Caesar or Calvary?

The institutional church has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and “correct” conduct has proven too great. Sooner or later, advancing “Christianity” through the political mechanisms of this world always necessitates resorting to force, namely, the coercive power of the State. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, this mixture inevitably corrupts the church and undermines its witness to the world.

Put another way, the marriage of church and state is contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather than political power and the imperial throne, he chose to follow the path that led to Golgotha.

In the wilderness, Satan tempted Jesus by offering him sovereignty over “all the kingdoms of the world.” But he refused the offer, and instead embraced the role of the ‘Suffering Servant,” leading to his inevitable death at the hands of the Roman State.

Cross - Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash
[Photo by Timeo Buehrer on Unsplash]

But arguably, the most startling detail of the story as recorded by Matthew is that the Messiah of Israel did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the governments of this world.

The Gospel of Matthew records how the Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the “kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their splendor.” He offered him far more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation.

In the passage, the Greek word translated as “world” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world if not the creation itself. Effectively, Satan was offering the “kingdom of God,” the very thing the Son of God came to inaugurate.

In Luke’s version, the Tempter boasts that he can give Jesus “all this authority” if only he would acknowledge Satan’s overlordship, and he claims that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

Surprisingly, Jesus does NOT dispute the Devil’s right to dispense political power. And if Satan received this authority from a higher source (“it has been delivered to me”), it could only be God. Most likely, behind his claim is the original fall of man. Satan’s present tyrannical rule over humanity is a consequence of Adam’s disobedience - (John 12:31, 14:30).

To acquire this awesome power, Jesus has to “render homage” to the Devil. The Greek verb denotes the sense of giving homage or allegiance to someone or something else. Thus, to gain universal sovereignty over humanity it is necessary for the Messiah to acknowledge Satan as his sovereign, or at least, that is the Devil’s sales pitch.


Jesus is the Messiah appointed by God to reign over all the earth. But how can the Davidic king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic might of this world’s governments? Is it, not his destiny to subdue and rule the entire planet? – Psalm 2:6-8).

Effectively, Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to his God-ordained royal position, a way for him to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross and still acquire political power and universal sovereignty though ultimately under the Devil’s suzerainty.

And imagine all the good that the Son of God could accomplish if he sat on Caesar’s throne and commanded his legions! With the military and economic power of Rome at his beck and call, would not righteousness soon prevail across the Empire? Surely, if ever there was justification for resorting to State power, this was it. And who better to wield the awesome might of the World Empire than the Prince of Peace?

However, rather than yield to temptation, Jesus submitted to the path of the Suffering Servant. In God’s domain, true victory is achieved by self-denial and sacrificial service to others, and “greatness” in His Kingdom is measured by acts of mercy and service, especially to one’s enemy. What Satan offers is contrary to the ways and nature of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.


Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus chose to “take on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.”

And because of this choice, God afterward exalted him highly to reign over the Cosmos, and He gave 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.” But Golgotha preceded ascension to the Davidic throne.

Moreover, the disciple of Jesus is summoned to adopt this same self-denying mind and to walk the same path of self-sacrificial service. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” His followers become “complete as your Father in heaven” by loving their enemies, not by destroying them - (Matthew 5:43-48, Philippians 2:6-11).

Every disciple must choose whether to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes,” or to bow to Satan’s vassal, the “Beast from the Sea.” The reign of God over the Earth can never be achieved through the sinful ways and corrupt political systems of this evil age.

We need to take seriously the scriptural portrayal of political power as being under Satan’s overlordship. If he works behind the scenes, and if the possession of political power necessitates giving allegiance to him and doing evil, and since Jesus himself refused to do so and instead chose the Cross, should not his followers do the same?

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