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Friday, May 28, 2021

Jesus or Caesar?


When offered by Satan, Jesus refused the political power of Rome. So, why do we continue to seek what he rejected? When I became a disciple of Jesus, I was taught NOT to “be unequally yoked” with the world. Yes, conditions around the globe were tragic, but what did we expect from a world order under Satan’s boot? What humanity needed was the good news of God’s kingdom, not another corrupt political ideology.

Since the “forms” of the present age are destined to “pass away,” well, why waste time “working for the meat that perishes”? Had not Jesus charged his disciples to proclaim the gospel “to all nations”? For us to expend our efforts on reforming a society already judged on the Cross and under God’s judicial sentence makes no sense.

But for me, far more compelling are the examples of Jesus when he was confronted by the political powers in his day. Unfortunately, today’s popular preaching summons churches to engage in political activism - using the power of the State to purify the culture, restoring society to some supposed previous pure state, and stopping wickedness. Well, at least that preachers claim in western-style democracies where doing so does not get you thrown into prison.

CALVARY OR ROME


When Satan offered him political power, Jesus rejected it. So, why do we presume to employ the very thing refused by him?

The Devil tempted Jesus by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world.” All he needed to do to possess such awesome power was to “fall down and swear fealty” to the Tempter - (Matthew 4:8-9, Luke 4:5-7).

In contrast to Jesus of Nazareth, today, many church leaders embrace the political methods of this age, a system that expects them to accommodate their lives and ministries to evil ways. Satan demanded homage as the price of political power. The acquisition of political power means the acceptance of the Devil as one’s overlord.

And according to Satan, the kingdoms of this age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Note well - JESUS DID NOT DISPUTE THIS CLAIM! Perhaps that exchange begins to explain why human governments so often exhibit beastly and even satanic behavior!

But imagine what great good Jesus could do if he sat on Caesar’s throne! Would not righteousness prevail across the earth if he possessed Rome’s military and economic might to enforce his messianic dictates?

Surely, if ever a case could be made for resorting to political power and force, this was it. Who is better qualified to wield state power and violence than the Prince of Peace?

EXALTATION BEGINS ON GOLGOTHA


Instead, Jesus embraced the way of the cross. In God’s kingdom, true victory is achieved through humble obedience and the denial of one’s own “rights.” His domain is characterized by self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy, even to one’s enemies, not by force and corruption.

But Satan’s political intrigues did not end with Christ’s victory in the wilderness. Following his rebuff, the “Devil departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus faced the same challenge again after miraculously feeding a multitude. Apparently, certain members of the crowd “were about to seize him, that they might make him king” - (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

But rather than accept kingship imposed by the mob, Jesus walked away, an act that turned many minds against him. He refused to become the militaristic messiah that so many expected. And the closer he came to Calvary, the more the fickle crowds rejected him and the kind of kingdom that he represented.

Later, the representative of Rome, Pilate, inquired whether he was “the king of the Jews.” Jesus did not deny his kingship:

  • You say that I am a king. I was born for this … But my kingdom is not FROM (ek) this world. If my kingdom was from this world my own officers would fight that I should not be delivered up to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here” - (John 18:33-36).

He did not claim that his kingdom was something strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly. But the source of his sovereignty was something other than the kind of political power so characteristic of the existing age. The coming “kingdom of God” was of an entirely different nature!

The Roman governor found no fault with Jesus and was about to release him; however, at the instigation of the Temple authorities, the crowd demanded that Pilate release Barabbas instead, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand,” and a murderer.

The priestly leaders preferred a violent political revolutionary to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the one who “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Because of his choice, God exalted and bestowed on him “the name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Yes, he achieved sovereignty over the earth, but not by bypassing Golgotha - (Philippians 2:6-11).

Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State, and History is replete with examples of the folly and criminality that results from it. Nevertheless, we continue to justify our employment of political power to advance our religious, cultural, societal, political, and economic agendas, and, yes, our supposed “Christian” values.

Apparently, we do not yet understand what state power is, how it is exercised, and who, exactly, is the power behind the throne. To advance the gospel through political means necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State, something Jesus NEVER did.

The choice before us is whether to walk the cruciform path trod by Jesus or the smooth highway offered by Satan. Should we embrace what he rejected or emulate his self-sacrificial service for God's kingdom?

By its very nature, the political systems of this age are incompatible with the proclamation of “Christ crucified,” and their corruption and abusiveness will leech inexorably into the church. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.