Question: "What does the Bible say about rebellion?"
Answer: Rebellion is opposition to authority. Rebellion can become violent, as in “an armed rebellion broke out in the city,” but it can also remain unexpressed. Rebellion always begins in the heart. Rebellion against God’s authority was humanity’s first sin (Genesis 3) and continues to be our downfall. Our sinful natures do not want to bow to the authority of another, even God. We want to be our own bosses, and that rebellion in the human heart is the root of all sin (Romans 3:23).
The clearest demonstration in the Bible of rebellion and its consequences is found in 1 Samuel 15. King Saul, chosen by God to lead Israel, got too big for his britches. He thought he knew better than God what God wanted from him, so he disobeyed God’s direct instruction (1 Samuel 15:3) and substituted his own idea. Instead of following God’s directive to destroy all the plunder from the enemy’s camp, Saul kept the best of the livestock. And instead of killing the wicked king Agag as God had commanded, Saul brought him back as a prisoner. Both these acts were in rebellion against God’s orders, yet Saul was pleased with his initiative and tried to justify his disobedience—the animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord, after all (verse 15).
Rebellion against proper authority is a serious matter in God’s eyes. The prophet Samuel confronted King Saul with these words: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22–23). Rebellion is linked to pride in this passage, and both sins are equated with witchcraft and paganism. Because of Saul’s persistent rebellion against God, he lost the throne and his royal dynasty was cut short. God gave the kingdom to a shepherd boy named David (1 Samuel 13:14).
Israel’s history is a cycle of rebellion and restoration (Judges 2:10–19; Isaiah 59:13; Numbers 14:18). When God gave the Israelites the Law, He was teaching the world that the universe has a chain of command. The God who descended on Sinai in “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast” (Exodus 19:16) is in charge. Humans may be the crown of His creation (Hebrews 2:7), but we are not the gods of it. Although we have the freedom to choose to obey the Lord or not, His Law still prevails. When we rebel against His right to be our Lord, consequences follow, just as they did with Saul (see Romans 6:23).
Within human civilization, God has also established a chain of command, and rebellion against God’s ordained order is sin. Romans 13:1–7 instructs us to submit ourselves to the governing authorities, as long as those authorities do not require us to disobey the authority of God (cf. Acts 5:29). Rebellion against righteous authority leads to anarchy and the dissolution of society. In the home, God’s chain of authority is that the husband is to be the head of the family. The husband’s responsibility is to lead his family in submitting to Christ (Ephesians 5:23). The wife is to submit to her husband, and children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 5:22; 6:1; Colossians 3:18, 20). Rebellion against familial authority also leads to chaos and dysfunction within the home.
Within the church, God has also created order. He has appointed elders to shepherd and keep watch over the congregation (1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17). While elders or pastors are never to have absolute control over anyone, they are to be honored and obeyed as much as is healthy for the church and the individual. Rebellion within a church leads to division and strife and a loss of effectiveness in carrying out God’s mission (1 Corinthians 3:3–6).
Every human heart has the seed of rebellion germinating deep within. We are “rights fighters,” and, when we believe someone is not respecting our “rights,” we rebel. Learning to appeal to authority is one way to avoid rebellion and still find a resolution to a problem. Creative thinking is another way we can channel our passion for change into productive avenues. Offering solutions in respectful ways invites our authorities to consider options they may not have discovered without our input. Daniel’s dealings with the Babylonian official is a fine example of showing respect and avoiding rebellion (Daniel 1:8–16). While adherence to truth often requires challenging those in authority, outright rebellion against any God-ordained authority is rarely sanctioned by Him.