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26 November 2019

Jesus Refused Political Power

Satan tempts Jesus with political power
Satan tempted Jesus by offering to give to him, “All the kingdoms of the world.” All he needed to do to attain political power was to “fall down and render homage” to the Tempter (Matthew 4:8-9Luke 4:5-7).
In contrast, many U.S. Christians embrace the political means to advance their agendas which, of course, necessitates accommodation to the existing system; that is, compromise, allegiance to political regimes, alliances with corrupt parties, and the like.
Satan demanded homage from Jesus as the price of political power. Likewise, in the book of Revelation, the Beast from the sea demanded that the “inhabitants of the earth” render homage to its image if they wished to participate in the empire’s economic life. Political power and influence in this age are not free; they always come with chains!
The Devil declared that the kingdoms of this Age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Note well:  JESUS DID NOT DISPUTE HIS CLAIM! The Dragon’s claim, perhaps, provides the reason why human governments very often exhibit such beastly characters.
Though he was chosen by God to rule all nations, Jesus refused Satan's offer. As God’s Son, he was destined to rule the nations; Scripture confirmed this (Psalm 2:8-10). So, why do we grasp what the Son of God refused? Do we believe we can succeed without doing a little evil along the way?
What great good Jesus could do if he held Caesar’s throne! Imagine how righteousness would prevail across the earth with Rome’s military and economic power behind his messianic dictates! Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to political might, that was it. Who better to wield worldly power and state-sanctioned violence than the Prince of Peace?
Rather than resort to political power, Jesus embraced the way of the cross, the path of the Suffering Servant. In Yahweh’s kingdom, true victory is achieved through humble obedience, acts of mercy, and the denial of one’s “rights.” God’s kingdom is epitomized by self-sacrificial service, not force or political machinations.
This was not the end of Satan’s intrigues. Following Christ’s rebuff in the Wilderness, “the Devil departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). He would face this challenge again after miraculously feeding a multitude of men and women, members of which intended to seize him by force “that they might make him king” (John 6:15).
Instead, Jesus walked away at the very point when the mob had determined to crown him the ruler of the Jewish nation. In doing so, he turned many minds against himself. Contrary to popular expectations, the true Messiah of Israel was not to be the militaristic leader bent on the destruction of Rome that so many of Christ’s contemporaries craved. The closer the Son of God came to a Roman cross the more the fickle crowds rejected his messiahship.
Pontius Pilate, the representative of Roman power, inquired whether Jesus was the king of the Jews. He did not deny his kingship but responded, “You say that I am a king: I for this have been born.” However, he qualified his kingship:
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).
Christ nowhere stated that his kingdom was only a “spiritual” and otherworldly realm. However, the source of his kingship was other than the kind of political power that characterizes the existing world order. The coming kingdom of God would be of an entirely different nature than the kingdoms of the present age.
Pilate found no fault in Jesus and intended to release him but, instead, at the instigation of the Jewish Temple authorities, a mob cried for Pilate to release Barabbas, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand,” a term used for insurrectionists rather than common thieves. Thus, the priestly leaders of the Temple preferred a violent revolutionary to the messianic figure portrayed as the Suffering Servant in the book of Isaiah.
Contrary to the messianic expectations of his day, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Because of this choice, God exalted and bestowed on him:  “The name that 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).
Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State, going all the way back to the fourth century when the emperor Constantine merged the two in an act of political expediency. Within a generation, the once persecuted became the persecutor; ecclesiastical authorities learned to use the power of the State to suppress doctrinal "dissidents" who refused to conform to the party line. The temptation for the Church to use political power to impose “correct” doctrine was too great. Force always appears easier than persuasion.
To advance the cause of the Gospel through the political means is to resort to the coercive power of the State. The choice before Christians is between the cruciform and rough pathway trod by Jesus or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan through worldly powers under his domain.
Should Christ’s disciples embrace what he rejected or, instead, emulate his example of self-sacrificial service?
Christians may discover to their dismay that the political means is a double-edged sword.  By its very nature, it is counterproductive to the proclamation of the good news of God’s kingdom. The corruption inherent in worldly political systems inexorably leeches into the church. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” The church will not reform the political system; it will corrupt the church.
To achieve political power over all the nations, all Jesus had to do was to render homage to the Devil. Is that not, in effect, what Christians bent on acquiring political power do today? Partisan politicking is a poor substitute for Gospel Proclamation and self-sacrificial service.  Instead, it is time to return to the task with which Jesus commissioned his church, and to do so in the same way as him.

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