Calvary or Rome?

Institutional Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and other agendas is too great. Advancing “Christianity” through the political mechanisms of this world always necessitates the use of the coercive power of the State, and this corrosive mixture inevitably corrupts the Church and destroys its witness.

The marriage of Church and State is contrary to the teachings and example of Jesus. Rather than the Imperial Throne, he chose to the path of the ‘Servant of the LORD.’ When tempted by Satan with power over “all the kingdoms of the world,” he refused the offer. Instead, he embraced the role of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, leading to his inevitable execution by the World Empire.

Colosseum - Photo by Craig Zdanowicz on Unsplash
[Photo by Craig Zdanowicz on Unsplash]

The most startling detail of the story as recorded in 
Matthew is that the Messiah of Israel did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the governments of this age.

The Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the “kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their splendor.” He offered him far more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation. The Greek word translated as “world” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world. Effectively, Satan offered the very thing the Son of God came to inaugurate, namely, the Kingdom of God.

In Luke’s version, the Tempter boasted that he could give Jesus “all this authority” if only he would acknowledge Satan’s overlordship. “It has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

To acquire unlimited power, Satan required Jesus to “render homage” to him. The Greek verb so translated denotes giving homage or allegiance to someone or something else. To gain sovereignty, the Messiah needed to acknowledge Satan as his sovereign.

Jesus was the Messiah appointed by God to reign over all the Earth, yet how could he subdue the rebellious nations without the military and economic might of the State? Satan was offering a shortcut to his God-ordained royal position, a way for him to avoid suffering and death and still acquire political power – (Psalm 2:6-8).

THE COST OF MESSIAHSHIP


Imagine all the good he could accomplish if Jesus sat on Caesar’s Throne and commanded his legions! With Roman power at his command, would not righteousness soon prevail across the Empire? Surely, if ever there was justification for resorting to State power, this was it. Who was better qualified to wield the might of the World Empire than the Prince of Peace?

However, rather than yield to the temptation, Jesus submitted to the path of the ‘Suffering Servant.’ True victory would be achieved through self-denial and sacrificial service to others. “Greatness” in God’s Kingdom was measured by acts of mercy, especially to one’s enemy. What Satan offered was contrary to the nature of the Father.

Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus chose to “take on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.”

Because of his choice, God exalted him to reign over the Cosmos, and He gave 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.” However, the Cross preceded his ascension to the Davidic Throne, and it was not discarded afterward.

His disciples are summoned to adopt this same self-denying mind and to walk the same path of self-sacrificial service. “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.” His followers become “complete as your Father in heaven” by loving and doing good to their enemies, not by suppressing or destroying them - (Matthew 5:43-48, Philippians 2:6-11).

The reign of God can never be achieved through the sinful ways and corruption of the political systems of this evil age.

We must take seriously the Scriptural portrayal of political power as being under Satan’s overlordship. If he works behind the scenes, and if the possession of political power necessitates giving allegiance to him, and since Jesus refused to do so, should not his followers do likewise? How do we reconcile the use of political power with his sacrificial death on the Cross?



RELATED POSTS:
  • Starting from the Cross - (Jesus is the Messiah whose reign began on the Cross, and who fulfilled his mission as the Servant of the LORD)
  • Power and Wisdom - (The power and wisdom of God are found in the proclamation of a Christ who was crucified on a Roman cross)
  • Revealed on the Cross - (The Son of Man is revealed and comprehended in his sufferings and self-sacrificial death for others, including his enemies)

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