So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “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.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. (John 18:33-38ESV)
The basic argument that I am striving to make in this series of blog posts is that Christianity, at its core is about the Kingdom of God and the reign of Jesus as King or Lord, and that this truth ought to shape the way we engage the political world. To become a follower of Jesus is to trust in Christ’s atoning work through His sacrificial death on the cross for our sin and subsequent resurrection from the dead defeating all enemies. But faith also involves bowing the knee to Christ as King. Romans 10:9 expresses this clearly, “That is you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” We see in this passage the two-legged stance of saving faith in Christ as Savior and Lord. You cannot get the benefits of Jesus as Savior, including forgiveness, redemption, adoption, and the promise of heaven without trusting and embracing Him as King. The declaration, “Jesus is Lord,” is an incredibly politically charged statement for a person living in Rome. The Caesar claimed authority over the lives of citizens, and people in Rome were more than happy to declare that “Caesar is Lord.” By joining in to the common declaration in the empire, Romans were pledging allegiance to a king and embracing a kingdom. Paul, though, tells the early Roman Christians that they will be saved when they confess verbally, publicly that Jesus is their Lord. This too is the declaration of allegiance to a King and the embracing of a Kingdom. And it stands boldly in in opposition to the Romans embrace of Caesar as their authority and hope for salvation.
If we are ever to engage in civics and politics, we must begin by understanding the concept of Kingdom and the claims it makes on us. Now, this is a lengthy subject, and would take several books to unpack all the implications. But on the simple end, the Kingdom of God is one of the most significant and core themes of the Bible. The story begins with God as Creator King who creates both a world and subjects. But a coup influenced by the serpent and brought forth by Adam and Eve leads to rebellion against the authority of God. Humanity begins a quest to find redemption and salvation only in themselves, and the story quickly turns to powers, worldly kingdoms, and political causes as the hope for mankind. But these worldly kingdoms rise and fall, and always fail to deliver any real change or hope. They also embrace all kinds of deities and forms of worship, reshaping their god to fit the sinful desires of their hearts and the redefinition of salvation they are seeking. Into this world God raises up a nation who will represent the Kingdom of God on earth. This story begins with the faith of Abraham, who obeys God by leaving the seat of power of the most powerful kingdom on the planet at that time (Ur of the Chaldees) and journeys to Canaan, which becomes known as the Promised Land. His descendants are chosen and loved by God, but also called to surrender to the One True and Living God as their King. They are both a religious people who are to obey the Laws of God and worship Him alone, and a political people forming a nation. The key point here is to realize that God was to be their King. And since God was their King, their lives were to be under His Sovereign rule and purpose. This means that they were to live under His morality when it came to sexuality and ethics, and His values when it came to justice, care for the poor, and love for the outsider (sojourner).
As we read through the story we will find that God is sovereign and He rules His people with justice, love, patience, and goodness. Yet the people quickly reject Yahweh as their Sovereign and are unfaithful. By the end of the book of Judges the drift has become so complete that the author states, “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” This statement is actually to be read satirically and an awful commentary on the condition of the nation. They did have a King, God Almighty. Yet, they formed alliances and made treaties with the nations around them. Worse, they began to seek the salvation offered through by other nations by embracing the worship of their gods. This always led to wicked moral practices and a complete erosion of any sense of justice.
The story takes another turn when the people begin crying out for a human king. This is actually a rejection of God as their True King in a clear way (1 Samuel 8:7). They want a human ruler who will give them political salvation, and God allows them to have what they ask for in the reign of Saul. He is an awful ruler who had mental health issues and spends most of his authoritative energy trying to appease his jealousy. The nation suffers, and their hopes are not satisfied by this king. Yet, God raises up another king in the person of David. David’s rule and reign is marked by some significant scandals, yet, at the core David understood something about his role as King. He had ONE JOB! His job as king was to remember that he was not the King. OK, read that again. His one job as king was to remember that he was not really the King. And David fulfilled this role extremely well. He continually pointed the nation to Yahweh as the True King, and David saw his own rule as nothing more than a vice-regent who was to remember he was not really the king. As Israel becomes more of a true human kingdom under the rule of their human kings, the writers of Scripture evaluate these men’s reign with the same grid. If they used their rule to remind the people that they were actually in the Kingdom of God and He is the True King, then the human king is seen as a good king. But if they thumped their chest touting their power, and forcing their own human values on people they were seen as an evil king who led the nation to idolatry, injustice, adultery, and other practices deserving God’s discipline. But it is the message of the prophets speaking to these kings that gave hope for redemption to the people. Yes, they called out the human kings for their failure, but the prophets also began pointing forward to a True and Better King who would come from the royal line of David. This King would have an eternal reign, sit on an eternal throne, and rule an eternal kingdom. This King would usher in the Kingdom of God in a new and full way, meaning that the rule and reign of Yahweh God would explode among the kingdoms of men.
