For a thousand years before Jesus, two radically different worldviews and social orders battled for the hearts and minds of God’s people. I’m not referring to what we might think of as “Judaism” and “paganism.” Rather, I'm talking about two diametrically opposed ways of being the people of the same God.
These two ways fought during the monarchy: kings and their elite companions on one side, the prophets and the oppressed poor and excluded on the other. They fought during the Second Temple period after the Babylonian Exile: the urban elite associating God with the wisdom of empires; the voices of the emerging apocalyptic tradition crying out for an egalitarian social and economic order in that same God’s name.
Jesus was born into this ancient and ongoing struggle. He experienced the heavens ripped open and God’s spirit poured down on him, bathing him in divine love. He now knew clearly which side God was on. He went forth from his baptism proclaiming one of these traditions to be the true “word” and “way” of God, and the other a diabolic counterfeit. I call these the “religion of creation” and the “religion of empire.” Jesus embodied and called others to join him in living the good news of the fulfillment of the religion of creation.
WE CAN SEE this battle taking place throughout the New Testament, reaching its spectacular culmination in John of Patmos’ portraits of the fallen and disgraced “whore,” Babylon, and the beautiful “bride of the Lamb,” New Jerusalem. But even passages that might seem domesticated reveal Jesus announcing the victory of the true “religion” that will unite God’s people together in bonds of love, compassion, and deep joy.