I’m writing this before election results come out. That said, it doesn’t take a prophet to predict that for some of us our candidate(s) will win; for others, they’ll lose. Which means today brings joy and elation to some, and to others, disappointment or even disillusionment. Whatever happens, how do we keep perspective as followers of Jesus?
It’s not uncommon to hear Christians insist that Jesus wasn’t political. That his agenda was merely moral or ethical in nature and therefore detached from the politics of his day. I suspect this is rooted in a sincere desire to help fellow Christians “get along” or avoid conflict without devolving into the divisiveness (and worse) that characterizes so much of our political landscape. I can understand the impulse to try and “rise above” all of that.
But to claim Jesus wasn’t political simply isn’t true. I once heard an Israeli Jewish man say to a group of people, “For Jesus to stand in front of the temple in Jerusalem—the center of local Jewish religious and political life in his day—and declare, ‘Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.’ Among other things, that’s a deeply political statement!”
Or consider this: Jesus boldly announces the arrival of the kingdom of God in a time and place where everyone knew they already had a king and Caesar was his name! That is deliberately political. It’s also a dangerous claim that would likely land Jesus in trouble with both Jewish and Roman political powers. At the same time, Jesus refuses to be the kind of Messiah (a title that itself means king or ‘anointed one’) the revolutionaries are looking for. His words and his actions don’t seem to match.
The confusion culminates in Jesus’ inevitable arrest and trial before both the Jewish and Roman authorities. Pilate’s central concern is reflected in his question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” (John 18:33-34). Jesus isn’t making this easy for Pilate. Jesus then clarifies, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36).
Jesus’ point is that his kingdom is from another place and is defined differently than the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ kingdom would reject the violence and the corruption of the political systems of his day and, instead, be marked by radical, self-giving love. His would be a kingdom of peace and justice, a kingdom without end. Indeed, his kingdom is truly not of this world.
Pilate simply couldn’t understand this. Still not finding evidence that Jesus deserved to be condemned, he handed Jesus back to Jews saying, “Here is your king.” (John 19:14). At which point, the religious leaders shamelessly declare, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15). Rejecting God who had in fact come among them in Jesus as rightful king, they decide to put their hope in a political system they could see, partly because they saw it as a way to save themselves.
Sadly, for many Christians, we’ve adopted this same posture of: “We have no king but ____________” (fill in the blank with your political party or candidate). As if that is our ultimate hope! As if the kingdoms of this world will save us in the end.
That’s not to diminish politics or the importance of government and the policies it shapes—for good or bad. These things matter and I’m grateful to live in a country where I get to participate in shaping society, among other ways, with my vote.
But regardless of the post-election results—here’s what I know for sure:
Jesus wins. He alone is our hope. He alone is worth giving our lives to.
Best of all, his kingdom cannot be stopped. That we can count on.
I, for one, am grateful.
To the King!