The Common Good

Was Jesus a Politician?

Last Friday I was in Santa Barbara, California, to speak at Westmont College - where even on a Friday evening, the gymnasium was packed with students. Before that event I did an interview with The Santa Barbara Independent, a local weekly newspaper, which they titled The Next Great Awakening? One of the questions the reporter asked was, "Do you think Jesus was a politician?" Here is my answer:

Of course not. But he had a vision of the Kingdom of God which was spiritual, personal, relational, social, economic, and yes, political - because it talked about allegiances and loyalties and authority, and if Jesus was Lord, Caesar was not. His confrontation that he provoked in Jerusalem was with the religious and the political leaders. They saw him as a political threat. If they saw him just as a private pietist, why would they worry? [If he was] helping people get their lives together, helping their marriages, making them better parents and make them go to less Roman orgies and drunken parties, why would that have been a threat to the ruling powers? They regarded him as a threat. I remember I was at Wheaton College once and I asked this class, "Why was Jesus killed?" and they had no idea. They just couldn't comprehend the question. And then one young student said, "Well, to save us from our sins." And I said, "So you think Pontius Pilate was sitting there thinking, 'How am I going to save these American evangelicals from their sins? I'm gonna kill this guy and that will do it.'" Albeit that our theological understanding of the cross and our redemption - I'm orthodox on all those questions, but he was killed because he was seen as a threat to the rulers both religious and political. In the book I talk about how Jesus confronted the major political options of his day. All four of them were there, they're always there: One was collaborationist, one was pietist, one was withdrawn - you know, the kind of counter culture - and one was political insurrection, or revolutionary violence. He confronted them all, he rejected them all. There was a fifth option called the Kingdom of God, and that's our option.

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