CHRIST OR CAESAR?

Jesus refused political power when it was offered by Satan. Should we not do likewise?

In the wilderness, Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power to achieve his mission. All that was necessary was for him to render homage to the Devil. Imagine all the good the Messiah could do if he controlled the might and majesty of Rome! But Christ rejected it without hesitation. Instead, he submitted to God and the way of the cross. So, should his disciples embrace what he refused?

The Son of God did NOT dispute the Devil’s “right” to dispense political power. Nor did his rejection of the political means mean that he had disengaged from the world. The proclamation of the coming “kingdom of God” is an inherently political message. But Yahweh had called Jesus to redeem the world and conquer his “enemies” by an entirely different means, namely, by submitting to the path of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh – (Matthew 4:8-11).

Moreover, the price of political power was to render homage to Satan. Although Jesus was destined by God to rule all the nations, he refused to achieve that goal in the manner expected and valued by the world. But how could the Messiah reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic powers of this age? – (Psalm 2:6-8).

But just imagine what Jesus could accomplish if he became Caesar and commanded the invincible legions of Rome! With him at the imperial helm, would not righteousness prevail across the earth? Surely, if ever there was justification for resorting to State power this was the time. Who better to wield the imperial sword than the Prince of Peace?

But in contrast to this fallen age, in his Kingdom victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrifice. “Greatness” in this realm is characterized by self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy for others, and not by using force to subjugate others – “Whosoever would be first among you shall be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many!”

But the confrontation in the “wilderness” was not the end of the Devil’s political intrigues. Following this rebuff, “the Devil departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus faced the same challenge again after the miraculous feeding of a multitude by the Sea of Galilee when certain members of the crowd planned “to come and seize him that they might make him king.”

Jesus walked away from that mob, an act that turned many minds against him. The political activists of his day could not tolerate a Messiah who refused to become the militaristic king who would destroy their enemies – (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

When he was examined by Pontius Pilate, the representative of Caesar demanded whether Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” This he did not deny, but he qualified his kingship by a most unexpected declaration – “My kingdom is not from (ek) this world” – (John 18:33-36).

In doing so, he did not state that his kingdom was strictly an otherworldly reality. But the source of his authority was other than the political means so characteristic of the world order. His kingdom is of an entirely different nature than the political powers of this fallen age. And having found no fault in him, Pilate was about to release Jesus, but at the instigation of the Temple authorities, the mob demanded that he release Barabbas instead, a violent revolutionary more in line with their messianic expectations.

Apotheosis of Washington - Photo by Vishwas Katti on Unsplash
Apotheosis of Washington – Photo by Vishwas Katti on Unsplash

Instead, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” Because of his submission, 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.” And according to Paul, his followers are summoned to adopt this very same mind in their conduct towards one and all – “Let this same mind be in you!” – (Philippians 2:6-11).

Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct, and to “reform” society, is too great. And to advance Christianity through political means inevitably leads to the use of the power of the State against anyone who resists. In the end, Christ and Caesar are incompatible.

The disciple of Jesus must choose either the cruciform path trod by him or the expedient and smooth freeway offered by Satan; sacrifice for others or power over them – Calvary or Rome.

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