Sedition is any action or speech designed to incite people to rebel against their lawful governing authorities. Sedition is usually the beginning of anarchy. There has long been a legal debate in America over what counts as seditious speech and what is covered by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. History is replete with examples of Christians disobeying laws that prohibited preaching or teaching the gospel. Was this sedition, and, if so, is all sedition wrong?
In one sense, sedition was the first sin in recorded history when Lucifer (Satan) led a revolt against the Most High God in heaven and was thrown to the earth, along with one third of the angels (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:12–18). Lucifer wanted to be worshiped and obeyed instead of God, and his pride led to sedition. This desire for prominence that incites public revolt is the common thread in most acts of sedition.
The first example of human sedition in the Bible is Numbers 16. God had appointed Moses and Aaron as His spokesmen, but Korah and several other men, moved by jealousy, led a revolt against them. God judged the rebels harshly, causing the ground beneath them to collapse and bury them alive (Numbers 16:31–33). A second wave of sedition came the next morning, when the rest of the Israelite camp grumbled that Moses and Aaron had killed godly men (verse 41). God was angry with His people and sent a plague among them that killed an additional 14,700 people (verses 46–50).
The Jews were (falsely) accused of sedition by those who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem (Ezra 4:6–24). The assassination of a king is always an act of sedition. Sometimes the assassination was condemned as a wicked thing, as in the case of the two men who murdered King Ish-Bosheth (2 Samuel 4:5–12); other times, the assassination was heralded as an act of divine deliverance, as in the case of Ehud the judge (Judges 3:15–30). Before he was king, David was very careful not to act seditiously against King Saul: “The LORD forbid that I should . . . lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the LORD” (1 Samuel 24:6).
Another example of sedition in the Bible is when King David’s son Absalom conspired to take the kingdom from his father (2 Samuel 15:1–4). Absalom used a cunning tactic in his sedition. He was subtle and won the loyalty of the Israelite people behind his father’s back. Through perseverance and deception, Absalom led the people to drive David from the palace (2 Samuel 15:13–14). David fled for his life, hiding in caves, crying out to God, but never losing his love for his son. When Absalom was killed in battle, David grieved (2 Samuel 18:33), but he was restored to his rightful place as king.
Under Roman rule, sedition was a serious crime. Once, the religious leaders sent spies to Jesus to try to catch Him in His words; their question to Jesus, “Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Luke 20:22), was meant to draw out a seditious statement and so give them occasion to “hand him over to the power and authority of the governor” (verse 20). Jesus did not fall into that trap, but, later, at Jesus’ eventual trial before Pilate, the same religious leaders intimated that Jesus was guilty of sedition, shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). Ironically, Barabbas, the man whom Pilate released instead of Jesus, was truly guilty of sedition—and murder (Mark 15:7).
The apostle Paul was considered to be a leader of sedition almost everywhere he went. It’s true that riots sometimes broke out when he preached, and he suffered the consequences from leaders who believed they were quelling sedition (see Acts 17:5–6; 19:23–41; 21:38), but Paul never taught the overthrow of government. It was the message of the gospel of Christ that caused the turmoil. False charges of sedition were brought against Paul in his trial before Felix, as the Jews’ smooth-tongued spokesman said, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect” (Acts 24:5). Paul refuted the charge of sedition: “My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. . . . There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance” (verses 12, 18).
We are commanded in Scripture to obey our governing authorities (Romans 13:1–7; Titus 3:1). Christians are to “if . . . possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18), a command that rules out sedition. To revolt or incite insurrection against the government disregards God’s command. Of course, there are times when we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). When man’s law contradicts God’s law or oppresses the weak and defenseless, we are required to do what’s right (Proverbs 24:11; Psalm 41:1; Isaiah 1:17), but outright rebellion against governing authorities is a last resort.
America is seeing an increase of sedition as angry mobs demand what they perceive to be their “rights.” Rioters destroy property and cause harm to the innocent and then attempt to justify their own tyranny by claiming that the government, culture, law enforcement, or another race is oppressing them. Ironically, the very government they decry is protecting their right to speak out. Such sedition is not to be embraced by those who profess to follow Christ. Christians are to let love be the defining trait in all we do (1 Corinthians 13:1), and engaging in insurrection and mob action is not loving.