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THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The political order inaugurated by Jesus is the “Kingdom of God,” and it bears little resemblance to the political systems of this world.

When Jesus first appeared in Galilee, he began to proclaim the “Kingdom of God” – “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” In his ministry, the reign of God began to invade the earth. However, his realm was of an entirely different nature than the political systems of the present age, and on more than one occasion, Christ refused that kind of political power, especially when it was offered by Satan.

In the wilderness, the Devil tempted Jesus by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world.” To attain absolute power, all he had to do was to “render homage” to the Tempter. Strikingly, the Son of God did NOT dispute Satan’s “right” to dispense political power, but he refused it, instead, submitting to the path of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh – (Matthew 4:8-9, Luke 4:5-7).

In contrast to Jesus, over the intervening centuries, the church has often embraced the political means and institutions of this age, ostensibly, to advance the gospel as they envisioned it. But inevitably, resorting to governmental power necessitated accommodating biblical principles to the values of the fallen world order.

  • (Matthew 4:8-11) – “Again, the Devil takes him to an exceeding high mountain and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory. And he said to him, All these things will I give you if you will fall down and pay homage to me. Then said Jesus to him, Get behind me, Satan, for it is written: You will worship the Lord your God, and him only will you serve.

Satan requires submission to his authority as the price of political power, and according to him, the kingdoms of this age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.” Perhaps this begins to explain the frequently reprehensible behavior of many governments throughout history.

Although he was appointed by God to rule all the nations, Jesus refused this satanic offer. Scripture confirmed his destiny to reign over the earth, yet he refused the kind of political power valued by the rulers of this age. But how could Yahweh’s designated king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic might of the State? – (Psalm 2:6-8).

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

However, rather than resort to the political means of this age, Jesus embraced the way of the Cross. In the “Kingdom of God,” true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrifice.

In his realm, “greatness” is characterized by self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy for others, including one’s “enemies,” not by threatening and dominating them. Jesus “gave his life a ransom for many,” and his real-world example provides his disciples with the pattern for achieving “greatness” in God’s domain.

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.”

After he miraculously fed a multitude near the Sea of Galilee, certain members of the crowd planned “to come and seize him to make him king.” But he walked away at the very point the mob was determined to crown him, thereby turning many minds against him. He would not be the militaristic messiah intent on destroying Rome that so many of his contemporaries desired. And the closer that he came to his death on a Roman cross, the more the fickle crowds rejected him as the Messiah of Israel – (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

Prior to his execution, Pontius Pilate inquired whether Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” He did not deny his kingship and responded to Rome’s representative – “You say that I am a king, and for this, I was born.” But he qualified his kingship by stating that “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 did not mean that his kingdom was strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly, or that his messianic program was nonpolitical. But the source of his sovereignty was other than the political power that has characterized and tyrannized the existing world. It was of an entirely different nature than the powers of this age.

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

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 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.” And his followers are summoned to adopt and live by this very same mind – (Philippians 2:6-11).

[Colosseum Photo by Ben Lee on Unsplash]

Institutional Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct is too great, and force always appears easier than persuasion. After all, is it not preferable to do a little “evil” to achieve some far greater “good”?

But advancing the cause of Christ through the political means of this age always necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State, and anyone who does not go along with the program must be forced into submission.

The choice before the followers of Jesus is between the cruciform and rough pathway trod by him, or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan. Jesus declared that when he is “lifted up” on the cross he will “draw all men to me,” and not when he is seated on Caesar’s throne or wielding the iron rod of Rome. And he calls all men and women to “deny themselves, take up the cross,” and follow this same path.

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.

To achieve dominion over all the nations all Jesus had to do was render homage to the Devil. Effectively, this is precisely what we do when we decide to use political power to achieve our ends. And partisan politicking is a poor substitute for gospel proclamation and living lives conformed to the Cross.

It is high time for us to return to the task assigned by Jesus to preach “this gospel of the kingdom of God to all nations,” and to do so in the same manner that he did.

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