Was Jesus a revolutionary? No. Jesus’ teachings and life were. Jesus Christ calls His followers to a radical love, not anarchy.
“Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”
Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin, and I’ll tell you.” When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
His reply completely amazed them. (Mark 12:14-17)
Israel in Jesus’ day was under an unpopular Roman occupation. Knowing this, the Pharisees thought they might catch Jesus in a difficult position by asking whether or not he supported paying taxes to Rome.
We can extrapolate that paying taxes were despised by the Jews, since we know their low opinion of tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-11).
The Pharisees thought if Jesus Christ said yes, the people would turn on Him. It would show them that Jesus was friendly to Roman authorities. If Jesus Christ said no, then He could have problems with the Roman authorities, perhaps even opening the door to having Him arrested.
Was Jesus a revolutionary? Or did He sympathize with a pagan government? With wisdom that shocked His audience. Jesus’ answer both honored the governmental authority and His heavenly Father.
The Revolutionary Love of Jesus
It should not surprise us when man-led governments, absent submission to Christ, make decisions His disciples find troublesome. The world’s agenda will rarely match God’s agenda. It is tempting to take the zeal we have for Christ and use it in the world to aggressively resist authority when it does something we don’t agree with, especially on a moral level.
Jesus does not call us to do that. Quite the opposite. Being a revolutionary was not Jesus’ concern. Jesus was Heavenly focused.
Keep in mind this is the same Roman government that, before the century was out, would round up the early Christians and feed them to lions to entertain Roman crowds. Jesus foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans (Mark 13:1-2).
Despite all this and more, Jesus still did not incite His followers to rebel against the Roman government. Why?
Jesus said the command to love our neighbors went hand in hand with the greatest commandment; to love God with all our heart, mind and strength. Both are commanded by Christ.
Since Jesus did not make a distinction between who is and isn’t our neighbor, as His disciples, neither should we.
We should pray for our leaders, even if we don’t agree with them. Especially if we don’t agree with them. We are expected to submit to authorities, recognizing that every authority is under God’s sovereignty (Romans 13:1-7).
Let that statement sink in for a minute.
The same God who was sovereign over Israel was sovereign over Rome. He was sovereign over 1700’s America and 1700’s England. God was sovereign over EVERY nation in World War I and World War II.
We can acknowledge both that God is sovereign, and that God does not condone every action of every government in the world.
Jesus Is the King of Kings
Was Jesus a revolutionary? No. Revolutionaries are usurpers. Jesus is Lord.
Is Jesus God? Yes. Did He have the power at any moment to halt the unjust proceedings against Him on earth and take this world by force? Again, yes.
But did He? No, Jesus Christ came to go all the way to the cross out of love for mankind. And He wasn’t about to let a political squabble get in the way of that. His eyes were on eternity.
There will be a day when Jesus Christ comes to rule the earth. At that time, He will not be acting a as a revolutionary. He will be acting as the rightful King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and everyone will know who He is (Revelation 19:11-16).
Many who wish to call Jesus a revolutionary point to Jesus saying He did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34-36). However, this is taking the verse out of context.
Jesus here is not calling for us to take up the sword. Rather, He is preparing us to expect opposition because we follow Him. At times, that will include political opposition and even persecution by the hands of our leaders.
The American church so far has not had to endure the same persecution followers of Christ in many countries around the world see on a daily basis. You don’t hear about marauding bands of Christians fighting for their freedoms in these countries. You hear about Christians being imprisoned, tortured, and murdered for their faith.
Revolutionary Obedience to Jesus
Understand, I am not saying disciples have to be silent or actionless in the face of sinful leadership, but let love motivate our response, not anger or fear. Jesus calls His followers to be Heavenly minded, as He was.
What is more important? Protecting our Christian morality from societal erosion, or bringing a lost soul to the feet of Jesus? While these aren’t exclusive choices, do we risk sacrificing the more important one when we are adamant about the other?
Was Jesus a revolutionary? No. If Jesus is our example, what should our priority be?
Consider also a few biblical examples.
Prophesied to be the future King of Israel, hunted by King Saul, David found himself with ample opportunity to kill Saul, ending the danger to his own life and likely immediately establishing his rule.
Instead, David refused to take the life of the man God had installed as his king (1 Samuel 24).
Paul was imprisoned and beaten numerous times for preaching the Gospel, and he was willing to “endure anything” for the sake of the Good News (2 Timothy 2:9-10). At times this came at the hands of government authorities.
Let us seek to follow Jesus Christ in love, for Him and for all people, even in the face of persecution and subversion. Instead of disdain, let us pray for our leaders, that they would rule with wisdom and in alignment with God’s righteousness.
More Bible verses about submission to authority (and to Christ):