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26 November 2019

Jesus Refused Political Power

SYNOPSIS:  Jesus refused political power when offered it by Satan. Why do today’s church leaders presume to grasp what the Son of God would not?

666 Photo by Master Wen on Unsplash
Master Wen on Unsplash
Jesus refused political power when offered it by Satan. Why do today’s church leaders presume to grasp what the Son of God would not? Satan tempted Jesus by offering 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 4:8-9, Luke 4:5-7).

In contrast, American evangelicals embrace political means that necessitate accommodation and compromise. Satan demanded homage from Jesus as the price of political power. In Revelation, this is precisely what the "Beast" demands from the "inhabitants of the earth," that they all render homage to its image. Perhaps modern evangelicals are the great American exception to this rule!

The Devil claimed that the kingdoms of this Age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Note well that JESUS DID NOT DISPUTE LUCIFER’S CLAIM! This incident perhaps provides the key to why human governments often exhibit rather beastly behavior!

Though he was chosen by God to rule all nations, Jesus refused Satan's offer of political power. As God’s Son, he was destined to rule the nations; Scripture confirmed this. Why do we grasp what the Son of God refused? Do we believe we can succeed without doing a little evil along the way (Psalm 2:8-10)?

What great good could Jesus do if he held Caesar’s throne! Imagine how righteousness would prevail across the earth with Rome’s military and economic power to enforce Christ’s messianic dictates. Surely if ever there was justification for the resort to political power, this was it. Who better to wield worldly power and state violence than the Prince of Peace?

Crown of Thorns
Crown of Thorns
Rather then resort to political power, Jesus embraced the way of the cross, the path of the Suffering Servant. In the Divine order, true victory is achieved through humble obedience and the denial of one’s “rights.” God’s kingdom is epitomized in self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy, 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.” Jesus faced this challenge again after miraculously feeding a multitude. Members of that crowd “were about to come and seize him that they might make him king” (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

But Jesus walked away at that very point the mob determined to crown him, thus turning many minds against him. He would not be the militaristic messiah out to destroy Rome that so many of his contemporaries expected and desired. The closer Jesus came to Calvary, the more the fickle crowds rejected him as Israel’s Messiah.

Pontius Pilate inquired of Jesus whether he was “the king of the Jews.” Jesus did not deny his kingship and responded to the representative of Rome, “you say that I am a king: I for this have been born.” However, he qualified his kingship by stating, “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 did not state that his kingdom was a strictly “spiritual” and otherworldly one. But 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 was about to release him; however, at the instigation of the Jewish Temple authorities, a crowd cried for Pilate to release Barabbas instead, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” The priestly leaders of the Temple preferred a violent political revolutionary to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.

Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, 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, 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).

Dollar Sign - Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State all the way back to the fourth century when Emperor Constantine merged them 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 the “right” belief was too great. Force always appears easier than persuasion.

To advance the cause of the Gospel through political means necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State. The choice before us is the cruciform and rough pathway trod by Jesus or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan.
Should Christ’s disciples embrace what he rejected or, instead, emulate his example of self-sacrificial service?
Over the last generation, a significant percentage of U.S. Christian leaders and organizations have embraced political activism as if the cause of Christ can be advanced through a corrupt political system. It seems a little evil is necessary in order to achieve some greater good.

Chains - Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Christians will discover to their dismay that political activism has been an enormous mistake.  By its very nature, it is counterproductive to the proclamation of the Gospel. The corruption inherent in the system will inexorably leech into the church. A little leaven leavens the whole lump - You cannot play with fire and not get burned. The church will not reform the political system - It will corrupt and eventually enslave her. Political power always corrupts the man who wields it.

To achieve political power and dominion over all the nations all Jesus had to do was render homage to the Devil. In effect, is that not what Christians bent on acquiring political power do?

Partisan politicking is a poor substitute for Gospel Proclamation and lives conformed to the Cross.  It is high time to return to the task with which Jesus himself commissioned his church and to do so in the same way as him.

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