Saturday, September 17, 2022

Which Kingdom?

Too often, political efforts by churches and “Christian” organizations are barely distinguishable from the politicians and parties of this world’s kingdoms, especially in “Western-style” democracies. Apparently, believers must emulate the ways of this fallen age to achieve any real change in society. But this common approach differs markedly from the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth.

Cross in Storm - Photo by Harley Upton on Unsplash
[Photo by Harley Upton on Unsplash]

When he first appeared in Galilee, he was proclaiming the “
Kingdom of God” – “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand!” In him, the reign of God was invading the present age.

But His domain is of an entirely different nature than the political systems of this world. Moreover, on more than one occasion, he refused the kind of political power that has characterized human history and institutions, including the politically active Church.

In the “wilderness,” the Devil tempted Jesus by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world.” To attain absolute power, he needed only “render homage” to the Tempter as his overlord.

Surprisingly, Christ did NOT dispute Satan’s “right” to dispense political power, though he certainly did refuse it. Instead, he obeyed God by submitting to the path of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, a choice that led inevitably to his unjust death on a Roman cross - (Matthew 4:8-11, Luke 4:5-7).

SATAN’S WAY


In contrast to their Lord, over the intervening centuries, many churches and believers have embraced the political means of this present age to advance the kingdom of God, even though this necessitates accommodating biblical principles and values to those of this sinful world.

But submission to the Devil’s overlordship is the price of political power. This world’s kingdoms “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Satan’s claim certainly goes far toward explaining the reprehensible behavior of governments throughout human history.

Although God destined him to rule all the nations of the earth, Jesus refused the satanic offer that so many others eagerly embrace. Scripture confirmed his appointment by God to reign over the Cosmos, yet he refused the kind of political power so valued by this age; or at least, he rejected acquiring it through force - (Psalm 2:6-8).

But how could Yahweh’s anointed king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic might of the all-powerful State?

Imagine the great good Jesus could accomplish if he held Caesar’s throne and commanded his legions! With him at the imperial helm, would not righteousness prevail across the empire? Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power, this was it. Who better to wield the might and armies of Rome than the Prince of Peace?

However, rather than employ political means, Jesus embraced the way of the cross. In the “kingdom of God,” victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrifice. “Greatness” is measured in acts of mercy to others, especially to one’s “enemies.”

Threatening and coercing others to submit to one’s will has no place in a realm epitomized by Golgotha. Jesus of Nazareth “gave his life a ransom for many,” and that provides his disciples with the pattern for how power is to be acquired and wielded in his kingdom. God delights in “mercy, not sacrifice.”

But the temptation in the “wilderness” was not the end of Satan’s political intrigues. Following his rebuff, “the Devil departed from him until an opportune time.”

For example, after he fed a multitude near the Sea of Galilee, members of the crowd planned “to seize him that they might make him king.” But he left at the point the mob determined to crown him king, thus turning many minds against him because he refused to resort to political power.

HIS WAY


Jesus would not be the militaristic messiah intent on destroying Rome for whom so many of his contemporaries lusted. And the closer he came to his death by crucifixion, the more the fickle crowds rejected him - (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

Prior to his execution, Pontius Pilate inquired whether he was “the king of the Jews.” Jesus did not deny his kingship, but he responded thus to Rome’s representative - “You say that I am a king, and for this, I was born.” The Son of God qualified his kingship by stating:

  • My kingdom is not from (ek) this world. If my kingdom was from this world, then 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).

This does not mean his kingdom is strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly. But the source of his sovereignty is other than the political power, corruption, and violence so characteristic of the existing world order.

THE CHOICE


Pilate found no fault in him and was about to release Jesus. But at the instigation of the priestly authorities, the crowd demanded that Rome’s representative release Barabbas instead, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” Apparently, the Temple authorities preferred a violent political revolutionary to the Suffering Servant of Yahweh.

Contrary to the expectations of many, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And because of this choice, God exalted him 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” - (Philippians 2:6-11).

Institutional Christianity has a sordid history of mixing church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct is too great. Force appears easier than persuasion. Is it not preferable to do a little “evil” to achieve some greater “good”? But advancing the cause of Christ through political means always necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State.

The choice before his disciples is between the cruciform path trod by Jesus or the expedient and smooth superhighway offered by Satan. Christ declared that when he is “lifted up” on the cross, THEN he will “draw all men to me,” not when he is seated on Caesar’s throne. And he calls his followers to “deny themselves, take up the cross,” and follow the same path regardless of where it leads.

Should we, the disciples of the same Jesus who “gave his life a ransom for many,” embrace what he rejected? Or should we emulate his example of self-sacrificial service for others? We cannot do both.