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Was Jesus a Revolutionary?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?

Luke 22:52

In the twenty-five years, there have been some who have sought to portray Jesus as a political revolutionary. They have sought his endorsement, if you will, of their own political causes. In response, more traditional Christians have denied the revolutionary intent of Jesus, affirming that his efforts were spiritual in focus, and basically irrelevant to matters of governing and economics.

In my opinion, both sides of this argument miss the point of Jesus’ message and ministry. To be sure, he was not your run of the mill political revolutionary. In fact, when the authorities came to arrest him on the night prior to his crucifixion, Jesus rebuked the efforts of his disciples to fight with weapons. He asked those who sought to seize him, “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,...that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me?” (22:53). In the original Greek of this passage, Jesus said, “Am I a thief...?” Yet the Greek word for thief (lestes) was used in this time for a guerilla movement that sought to fight against the Romans (see Josephus, Jewish War, 2.13.3). So our translation properly renders the sense of Jesus’ question. He was asking, “Am I your typical revolutionary?” The answer, of course, was “No.”

But, though Jesus refrained from armed, political opposition to Roman authority, he was indeed a revolutionary in another sense. He proclaimed the kingdom of God, hailing God alone as the one true King over heaven and earth. He called his followers, as citizens of God’s kingdom, to live in a radically different way on earth. Rather than hating their enemies, they were to love them. Rather than seeking revenge, the disciples of Jesus were to turn the other cheek. No ordinary revolutionary would say things like this. But Jesus was advancing a deeper and more pervasive revolution, the overthrow of the kingdom of the Evil One and the victory of the kingdom of God.

As followers of Jesus today, we should surely be concerned with and involved in matters of governing. But we misconstrue the revolution of Jesus if we make it primarily about a political agenda, no matter which one we prefer. Rather, we are to revolt against the values of this fallen world, choosing instead to live by the standards of God’s kingdom. Rather than seeking our own good, we are to seek what’s best for others. Rather than seeking revenge, we are to forgive. Rather than seeking to dominate, we are to serve. Rather than being consumed with hatred, we are to be people who love.

In this season of Advent, we remember that Christ will come again to establish God’s kingdom in all of its glory. We yearn for the day when God’s revolution will be complete. We live today in light of that hope.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Does the “revolutionary” message of the kingdom of God make a difference in your life? How might you live today in a way that reflects the reign of God while rejecting the fallen ways of this world?

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, though you weren’t a common revolutionary, you did indeed come to overthrow a kingdom . . . the kingdom of the Evil One, the kingdom of sin and death. Your revolution took radically distinct forms. It involved the way of love, service, and sacrifice. Ultimately, you defeated your enemy, not with political might, but with the power of your sacrifice on the cross.

Help me, Lord, to live according to the values of your kingdom. Help me to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness in every part of life, in my work and my play, in my church and my neighborhood, in my purchases and in my voting.

Dear Lord, I look forward to the day when your kingdom will come in all of its fullness, when every knee will bow before you. With this Advent hope, I seek to live for you today. Amen.

P.S. from Mark: Throughout the season of Advent, I'll be putting up on my blog an Online Advent Calendar. This year, it features Advent Doodles by my wife, Linda. If you've been to retreats at Laity Lodge, you may be familiar with Linda's doodles, which she often shares in devotions. They combine sketches, Bible verses, thoughts, and questions for pondering. Each day of Advent, I'll be featuring one of Linda's Advent Doodles. You can find the newest one each day at the top of my blog. Click here for an example.

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