Jesus and Rome

Roman Arch - Photo by Jonathan Skule on Unsplash
In the wilderness of Judea, the Devil offered the Messiah of Israel unlimited political power to achieve his purposes, if only the Son of God would render homage to him. Imagine all the good Christ could have done for Israel and the world if only he possessed all the might and majesty of Rome! But this he rejected without hesitation. Instead, he chose the way of the cross. Nor did he later instruct his disciples - “Go, and do thou differently!” - [
Photo by Jonathan Skule on Unsplash].

Jesus did NOT dispute the Devil’s “right” to dispense political power. Nor did he turn his back on the world for some new mystical religion or withdraw from society for a life of seclusion. The Son of God did not disengage from the world; instead, he chose to redeem Israel and humanity - indeed, the entire creation - by choosing the path of the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Yahweh.
  • (Matthew 4:8-11) – “Again, the devil takes him to an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and he said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus to him, Get you hence, Satan: for it is written, You will worship the Lord your God, and him only will you serve. Then the Devil left him; and behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
The price of political power was homage to Satan. So, it was then, and so it remains today. Although he was chosen by God Himself to rule all the nations, Jesus refused to ascend his throne in the accepted manner so valued by this evil age. But how could Yahweh’s designated king reign over the rebellious nations of the earth without the military and economic powers of the almighty Roman Empire? - (Psalm 2:6-8).

Imagine the great good Jesus could accomplish if he held Caesar’s throne and commanded the legions of Rome! With him at the imperial helm, would not righteousness prevail across the empire, indeed, the entire world? Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power and coercion, this was the time. Who better to wield the sword than the Prince of Peace?

However, in contrast to this fallen age, in the Kingdom of God true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrifice. “Greatness” in His kingdom is defined as self-sacrificial service and acts of mercy, not the use of force to compel them to submission and obedience:
  • (Matthew 20:26-28) – “Not so shall it be among you; but whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and 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 incident during his forty-day sojourn in the “wilderness” was not the end of the Devil’s political intrigues. Following his rebuff - “The Devil departed from him until an opportune time.” Jesus faced this same challenge again after the miraculous feeding of a multitude near the Sea of Galilee. Certain members of the crowd planned “to come and seize him that they might make him king.”

But Jesus walked away when the mob determined to crown him king. His act turned many minds against him, for he refused to become the militaristic messiah who would destroy Rome that so many of his contemporaries desired - (Luke 4:13, John 6:15).

When tried by the representative of Rome, Pontius Pilate inquired whether Jesus was “the king of the Jews.” This he did not deny, but he responded, “You say that I am a king: I for this have been born.” However, he qualified his kingship, 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).
He never stated that his kingdom was a strictly “spiritual” or otherworldly reality. However, the source of his authority was other than the political power that characterized the existing world order. The kingdom of God was of an entirely different nature than the political realms of this age.

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

Contrary to the messianic expectations of many, 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.” And his followers are summoned to adopt this same mind – “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 “reform” society has been too great - Force always seems easier and more effective than persuasion.
But to advance the cause of Christ through the political means necessitates the resort 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; Rome or Calvary.

Should we, his disciples, embrace what Jesus rejected, or should we emulate his example of self-sacrificial service for others? We cannot do both.


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