Jesus Refused Political Power

SYNOPSIS:  Jesus refused political power when Satan offered it. Should disciples presume to embrace what the Son of God refused?

Master Wen on Unsplash
Master Wen on Unsplash
Jesus refused political power when offered it by Satan. Why do today’s church leaders presume to grasp what the Son of God would not? Satan tempted Jesus by offering him “all the kingdoms of the world.” All he needed to do to attain absolute state power was to “render homage” to the Tempter (Matthew 4:8-9, Luke 4:5-7).

In contrast, American evangelicals embrace the political means and institutions of the state, which inevitably necessitate accommodating their principles to the values of this fallen age.

Satan demanded homage from Jesus as the price 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 to its image. But perhaps modern evangelicals are the great American exception to the biblical 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 the incident in the "wilderness" provides the key as to why human governments all too often exhibit rather 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 himself refused? Do we believe we can employ the authority of the State without doing a little evil? Perhaps modern evangelicals can succeed in the political arena where Jesus failed - (Psalm 2:8-10).

Imagine what great good 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 military and economic might of Rome to enforce his messianic dictates? Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power, this was it. Who better to wield worldly the awesome power of State violence than the Prince of Peace?

However, rather then resort to political power, Jesus embraced the way of the cross, the path of the Suffering Servant. In the Divine order, true victory is achieved through humble obedience and the denial of one’s individual “rights.” The kingdom of God is epitomized by self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy, not force or political machinations.

The incident in the "wilderness" was not the end of Satan’s intrigues. Following his rebuff by Jesus, “the Devil departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus faced this challenge again after miraculously feeding a multitude. Members of that crowd “were about to come and seize him that they might make him king” - (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

But Jesus walked away at that very point the mob determined to crown him king, thus turning 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.

Tried by Rome
Tried by Rome
Pontius Pilate inquired whether Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” He did not deny his kingship and responded to the representative of Rome - “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 one. 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 the present fallen 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 instead, a léstés (Greek) or “brigand.” The priestly leaders of the Temple 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 the Emperor Constantine merged the two in an act of political expediency. Within a generation, the once persecuted became the persecutor.

Ecclesiastical authorities learned to use the power of the State to suppress doctrinal "dissidents" who refused to conform to the party line. The temptation for the Church to use political power to impose the “right” beliefs was too great. Force always appears easier than persuasion.

To advance the cause of the Gospel through political means necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State. The choice before us is the cruciform and rough pathway trod by Jesus or the expedient and smooth highway offered by Satan through the means of force and violence.
Should Christ’s disciples embrace what he rejected or, instead, emulate his example of self-sacrificial service?
Over the last generation, a significant percentage of U.S. Christian leaders and organizations have embraced political activism as if the cause of Christ can be advanced through a corrupt political system. It seems a little evil is necessary in order to achieve some greater good.

Sadly, many Christians will discover to their dismay that political activism has been an enormous mistake.  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 all Jesus had to do was render homage to the Devil. In effect, is that not what Christians bent on acquiring political power do?

Partisan politicking is a poor substitute for Gospel Proclamation and lives conformed to the Cross.  It is high time to return to the task with which Jesus himself commissioned his church and to do so in the same way as him.

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