Jesus proclaimed a new political reality, the Kingdom of God, and it bore little resemblance to the political systems of this world.
When Jesus 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, but his realm is of an entirely different nature than the political systems of the present age. On more than one occasion, he refused that kind of political power, especially when it was offered by Satan.
The Devil tempted him by offering Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world.” To attain absolute power, all he needed to do was “render homage” to the Tempter. And he did NOT dispute Satan’s “right” to dispense political power, but he refused it all the same. Instead, he submitted to the path of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh – (Matthew 4:8-11, Luke 4:5-7).
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.”
Although he was appointed by God to rule over all 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).
Rather than resort to the political means of the present 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 the benefit of others, and especially of one’s “enemies.” Rather than threatening or and dominating other men, Jesus “gave his life a ransom for many.” And his real-world example provides his disciples with the pattern for implementing God’s kingdom and achieving “greatness” in it.
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.
The Son of Man would not become the militaristic messiah bent on destroying Rome that so many of his contemporaries desired. And the closer he came to his death on a Roman cross, the more the fickle crowds rejected him as the Messiah of Israel. A “suffering servant” did not fit their concept of royalty and kingship – (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 kingly position, and he responded to Rome’s representative – “You say that I am a king, and for this, I was born.”
But Jesus 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 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 man described in the gospels as a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” Seemingly, the priestly leaders preferred a violent political revolutionary to the Suffering Servant of Yahweh.
WAY OF THE CROSS
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.” And because of his 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.”
Moreover, the followers of Jesus are summoned to adopt and live by the very same mind that he displayed when he gave his life as a “ransom for many”- (Philippians 2:6-11).
The choice before the disciples of Christ is one between the cruciform and rough pathway trod by him or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan. Jesus declared that when he was “lifted up” on the cross he would “draw all men to me,” not by seating him on Caesar’s throne.
And he calls all men and women to “deny themselves, take up the cross,” and follow him on this same path, and the only one that leads to the Kingdom of God. All men who refuse to do so are “unworthy” of him and unfit for citizenship in his Father’s kingdom.