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After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15)
Believe it or not, the presidential election is less than a week away. For many of us, Tuesday can not get here soon enough, because it means that we will be done with all of the negative campaign advertising. In the spirit of this political season, allow me to take a moment to remind you about how Jesus and the early church subverted the politics of their era, and the lessons we can learn from that today.
Consider the language used by the politicians of Jesus’ day, and how Jesus and His followers confronted that worldview, co-opted that language and gave it a completely different meaning (taken from Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President):
Basilea (“empire” or “kingdom”): Term used for the Roman Empire, with Caesar at the head
Gospel (euangelion: “good news”): An imperial pronouncement, usually accompanied by flags and political ceremony, that an heir to the empire’s throne had been born or that a distant battle had been won
Christ (Greek translation of the Hebrew messiah): Known by the Romans as the name Jews used for their ruler, anointed by God and the people. The King of the Jews job title had already been granted to Herod, hence the problem when Jesus was also considered to be a King of the Jews
Son of God: A popular title for kings and emperors, such as Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus
Ekklesia: A local public assembly within the greater Roman Empire, much like a town meeting. These assemblies bestowed citizenship, discussed local political concerns, assigned elders, and offered prayer and worship to Caesar
Parousia (“presence): The return of Caesar to visit a town
Savior (literally “healer” or “preserver”): Caesar Augustus, as Savior, was seen as the one who healed the chaos of Rome and brought it into a new golden age.
Faith: A term used for trust in, allegiance to, and hope in the Pax Romans.
Lord (kyrios): Name for a ruler, particularly a supreme ruler
Emmanuel: The manifestation of the presence and will of the gods; a title claimed by emperors like Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Domitian
Basilea – Jesus’ most common topic of conversation: the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, with Yahweh at the head
Gospel: Jesus’ good news that the kingdom of God is at hand
Christ: Divinely anointed ruler over Israel who would fulfill the scriptural promises of saving the Israelites from sin and oppression
Son of God: The name given to Jesus, who also called Himself the Son of Man
Ekklesia: Word used for the early church, emphasizing that the followers of Jesus were called to participate in their world as local communities of an alternative society to the Roman imperial order
Parousia: The second coming of Jesus
Savior: A title for Jesus
Faith: A term used for trust in, allegiance to, and hope in Jesus
Lord: A much more international acclamation for Jesus than the term Christ/Messiah
Emmanuel: Means “God with us” and is the name prophesied in Hebrew Scripture for the Messiah, later proclaimed by the angel to Mary as one of the names for Jesus
What does this history and linguistics lesson have to do with the presidential election? Looking at the language used by Jesus and His followers, it is clear that their primary goal was not to gain political power in order to change the world, but to set up an alternate kingdom and community that was more concerned about serving Lord Jesus and living by His rules than serving Lord Caesar and living by his rules. Sure, Jesus told the disciples to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” when they asked Him about paying taxes (Matthew 22:21). But that is the only place, apart from His trial and execution, that Jesus interacts with the political powers of His day. Yet somehow, the early church managed to grow and spread and change the world without ever taking political power, while the Roman Empire is dead and gone.
My point, of course, is to put your hope in King Jesus, in President Jesus, and not in Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, or any politician. Serve President Jesus in your local ekklesia and spread His gospel that Jesus is Lord as you live for God’s Kingdom.
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