are now statistically most in support of capital punishment. In fact, it’s odd that those who take the strongest stand on behalf of the unborn are, ironically, most reticent to abandon state-sponsored killing. That suggests to me that the rhetoric is less about saving lives than it is about partisan-identity.

Here’s what we know about God through the revelation of Jesus: our Abba is utterly opposed to the reign of death and his disciples will not participate in death-dealing of any kind. Until Christianity got in bed with Empire, the church heard these words of Christ as a mandate for all believers: Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

THE HOLY FUNCTION OF THE DEATH PENALTY

What then do we make of the Torah’s use of the death penalty? Did God issue those commands? Were they accommodations to ancient near eastern culture? Was that simply a projection of humanity’s default violence? Or part of the old covenant now abolished with the capital murder of Christ? These are complex questions worthy of much study and debate. No matter how we might finally answer them, I want to raise just one factor for thought.

I would propose that the pedagogical intent of the Law was to establish the measure of eye-for-an-eye justice. This has some implications, some of which may surprise readers:

  • The Law sought to take vengeance out of the hands of the victim or vigilante and made justice the responsibility of the community.
  • The Law sought to end cycles of escalation and retribution with a penalty proportionate to the crime.

So far, we’re still in the realm of the obvious. But as a rabbi friend of Lazar Puhalo pointed out, “If we Jews had taken the Law literally, eventually, the last surviving Jew would have had to stone himself to death.” The aphorism is humorous but also powerful in its implications:

  • The Law established the measure of the seriousness of the sin. This is not the same as meting out the penalty for that sin.
  • The Law established the weight of leverage behind the call to the true and higher justice of repentance and reconciliation.

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT – REBELLIOUS CHILDREN

Let’s begin with an example of a rebellious child. In Deuteronomy 21:18-21, the law says that a wayward son or daughter must be put to death. Seriously? Did they really expect parents to bring their children in to be stoned? No. That wasn’t the point.

The point was that the death penalty showed the children that the sin of rebellion is equivalent to death in its seriousness. Rebellion inevitably, ultimately costs lives. So, there we have the measure or gravity of rebellion. Was the point of that law now to mete out death to the child? No. Rather, by laying out such a serious penalty for the crime, the rebellious teen, the adulterer, or the murderer would be motivated to enter a thorough process of repentance and reconciliation. Instead of seeing the law as retributive justice to be exacted, it became the negotiating chip for restoration in families, between neighbours, and across communities.

EXECUTING FALSE PROPHETS

Now a word about those false prophets. You know who I mean, right? In recent context, we witnessed public ministers who presumed to deliver political prophecies prescribing partisan policies and people, issued divine threats, cursed those who voted for the other faction’s candidate, incited violence, proclaimed victory “in Jesus’ name,” and even now continue to deny that they were mistaken or lying. A very rare few have become repentant, grieving over their spiritual casualties, and owning their responsibility for creating fanatics. In God’s wisdom, some are even valued friends of mine for whom I feel compassion and can offer redemption.

Now given my personal commitment to the nonviolence of the Jesus Way and my opposition to the death penalty, you might find my proposal shocking.

It’s time to reinstate the death penalty for false prophets.

Yes, you heard me. And yes, my own missteps would surely put me in their company.

I am NOT saying that anyone should pick up stones to execute them.

Rather, I am urgently reminding those who purport to be prophets that these types of errors are not just a little “oops” that we play around with apart from consequences. Prophetic delusions and deceptions cost lives. Literally. Those lost lives have names: Brian D. Sicknick, Ashli Babbitt, Benjamin Philips, Kevin Greeson, Rosanne Boyland, Howard Liebengood, and Jeffrey Smith. Today these folks are dead, in great part through the blasphemies of defiant prophets who gave spiritual sanction to the capitol siege. The biblical sentence for that is death.

Deuteronomy 13 1 “If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.

THE LIFE-GIVER’S INVITATION

In light of the sobriety of such texts, we are grateful that God is a life-giver and not a death-dealer, and we would hope those who follow Jesus Christ emulate that commitment. We worship the Redeemer, not an executioner. But the fact that God has no intention whatsoever of taking the life of even one of the false prophets does not negate the measure of severity that the Law assigns their capital crimes.

That God applies amazing grace to sin rather than striking down the sinner does not at all diminish the seriousness of the sin. Rather, the Law is a tutor that illuminates the unfathomable grace already granted, ironically, through the unjust execution of Christ. And it reveals the corresponding depth of honesty, humility, repentance, and willingness to make amends appropriate to the offender. Irrespective of the world system’s retributive ideologies, Christ always, always opens a path to redemption and forgiveness. That gospel is powerful to generate our joyous response. But woe to those who receive the invitation and then double down in their insolence. Far better to take hold of the good news, and here it is:    

 “For we will surely die and become like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away a life; but He devises means, so that His banished ones are not expelled from Him (2 Samuel 14:14).

So, once again, I invite those who prophesied falsely, whether knowingly or in ignorance, in good faith or in bad, to own their sin, recognize its seriousness, acknowledge due judgment, and then ask for the mercy already granted. Rather than putting prophets to death, these ‘prophets’ are to put to death the practices that set stumbling stones and snares in their disciples’ path. For some, it is already too late to abandon the lemming run to self-destruction. But to those for whom the wages of sin have not been paid, I implore you: open your hands to grace and start the trek home. I’ll meet you on the way.


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