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The Myth of the Apolitical Jesus

Many American Christians are abandoning “worldly” politics to focus on what’s “spiritual”. But is that a thing??

Jesus was absolutely a politician. Our friend Tim Thomas recently touched on this topic quite astutely. Consider this, if anything, an unauthorized sequel to that piece …

Conservative witticist Frank Fleming tweeted out a thread Sunday starting with this stunner:

https://twitter.com/imao_/status/1049105129222406144?s=21

This sentiment isn’t uncommon today. It’s a warm comfort to imagine Jesus always stayed out of the fray of worldly affairs, especially political matters, when we live in a day that’s so divisive, uncivil, and, yes, evil. Easier to speak merely of “spiritual” matters, not the day-to-day grind of policy debates. This sounds good. It’s also arguably heretical.

Gnosticism, the late 2nd-Century heresy of “secret knowledge” that plagued Church leaders of the time, posited a very straightforward, attractive notion at its heart: essentially, “spirit good, matter bad”. This anti-Christian supposition has reared its ugly head in every era of Christendom, albeit at times subtly, and under various names. In our day, it’s junk like this. Forget Earth stuff, just do “spiritual” stuff.

Um, Earth is spiritual. That’s where it came from, and that’s where it’s going.

The great Dutch Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper famously declared, “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine!’” And so it is with politics. Indeed, Christ rejected the tribal hypocrisy of both the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ political agendas. No doubt He focused His teaching toward the Jews, not the Romans. But these features of His ministry, far from being apolitical, were in actuality all aspects of His kingdom plan. He did not (contrary to some teachings today) reject the crown of the Kingdom of God. On the contrary, He rejected the corrupt and violent means by which His opponents sought to bring about that kingdom. He embraced the cross, not instead of a throne, but in fact as the necessary path to His throne. And ascending to the throne of God’s Kingdom, and by extension, to the throne over all kingdoms, is unabashedly political.

One might object that Christ declared, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn 18:36). Granted. This doesn’t mean however that is not in this world. It doesn’t originate from below, nor does it grasp power in the manner of men (that is, by swords). It acts by “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), spreading the word of Christ into all the world, and teaching the nations to obey Him. When He tells people to pay taxes to Caesar, He is arguing a political position, not abstaining from taking one. Rome, at that time, has its sphere of authority, and Christ righteously recognizes and respects it. He also regularly calls Himself the “Son of Man”, a figure from Dan 7 that will ultimately seize the keys of authority from the final “beast”, the Roman Empire. Again, without any need for violent revolution, that’s ultimately exactly what occurred.

He of course was battling political enemies on two fronts at once. The other side was conflict with the leaders of Israel. To these adversaries, Christ’s critiques were much more pointed and frequent. This is, obviously, because He was a Jew, and this was a critique from within for the nation of Israel. The Jews were supposed to be the light to the nations, calling out Rome for its idolatry and injustice, and showing the Gentiles a better way. What was left of Israel had become the problem, however, instead of the solution. If the people of God are themselves in slavery to sin, then there is no hope for the nations. Jesus sought to reform and restore Israel through repentance–not in lieu of their call to teach the world the laws of God, but precisely unto that very end; and that path was, of course, the way of the cross, the death of God’s people in their King, and their rebirth in His resurrection. Once Pentecost came, the regenerated people of God would begin the work of the real revolution. A “spiritual” revolution, yes, but not in an extraterrestrial, immaterial sense. It would be a revolution of the world empowered by the Spirit. Not just an offer of inner peace and hope for afterlife, but the renewal of creation itself and the restoration of humankind in God’s image. The Church was the seed of the New Creation.

What about now? Jesus’ political foes are not the same today that they were in the First Century. They certainly should not be identified with, or limited to, Republicans or Democrats. Nor should we point the finger at other nations and pretend the USA is “God’s country”. We have dual citizenship: we are ambassadors for Christ and His kingdom, while simultaneously maintaining citizenship in the kingdom of man–in our case here, America. We are to submit to the laws of the land and at the same time call those in power to act justly. We must challenge them when they fail to do so, but without allowing or encouraging them to perform the acts of the Church–pretending to be the Kingdom of God on Earth, thus usurping His people’s unique and rightful authority. And by the same token, the Church must be the Church. She must wield authority over the sheep while not overstepping the bounds of her rule–we may be ambassadors to teach the nations, but our exercising of judgment remains internal in its scope of authority (1 Cor 5:12); we do not bear the sword of societal vengeance (Rom 13:1-6); the State alone does.

In keeping with Kuyper, yes, God cares about tax policies. And He cares about abortion. He cares about war, welfare, and the Wall. Because at the end of the day, the whole earth is the theater of His glory. Christ Jesus is King of kings, and the People of the United States, via the Constitution, constitute one of those many kings. Therefore He has interest in how we govern ourselves. It would be Gnosticism pure and simple to retreat from the arena of public policy entirely on the wrong-headed assumption that “spiritual” matters like prayer, evangelism, and church activities are all that concern God. We must never confuse the City of Man with the City of God, but in Christ, who is the God-Man, heaven and earth meet, and it is nothing less than a denial of the Incarnation to abandon our calling to share in His rule of the nations, which are His inheritance.

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