Saturday, June 7, 2014
The Messiah & His Kingdom
I wrote about a similar thread of thought a few posts ago discussing Captain America. There are a lot of allusions to Christ in our culture. Most super heroes (especially characters like Superman) are essentially messiah figures. Soldiers sometimes sacrifice their lives for a greater cause. We admire figures who fight for freedom of one sort or another.
Should this be the case though? Is fighting for freedom a Christlike example? Let’s look at that idea for a bit.
Now, it is not shocking to me that we have done this in our society and even our churches. After all, the word Χρίστος (Christos, usually transliterated as “Christ” but more so translates to “Messiah”) is the word that has the meaning of Savior, and that word can be applied to many figures depending on perspective and context. First century people did the exact same thing. The Prince of Peace was born into a world that was absolutely drenched in violence caused by messiah figures.
In the Old Testament, God is the people’s Savior and Deliverer. Sometimes He uses figures to help in this, but it is always by His hand that victory comes. Some of these secondary figures go awry from time to time though. Gideon ends up seeking personal vengeance, worshipping idols, and using unethical means of warfare despite such humble and God filled beginnings. Although we usually paint him as a hero in VBS, Samson was no more than a brute who engaged in all kinds of inappropriate behavior and even at the end of his life, seeks personal glory instead of glory for God (Judges 16:28).
In between the Old and New Testaments, one of the most significant things to happen in Jewish history was what a man named Judas Maccabee (literally “the hammer”) accomplished. Under him, the single most successful Jewish revolt (at least since the days when God was delivering the Israelites by His own hand) was achieved. Under the Maccabees, the Jews were able to throw off their Greek oppressors. The Maccabees eventually start turning on their own people, but nevertheless, their success “would shape the way Jewish people in Jesus’s day would understand – and anticipate – the kingdom of God” (Sprinkle, 115).
Many messiah figures heralded themselves even in Jesus’s lifetime and afterwards. I could go into the details of these men’s exploits, but they can be summed as essentially being about throwing off Roman (no longer Greek) oppression in order to bring back God’s kingdom, sometimes claiming to be prophets, but always showing themselves as saviors to the people. They pretty much all failed though.
This was the first century understanding of what it meant to be a messiah ushering in God’s kingdom. Enter a Jewish carpenter from a small town who taught people to “turn the other cheek” and “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Who could possibly take this “Messiah” seriously?
There are many times when Jesus would inform people NOT to tell other people that He was the Messiah. Why would He do this? Because the term itself, as well as what bringing God’s kingdom to earth meant, had been incredibly tinted by the blood drawn by Maccabean swords.
Jesus would redefine what Kingdom and Messiah meant. When asked by Pilate if Jesus was a king, Jesus replied that “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
Now, Jesus isn’t referring to some metaphysical, spiritual thing when He said “not of this world”, instead he is saying that in His kingdom, the citizens do not act in the same way that the world does. The same use of “the world” is found elsewhere, such as “do not love the world,” not meaning the actual world but the socially constructed systems of the world (Sprinkle, 2013).
In Jesus’s definition of God’s kingdom, there is no fighting for it the way that the world does or the Maccabees did.
This is why it bothers me when we “fight” for religious freedom, or for anything really, through either violence or political means. Jesus had absolutely no intention of overthrowing Rome (a government far more oppressive than ours has ever been). Instead He challenged it ideologically through concepts such as social stratification, treatment of the outcast, economics, and the idea that enemies are to be loved.
Fact is, while we are busy bleeding while fighting our enemies in order to obtain or maintain religious freedom, Christ is bleeding in order to make our enemies whole.
There is nothing more noble than sacrificing one’s life for others, because that is what Christ did. However, Jesus wanted to differentiate himself from the other “messiahs” who used violence in order to free people. Jesus absorbed violence into Himself in order to save people; He never reciprocated or perpetuated it.
I realize that some of this is provocative. As always, feel free to hit me up and we can dialogue about all this. However, let this marinate and permeate your brain so that God's truth, not mine, America's, or even your local church's truth, can be how we think. May we always seek to sharpen one another.
Sprinkle, Preston. Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013. Print.