Was Jesus political?
Yes… And no…
Jesus was political, but not the way we think. He didn’t act like other political leaders of his day, or ours. Politicians throughout history have used their power for self-preservation or self-promotion. But Jesus didn’t do that.
Jesus rarely weighed into political issues and regularly rejected the systems in place. He always placed others’ interests ahead of his own. He didn’t seek political gain for himself and instead sought to place others over himself.
But his life and mission carried with it 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 his kingdom is much different than any earthly kingdom.
Today Jesus is regularly drug into political debates and his message is modified to fit the agenda of modern politics. In doing so we’ve weakened Jesus’ message and misrepresented what he was about.
In this blog post I want to look at Jesus’ politics, and see how his message was viewed as a political threat. Doing so will give us a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and how that impacts our life.
Was Jesus Political?
In the opening of Mark’s Gospel we find these words, “The kingdom of God has come near.” Mark 1:15
That probably doesn’t sound political, but this declaration was highly political. Today we live in a different political landscape. But those who heard Jesus say these words would have heard it in a very different tone.
You see, when you proclaim that a new kingdom has come you are insinuating that the old kingdom is done. The leaders of the other kingdoms would certainly have taken this as a threat.
This theme of the kingdom of God isn’t just found in here in the opening of Mark. It’s found throughout the Gospels; it’s a central theme to Jesus’ message. He regularly proclaimed that his kingdom was here.
For more about Jesus’ most common teachings check out: What Jesus Taught About Most
Now, he didn’t have to use the term “kingdom.” It’s doubtful there would have been an adverse reaction had he said something like “Family of God” here. But that’s not what he said. He regularly proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was here and the other kingdoms were on their way out.
This is something the Roman kingdom would not have been too fond of. They didn’t take threats to their kingdom lightly and regularly and brutally would strike down anyone that threatened their power.
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 extortion 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.
Was Jesus political? While we might not think Jesus and politics mix, he certainly was seen as political by those in his day.
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
In Matthew 22:15-22 Jesus famously says to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Many take this passage as a command to Jesus’ followers not to be political. But that’s not what’s unfolding in this passage, after all Jesus doesn’t even follow that rule.
What Jesus is actually doing here 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 thought 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 Jesus isn’t fooled, he does something brilliant. He asks for a coin and asks them who is on the coin. “Caesar’s,” they replied. And he famously says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, 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.
The problem is the Pharisees went into the conversation with the assumption that something belonged to Caesar. Jesus is showing them the error in the beliefs. Everything belongs to God; he’s the one that’s actually in control.
They thought they were trying to trap Jesus, but instead, their error was brought into the light.
And the brilliance of giving this answer is that 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. While other leaders are seeking out their own gain and preserving their status, Jesus was not.
Jesus 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 interests 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 has given us a different way. A better way. And a more effective way to live. It’s countercultural, but so was just about everything else He did.
Jesus was not like other political leaders. And neither should we be.
Aligning Our Lives With Jesus’ Politics
Today the church is known in our country for taking political stands on certain issues. Now, most will claim they are moral issues. But the reality is most are more concerned with keeping their political power than the morality of the issue.
The politics of many Christians today differ greatly from Jesus’. Maybe the biggest difference I see is we like to fight for power and control; Jesus laid down his life.
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.
But the way Jesus stood up to those in power is much different than how (and what) Christians take political stances today.
Now, not everything that Jesus said and did was political. I would even argue that Jesus’ message wasn’t even 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.
The problem that is coming more and more evident is that many Christians have political ideologies that are antithetical to the Gospel. You can only have one king in your life. You can’t place your hope in God and your political party.
As we look at Jesus’ politics it should challenge each of us to examine our political leanings to see if they align with the Kingdom of God.
Too many Christinas are blindly following their party. But there’s evil in policies and stances of Democrats AND Republicans. If we are under the kingship of Jesus then we ought to be rejecting everything that goes against his kingdom.
That’s what I would encourage you to examine in your life. The Gospel demands to be lived out in every aspect of your life. Including your political beliefs and leanings. How we interact in the political arena should be influenced by what Jesus did.
When we sling mud and demonize the opposition, we will lose opportunities to love. When we blindly align with a political party, we remove Jesus as our king. When we fight for our “rights” it will become increasingly hard to serve. When we place our hope in politics, we will always be let down.
Christians ought to be the shining light to the rest of our culture. Involved in the things of this world, but not consumed. That’s what the politics of Jesus teach us. Jesus was political, but in a radically different manor than the rest of the world.
It’s time for his followers to do the same. To stop stooping to the politics of this world and start embracing the politics of Jesus.
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