While there were no elections in Jesus’ time, contrary to popular belief, Jesus was a person adept in the political intrigues of his day. Jesus was very much into the politics of the day. Now I will be using many different sources in this blog and any time I quote directly from some other source it will be in bold and italics. I am not presenting any new revelation here just some points through research that I found interesting. Was Jesus a politician in the context of today’s definition of a politician? No, certainty not. “Politics are at the center of the story of Jesus. His historical life ended with a political execution. Crucifixion was used by Rome for those who systematically rejected imperial authority, including chronically defiant slaves and subversives who were attracting a following. In the world of Jesus, a cross was always a Roman cross.” (Borg)
In Mark 1:14-15 Jesus spoke of the coming of “the kingdom of God.” In his world such a statement using that language would be considered political in nature. People who heard Jesus speak knew of other kingdoms. In the eastern parts of the empire it was the Roman kingdom and of course there was the kingdom of Herod. With this knowledge at hand it was plain that Jesus was saying there was another kingdom that was different than those others. Jesus could have avoided the use of “the kingdom language” by speaking of a “family” of God, the “community of God” or the “people of God”. He didn’t: he spoke of the “kingdom of God”.
Sometime after the arrest of John the Baptist (Mark 1:14) Jesus began his public ministry. Throughout the Gospels the conflict between Rome, the Rome-appointed ruler of Galilee and pressure and challenges from the ruling Jewish class, lead Jesus to his crucifixion. It is every bit the politics of power and corruption. I know it is a stretch and maybe it is just me looking at two incidents through today’s eyes. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, an unmistakable statement that the kingdom of God comes in peace. Then he publicly states that his father’s house has become “a den of thieves”. Like a seasoned politician he skillfully draws a portrait of the “new kingdom” versus what they now have. Remember that the nation of Israel even under submission to other rulers or governments was always dominated by Jewish law and cultural practices, in many ways a theocracy, a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god. The priests and others of the ruling class had great influence in society and were eager not to do anything that upset the Roman protectorate. Jesus did not enter a vacuum, there was a structure of society, government and religion already in place. We will start here using as reference.
Marcus J. Borg, “Jesus and Politics”, n.p. [cited 2 Nov 2016]. Judaism at the time of Jesus was a complex mixture of divergent social, political and religious ideologies. In general terms, we can speak of four distinct movements, ideologies or life-options. It is helpful to situate Jesus in terms of these social groups of his day in order that we can come to appreciate the distinctiveness of his own life and mission”.
The Zealot movement took the revolutionary option. It advocated outward violence, even armed rebellion, to rid Israel of Roman oppression and believed it was the only way to bring final liberation to the Jewish people. One of Jesus’ followers was a Zealot, “Simon the Zealot.” One odd fact about these times was that Jesus found himself more often than not in conflict with the Jewish temple and the Roman state. While it’s not easy to explain Jesus was not a violent revolutionary but he posed a more radical threat to the established order than those who armed themselves.
The Sadducees were the great pragmatists of the day, the thinkers and compromisers. They were mostly wealthy lay-nobles, priests and aristocrats. To conserve their wealth and power they sought to compromise with Rome, which at this time was the most realistic option. Here we see the politics of the time first hand. Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were from the Sadducee group. The Sadducees were the least religious group. They did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. However, they were committed to the Jewish faith on the basis of the earlier books of the bible. They were at the top of the pecking order in the Jewish society of their time and were concerned with present-day affairs. The Sadducees were the main opponents of Jesus at the time of his trial and death. They rightly saw that Jesus’ radical brand of religion threatened their power and status.
Most of the Scribes (the ‘theologians’ of the day) were Pharisees. Perhaps unfairly the Pharisees are judged harshly in the gospels. Pharisees sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law). They did not believe in compromise with the Romans nor in revolutionary activity. Many Pharisees were highly committed and deeply spiritual people. They believed in the resurrection of the dead.
Finally, there were the Essenes who solved the problem of Jewish identity in a Roman-occupied Israel. They completely opted out of mainstream Jewish society. The information shared here is from the URL listed at the end of this paragraph. (https://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/XTOLOGY2.htm)
So long ago and yet it resonates so much to the situation we find ourselves in today. Here we can see how religion and politics were intertwined in a much more complex way than we might have thought they were. Today, after all this time it is still every bit about the politics of power and corruption. Here and even I as write this the Christian Church is under attack throughout the world and here in our own country the church is marginalized every day more and more.
Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”
Vote your faith and what you believe but remember, “our kingdom isn’t here”. From birth, crucifixion, resurrection, and centuries of persecution, the church stands firmly on the rock: just as Christ said it would.
Thanks for coming by the pew.
References: Marcus J. Borg, “Jesus and Politics”, n.p. [cited 2 Nov 2016]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/related-articles/jesus-and-politics