Even in the midst of politically-troubled times, we are called to preserve the radical uniqueness of the kingdom. This, after all, is what Jesus did as he engaged the first century world with a different kind of politics (). To appreciate the importance of preserving this distinction, we need to understand that the Jewish world Jesus was born into was a political hotbed. There was constant political and cultural friction between the ruling Romans and their Jewish subjects. And almost all Jews despised the fact that they, “the true people of God,” were tyrannically ruled by immoral pagans. Most Jews longed for a political messiah, like King David, who would restore Israel to its glory through military force.
At the same time, first-century Jews were deeply divided over how to respond to the political situation. On one extreme were the zealots who believed that Jews should take up arms against the Romans, trusting that God would intervene on their behalf. On the other extreme were the “conservatives” who thought it best not to trouble the waters but rather to cooperate with the Romans as much as possible. In between, people took all kinds of different positions on various political questions.
Should Jews obey Roman laws, and if so, which ones? Should they pay taxes to Caesar? Should they fight in the Roman army? Should they pay homage to statues of Roman emperors? Should they be educated in the Roman way? Should they participate in Roman national festivities? The list of politically-related questions was almost endless.
When Jesus came on the scene, many tried to get him to weigh in on these issues. They were expecting a political messiah who would answer their questions, solve their problems, and liberate them from Roman rule. But Jesus didn’t do any of this.
Jesus didn’t come to give us the Christian answer to the world’s many sociopolitical quandaries, and he didn’t come to usher in a new and improved version of the kingdom of this world. His agenda was far more radical. He came to usher in an alternative kingdom. He came not to give solutions, tweak external regulations, and enforce better behavior. He rather came to transform lives from the inside out by winning people over to the reign of God’s sovereign love.
Jesus’ mission wasn’t to improve the old; his mission, and the mission he gave his disciples, was to embody the new—an entirely new way of doing life. It is life lived within the reign of God; life centered on God as the sole source of one’s security, worth, and significance; life lived free from self-protective fear; and life manifested in Calvary-like service to others. His promise is that as his disciples manifest the unique beauty and power of this life, it will slowly and inconspicuously—like a mustard seed—grow and take over the garden.
—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 57-60