SYNOPSIS – Jesus refused political power when offered it by Satan. Should his disciples presume to embrace what he refused? – Matthew 4:8-9.
Jesus refused to take and exercise the political power offered to him by the Devil. So, why do contemporary church leaders presume to embrace the very thing that the Son of God rejected? Satan tempted Jesus by offering him sovereignty over “all the kingdoms of the world.” All he needed to do to attain absolute state power was to “render homage” to the “Dragon” – (Matthew 4:8-9, Luke 4:5-7).
In contrast, too many evangelical leaders seek access to the political means and institutions of this fallen age in order to advance their agendas. Inevitably and predictably, this necessitates accommodating moral and ethical principles to the values of the pagan world order.
Satan demanded homage from Jesus as the price for his exercise of political power. In the book of Revelation, this is precisely what the “Beast from the sea” demands from the “inhabitants of the earth” – Their absolute allegiance and homage. But perhaps today’s church leaders are the great exception to the biblical and historical 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 – JESUS DID NOT DISPUTE THE CLAIM OF THE DRAGON! Perhaps his claim solves the riddle – Why do human governments more often than not exhibit beastly behavior?
Although he was chosen by God to “rule all the nations,” Jesus refused this satanic offer. Scripture confirmed his destiny to reign over the Cosmos, yet he refused the political power so valued by this evil age. So, why do we work diligently to possess what the Son of God rejected out-of-hand? Do we believe we can employ the authority of the State without doing a little evil? Perhaps we may succeed in the political arena where Jesus failed – (Psalm 2:8-10).
Imagine what great good Jesus could accomplish if he held the throne of Caesar and commanded the legions of Rome! With him at the helm, would not righteousness prevail across the Empire, especially with the military and economic might of the Roman “Beast” to enforce his messianic dictates?
Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power, it was the arrival of the promised messianic king – Who better to wield the awesome power of State violence than the Prince of Peace?
However, rather than resort to political power, Jesus embraced the way of the cross, the path of the Suffering Servant. In the Kingdom of God, true victory is achieved through humble obedience and the denial of one’s “rights.” His realm is epitomized by self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy, NOT by force or political machinations.
The confrontation between the “Lamb” and the “Dragon” in the Judean wilderness was by no means the last attempt by Satan to derail Jesus from the path assigned to him by his Father. Following this rebuff, the “Devil departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus faced this challenge again after miraculously feeding a multitude near the Sea of Galilee. Members of that crowd “were about to come and seize him that they might make him king” – (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).
However, the Son of Man walked away from the mob that was determined to crown him king, an act that turned many minds against him. He would not be the militaristic messiah out to destroy Rome that so many of his contemporaries desired. The closer Jesus came to Calvary, the more the fickle crowds rejected him as the Messiah of Israel.
Pontius Pilate inquired whether he was “the king of the Jews.” Jesus did not deny his kingship and responded to Rom’s representative – “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).
Jesus did not state that his kingdom was a strictly “spiritual” and otherworldly realm. 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 this 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, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” The priestly leaders 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).
Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State, all the way back to the fourth century when Emperor Constantine merged the two in an act of political expediency. And within a generation, the once persecuted became the persecutor. Ecclesiastical leaders could not resist the temptation to use the coercive power of Rome to silence theological dissidents. The temptation for the Church to use political power to impose “right” beliefs was (and is) too great. Force always seems easier than persuasion.
To advance the cause of Christ through the political means necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State. The choice before us is whether to follow the cruciform and difficult pathway trod by Jesus or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan.
Should the disciples of Jesus embrace what he rejected or, instead, emulate his example of self-sacrificial service?Over the last generation, a significant percentage of American church leaders and organizations have embraced political activism as if the message and example of Jesus can be advanced through a corrupt political system. It seems, perhaps, that a little evil is necessary to achieve some greater good, or so the twisted logic goes.
What do Christians plan to do with State power? Levy taxes or economic sanctions on anyone who refuses to conform to their interpretation of Scripture? Oh, wait! That is precisely what the “False Prophet” does to any and all who refuse to give allegiance to the “Beast.”
Sadly, too many Christians will discover to their dismay that the resort to the political means of this age is an enormous blunder. By its very nature, it is counterproductive to the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The corruption inherent in a political system inexorably leeches into the church. A little leaven leavens the whole lump – The church will not reform the political system – It will corrupt and enslave her. Political power always corrupts the man who wields it.
To achieve political power and dominion over all the nations, Jesus only needed to render homage to the Devil, the very thing Christians bent on acquiring political power must likewise do.
Partisan politicking is a poor substitute for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus and Christian lives lived in conformity to the Cross. It is high time to return to the task with which Jesus commissioned his church and to do so in the same manner as he did.