Four hundred years after the last words of the Old Testament, Jesus bursts on the scene. He is caring for the poor and oppressed, performing miracles that push back the forces of darkness and evil. He also came preaching. “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel.” (Mark 1:19) Did you catch that? Jesus message that is good news to be believed is about the bursting of God’s Kingdom into this world in the ministry of Jesus. In fact, the message of the Kingdom is central to Jesus’ teaching, often beginning parables or teaching moments with phrases like, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Here’s the point, to understand the core message of Jesus we have to get the idea of Kingdom.
As Americans this is a bit tough. We don’t have a king, we elect a President. Now, if you lived in England where the idea of a monarch shaped the history of your country and the values held by its people the idea of the Kingdom of God might make more sense. But really to define a kingdom is simple, a kingdom is where a king rules. Monarchs rule a land, they have subjects, the shape culture, and they have powers to fight wars. Whenever Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God He is explaining what happens when Christ rules as the rightful King of the Kingdom of God. He has land. As Creator of all He owns it all. He has subjects, people who have trusted in Christ bowing their knee to Him and surrendering control to Him. He shapes the culture of His Kingdom with the values of justice, love, and righteousness. And He rules with the power of heaven and angels (God is often called the “Lord of Hosts” meaning the God of angelic armies). The Kingdom of God has both a now and not yet dimension. Christ came the first time ushering in this Kingdom, defeating the greatest foes in the cross and offering redemption. This redemption comes in the Gospel of the Kingdom, the announcement that Christ is the King. Christ rules and reigns in His people as He transforms their lives in the Gospel so that the culture of the church should be shaped by the values of its King. And Christ will return to put all things under His feet, and as the Hallelujah Chorus boldly declares, “And He shall reign forever and ever!”
When Jesus stood before Pilate we have a crazy moment where the the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God stand face to face. Pilate representing Rome believes he stands in authority over Jesus, but he does not realize that the man whom he is examining is the King of all kings. Yet, Jesus reminds Pilate that His Kingdom is not first and foremost about earthly politics and rule. Rather, the expression of Christ’s Kingdom comes in the lives of individuals who trust Him and then the formation of a people in the church who are shaped by the values of the Kingdom.
Our political engagement should begin at this place. No matter which party or politician we tend to support, followers of Jesus are first and foremost subjects of the Kingdom of God. We stand in the same convergence as the moment with Christ and Pilate. We are to engage the culture and kingdom of this world but as citizens of the Kingdom of God with absolute allegiance to the values and ethics of Christ. We cannot place our hope in any earthly Kingdom, nor should we point to a party or leaders as any kind of ultimate hope. Earthly kingdoms rise and fall, and none of them have any power to affect eternity. Furthermore, the text of Scripture makes abundantly clear that every earthly kingdom receives its moment from the sovereignty of God and He is orchestrating history for His purpose and glory. We have to engage knowing this, and therefore not placing too much hope in any human political effort. Yet, Kingdom people will be shaped by Christ as King, and will embody the love, grace, justice, kindness. They will also be holy people being transformed in their ethics and morals into the image of their King. And we will seek to engage our culture as subjects of a different Kingdom. Yes, we are citizens on the United States (or whatever country you live), but we are subjects of a True and Better King. We live for Him, and are to be a people who are shaped by His values. For way too many of us, our worldview and values are shaped more by pundits, politicians and parties than they are by the revelation of Christ in His Word. Rather than turning on Fox News or CNN to discover what we should think we should search the Scriptures and live in fellowship with Christ’s community to hear from Him. If our view of the world is more shaped by Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram than by the Gospel we might have a problem. We should vote and advocate, but always doing so as people who know that politics is temporary, and we serve a greater King. And we must be clear about our mission, and it is not primarily about winning an election. Jesus commissioned His people to go and make disciples of all nations. The Gospel to the world, across all lines and barriers is our mission. If our political involvement leaves it so that we are unable to authentically love and share Jesus with people from any culture, socio-economic group, or even political persuasion, we are failing in the Kingdom mission. We can never sacrifice this mission for the agenda of a political party. This is the politics of the Kingdom, and this is our calling as we engage the kingdoms of this world.
God bless, and thanks for reading.