You probably don’t think about politics when you read the words of Jesus. But make no mistake. Jesus was very political. But not the way you may think. He wasn’t like other political leaders of His day or today. He operated much differently and with a drastically contrasting purpose. But Jesus’ politics are clearly evident through his message, miracles, and mission.
Jesus was VERY political.
Politics were at the center of Jesus’ story and His message. Even His miracles often carried political implications. His life was ended in a political execution because he threatened the status quo of the political leaders of the day.
Jesus was political.
But probably not in the way you are thinking. Jesus wasn’t like the politicians in His day or of our day. He always placed other’s interests ahead of his own. He didn’t seek political gain for himself. And He avoided traps that so many other leaders find themselves snared in. Jesus was and is a very different political leader.
Let’s look a little deeper at Jesus’ politics.
The first words Mark records Jesus saying in his Gospel are highly political. The kingdom of God has come near. (Mark 1:15) Doesn’t sound political to you? That’s because we live in a different political landscape. Those who heard Jesus say those words would have heard that with a very different tone than you and I do. When you proclaim that a new kingdom has come you are insinuating that the old kingdom is done. The other kingdoms of the world would take this statement as a threat.
The theme of the Kingdom of God is intertwined throughout the Gospels and is a central theme of Jesus’ teaching (What Jesus Taught About Most). He could have chosen another analogy. It’s doubtful there would have been an adverse reaction had he used the term “Family of God”. But He didn’t. Instead, He talked time and time again about the Kingdom of God. Something the Roman kingdom would not have been too fond of.
But Jesus didn’t just step on the kingdom of Rome’s toes, he went toe to toe with the Jewish political leaders plenty of times. Most famously when he walked into their political center (the temple), overthrew it, and called it a den of thieves (Mark 11:17). Talk about a political statement.
Why would Jesus do that? He was establishing that His Kingdom would be different. The Temple was supposed to be a place for God and his people. Instead, it became a place of exhortation and collaboration with Rome. Jesus overthrowing the temple was a strong political message. His Kingdom was to play by a different set of rules, it was to be set apart from other worldly kingdoms.
So let’s look at what Jesus’ politics centered around and how His Kingdom was to be different.
He Preached The Kingdom Is Here
We’ve already talked about the Kingdom a little bit, but I want to dive a little deeper because this is such a central teaching of Jesus’.
In Jesus’ world, talking about a kingdom was a very political and potentially dangerous thing to talk about. Unless you were talking up the Roman kingdom. The “king” of the Jews, Herod, and the kingdom of Rome didn’t take kindly attempts to subvert their power. Any threat was dealt with swiftly and violently. But that didn’t stop Jesus. He continually preached that His Kingdom was at hand.
That statement, the Kingdom of God is at hand, is a direct threat to the other kingdoms of the world. Jesus is making a claim that His Kingdom is greater than all others. This is a strong political statement and one you better be prepared to back up. Once you threaten the most powerful political players you know they are going to come after you.
And that they did. They came after Jesus because he was a threat to their power. But little did they know that was part of the plan all along.
He Questioned Who Was Really In Control
You’ve probably heard the passage in Matthew 22:15-22 where Jesus famously says to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I have seen many interpret this verse to say Jesus is telling his people to not be political. Not only is that a misunderstanding of this passage, but Jesus doesn’t even follow that rule.
What Jesus is actually doing in this passage is he is causing his audience to question who was actually in control. The Pharisees thought they had trapped Jesus by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. They think either way he answers he loses. If he says yes, the Jews will hate him because the taxes were massively unfair. If he says no, then the Roman Government will come after him for trying to subvert their power. Jesus can’t win.
But then He does something clever. He asks them who is on the coin. It’s Caesar. And he famously says give to Caesar what is Caesar’ and to God what is God’s.
Jesus is not separating the two and saying we should have a division between politics and religion. Instead, Jesus gives them a conundrum. He’s causing the Pharisees to question what really belongs to God? I mean it’s everything, right? But they went in with the assumption that something belongs to Caesar. They were the ones with an error in their belief.
They thought they were trying to trap Jesus, but instead, their error was brought into the light.
The greater genius is that by giving this answer Jesus appears no threat to Rome. But in reality, he just undercut their authority.
This is a highly political, albeit subtly, claim that it’s God who rules and not Caesar.
Jesus Was Unlike Other Political Leaders
It should be no surprise to us that Jesus was different than other political leaders. He wasn’t interested in securing his own power. Instead, he gave up his power. He didn’t have any self-interest. Rather he put the interest of others ahead of himself. He didn’t slander, gossip, and lie. Instead, he stood firmly on the truth and always with grace. He didn’t seek the most prominent position. Instead, he willingly went to the cross. Jesus was unlike any other politician, any other leader. His Kingdom ran by a different set of rules.
I think it’s important that we don’t miss this. Because oftentimes Jesus’ followers lean more towards the world’s politics rather than Jesus’. I’m often shocked by how Christians choose to take their political stances. They bash, slander, and fight for power. The opposite of Jesus. They might be right in what they believe, but they are often totally wrong in how it’s lived out. Just so we are clear, I see that on both sides of the aisle.
Jesus gave us a different way. A better way. And a more effective way. It’s countercultural, but so was just about everything else He did.
Jesus was not like other political leaders. And neither should we be.
Jesus Was A Political Threat (and so should we)
I’m not saying Christians should just lay down and take whatever happens to them. We’ve seen that’s not what Jesus did at all. Jesus massively disrupted the status quo. His threat to those in power is one of the reasons he ended up nailed to the cross, a death for threats to the kingdom.
The point I’m trying to make isn’t that everything Jesus said and did was political. It wasn’t. I would even argue that Jesus’ message wasn’t primarily political. What I’m driving at is that the message of Jesus has political implications. It’s not limited to the political world, rather the political world is included. The Gospel message demands to be lived out in every area of our life. Including our political ideologies.
Each of us ought to examine our political leanings to see if they align with the Kingdom of God. I always cringe when I see highly partisan Christians seemingly blindly following their party. The problem is certain policies and stances of Democrats AND Republicans go against the Kingdom of God. We ought to be calling out anything that goes against God’s Kingdom and supporting what Jesus was for (even in the party we can’t stand).
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