Love Even for Oppressors?

Dividing the world’s population is easy. We do it all the time. Salty cravers and sweet cravers. Avocado lovers and avocado haters. Coffee drinkers and tea drinkers. Jocks and nerds. Oppressors and oppressed. 

That final category has received much attention in recent times. While few of us would ever want to admit to being an oppressor, in eras gone by most would not have sought out being known as oppressed either. But that no longer seems true. It has become popular to look for ways to identify with an oppressed community in order to rage against the oppressor. 

However, our Savior showed us a very different way. Isaiah foretold that Jesus would undergo oppression without raging against those who unjustly abused, mocked, and killed Him (53:7). While oppression is certainly wrong, and I don’t want to pretend that it’s anything else, we must embrace the example of Christ in showing lovefor even our enemies.

All Types of Oppressors

Jesus showed love to all types of oppressors: religious, political, and financial. We know them better as Pharisees, Romans, and tax collectors. The Pharisees were known for making rules about rules. They often moved the goalpost to make themselves look holier and the “regular” Jews appear more unrighteous. If they didn’t say exactly the right thing in making a vow, it wasn’t valid (much like when we were kids and made a promise with our fingers crossed behind our backs). Jesus calls the Pharisees out for this duplicity in Matthew 23:16–22

While He had plenty of confrontations with these religious oppressors, Jesus showed compassion for them as well. He met by night with Nicodemus, and, perhaps most telling of all, he stopped a Pharisee dead in his tracks—someone who wanted nothing to do with Him—and called him into service. That man, of course, was the apostle Paul. 

He also loved the political oppressors: Romans. While His disciples were convinced that the Messiah had come in order to overthrow Rome, what they saw instead was the Messiah showing kindness to their enemies. When a Roman centurion came to Jesus pleading on behalf of his servant, Jesus didn’t turn him away. He marveled at the centurion’s faith and healed the paralyzed servant from a distance (Matt. 8:5–13). 

Finally, he loved financial oppressors, those crooks, charlatans, swindlers known as tax collectors. He called Matthew right out of his tax booth to be His disciple. Not only that, but He loved to dine with these con men. He invited Himself over to Zaccheus’ place for lunch and a long chat. Were these people crooks? Undoubtedly. Did they oppress people? Certainly. But Jesus loved them anyway. 

Never Condoned

Before we go any farther, I want to be sure I’m not giving the wrong idea. The definition of love has, in some contexts, been malformed to mean simply acceptance. In this line of thinking, we’re told that in order to love someone, we must accept all that they do and stand for. Disagreement is not allowed. 

The biblical definition of love is quite different. Among other things, Paul tells us that love “finds no joy in unrighteousness” (1 Cor. 13:6). So, though Jesus shows love for all types of oppressors, He never condones their oppression. He vehemently condemns the Pharisees for their hypocritical and oppressive ways (Matt. 23); and His conversation leads Zacchaeus to repent and make generous restitution. Matthew leaves the tax booth forever. Jesus’ love for the oppressors may or may not have resulted in their change. But that was always the goal. 

You may be thinking of a time or two when it seems that Jesus reached not for love but for anger as He overturned tables and even made a whip in the Temple. His hatred for oppression led Him to righteous anger and an extreme act to be sure. But even this He did in love. 

Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey and went into the temple, He looked at the city from afar and wept for it (Luke 19:41–44). He was grieved at what was happening, not blindly and sinfully angry. His actions in the temple addressed the problem, but He didn’t attack the people. He attacked their sin. He dealt with the issue but not with hatred toward the people. 

How He Loved Them 

Jesus’ love for oppressors was no different than His love for anyone else. This should not be surprising because, to some degree, we’re all oppressors. We all worship the idol of power and misuse our control in devilish ways whenever we get the chance. We don’t need some “secret sauce” recipe for loving oppressors. Jesus shows us that we can love them the same way we love everyone else. 

  • Be open to dialogue (John 3). 

Nicodemus, a proud Pharisee, came to Jesus at night because he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing. Instead of shooing him away with instructions to return at a more convenient time, Jesus listened to the Pharisee’s questions and had an open dialogue with him. Yes, Nicodemus was a “seeker” at this point, not an enemy of the Son. But, according to modern philosophy, it doesn’t matter whether a person is repentant and wanting to change or not. Once an oppressor, always the oppressor—that’s the mentality we’re taught to embrace. Jesus defies this, showing that any time is the right time to have a redemptive conversation.

  • Be available. 

Jesus healed, served, made time for, and associated with “oppressors” from all walks of life. Because love is not “puffed up” (1 Cor. 13:5), Jesus had nothing to prove. His reputation meant nothing to Him as He embraced every opportunity to rub shoulders with the “bad guys.”

  • Offer forgiveness. 

The best example of Christ’s love came on His darkest day. As He hung naked, bleeding, shamed, and scorned, He uttered a simple sentence that should stop us in our tracks. 

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus offered forgiveness to the very people who had betrayed, condemned, and crucified Him. He offers it to me. He offers it to you. He offers it to the worst oppressor we could imagine. Perhaps this is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you’ve suffered oppression up-close. Though I don’t know your story, I’m sure it’s difficult to think that Christ could want the perpetrator to come to justice.

As I finish, let me give an all-too-brief explanation. However, please don’t misconstrue brevity for lack of compassion. Simply put, we often feel that oppressors don’t “deserve” forgiveness because we have a faulty view of ourselves. By putting ourselves into the “oppressed” category, we somehow believe we absolve our own souls of deserving condemnation. But when I remember that my heart is desperately sick and that the wages of my sin is death, I have less room to condemn any other person. The truth is I am much closer to the morality of the most heinous oppressor than I am to the holiness of Jesus. 

I don’t know your story. But I do know the gospel, and it invites us to consider our own depravity and desperate need for a Savior. If you’re struggling to love an “oppressor,” take time today to consider what Christ did for someone like you. 

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved by various passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and his love for mankind appeared, he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:3–6, emphasis added)

Through podcasts and broadcasts, digital and print resources, events and blog posts like this one, Revive Our Hearts serves you so you can serve others. Would you prayerfully consider serving alongside us by making a donation toward our $838,000 fiscal year-end need? As our thanks for your much-needed gift, we’d love to send you a copy of Living Out the One Anothers of Scripture: A 30-Day Devotional from Revive Our Hearts. You’ll learn to apply the love God has shown you in areas like your attitude, presence, communication, and actions as you love the “one anothers” around you. 

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

Join the Discussion