What the Bible says about obeying and submitting to leaders, even if you think they are bad
Christians must submit to rulers and authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:2-5). However, if your leader or President is asking you to dishonor God, the Bible has caveats to dissent (Romans 13:1; Mark 12:17). We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)
The Jews submitted despite atrocities
In Biblical times, God’s people submitted even to “bad leaders.” For example, the Assyrian, Egyptians, Romans, and their religious leaders abused them. In WW2, they submitted to Hitler’s evil reign to the point of death.
Nehemiah led a rally, but submitted to the crown
Nehemiah led the “great protest” in the Bible. He defended his people against leaders who enslaved and exploited them. Others use this to justify government resistance. Well, it is not.
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, which means he had to be submissive and respectful to be trusted. He reasoned and fought for the people who were being abused by their Jewish brothers, not the King.
Moses challenged Pharaoh until he caved in
Moses’ family hid him when he was a baby. When he grew up, God appointed him to warn the Pharoah. God’s people could have mounted a revolution, but they waited on God’s deliverance.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego submitted to punishment
They refused to bow before the gods. God alone deserves our worship! They answered King Nebuchadnezzar in a gentle and respectful manner. Not affront and without insulting his gods. (Daniel 3:16; Gill’s Exposition)
The Apostles urged Christians to pray for kings & leaders
Despite their evil rulers, the Apostles urged Christians to pray, intercede, & be thankful. Why? So that they may have a peaceful quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Jesus avoided confrontation
Pilate asked Jesus, “Do You refuse to speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me if it were not given to you from above.
We must obey God rather than men.
Submission in the Bible is crystal clear
If based on Biblical examples, a quick answer is YES. We have to submit and respect our leaders. Early Christians were martyred because they refused to worship Ceasar. We must obey God rather than men.
- The apostles didn’t bother to change the government. Perhaps they knew they were citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), or they wanted to use their resources to ministry alone, why waste time?
- They left the political battle to unbelievers because they fought the real enemy.
- They mobilized prayers and fasting. (Ephesians 6:12)
- Jesus knew the abuses of Rome. His appeal was to the hearts of men, not their political freedom.
Why would God allow a bad leader to rule?
Clearly, evil rulers have NO authority unless God allowed them to continue in their seat of power (John 19:11). We do not know the mind of God as to why He would allow bad leaders to rule. In the past, God placed “bad leaders” for these reasons:
- To judge a nation. (2 Kings 20:17-18)
- Test their faithfulness. (Isaiah 13:19)
- Expose sin that brought judgment. (Isaiah 10:5-19)
- Set in motion the birth of the Messiah. (Psalm 18:50)
→ Is it sin to criticize a bad person?
Our response as Christians
Christian activism is not in the New Testament. Social justice in the Bible is about helping people, not arguing with authority or ideologies. We must always be peaceable, not malign anyone (Titus 3:1-2). In His time, God will remove corrupt leaders.
If God calls you in media, expose evil. If you work in the government, exercise righteousness. Meantime, we move mountains through prayers and change society by sharing Jesus.