When Jesus of Nazareth first appeared in Galilee, he proclaimed the “Kingdom of God” – “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” In his ministry, God’s reign began to invade the earth. But his realm was and is of an entirely different nature than the political systems of the present age.
And on more than one occasion, Jesus refused THAT kind of political power, especially when it was offered by Satan in the wilderness who offered him “all the kingdoms of the world.”
According to Matthew, to attain absolute power, all the Messiah must do is “render homage” to the Tempter and acknowledge his overlordship.
And remarkably, Jesus 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. His ministry culminated with a Roman cross rather than a crown – (Matthew 4:8-11, Luke 4:5-7).
WAY OF THE WORLD
In this fallen world, the price of political power is submission to Satan’s authority. And according to the Devil, the kingdoms of this age “have been delivered to me and I give them to whomever I will.”
Although he is appointed by God to rule over all nations, Jesus refused this satanic offer. Scripture confirms his calling to reign over the earth, yet he rejected the kind of political power valued by the rulers and the people of this age.
But how can God’s designated king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic might of the State? – (Psalm 2:6-8).
In the gospel accounts, 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 others, especially by doing good to one’s “enemies.” Rather than threatening or dominating other men, Jesus “gave his life a ransom for many.”
Moreover, his real-world example provides his disciples with the pattern for implementing God’s kingdom on the earth 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 miraculously feeding a multitude in Galilee, certain members of the crowd planned “to come and seize him to make him king.” But Jesus walked away at the very point the mob had determined to crown him, and this turned many minds against him.
The Son of Man would not become the militaristic messiah bent on destroying Rome that so many of his contemporaries craved. And the closer he came to his death, 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 he qualified his kingship by stating that “my kingdom is not FROM (ek) this world – (John 18:33-36).
This does not mean his kingdom is strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly, or that his messianic program is nonpolitical. But the source of his sovereignty is other than the political power that characterizes the existing world order.
Pilate found no fault in him. But 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.” It seems the priestly leaders of Israel preferred a violent political revolutionary to the Suffering Servant of Yahweh.
WAY OF THE CROSS
Contrary to the 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, his followers are summoned to adopt and live by the very same mind displayed by Jesus when he gave his life as a “ransom for many”- (Philippians 2:6-11).
The choice before his disciples is 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, then he would “draw all men to me,” and not by seating him on Caesar’s throne.
And he calls all men and women to “deny themselves, take up the cross,” and follow his example. The way of the Cross is 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.