Political debates is the norm now a days on Facebook (or any social media platform for that matter). Every time I go onto Facebook, I see a friend on my feed that has posted an article, a thought, or an opinion that involves their political views. Of course, you have the typical political debate that gets heated between people. Out of curiosity, I’ll read people’s arguments and insights and some of them are really good. But I also read comments from both ends of the political spectrum that are unthoughtful, angry, divisive, and even hateful towards certain politicians that do not agree with their agenda or worse against the person that disagrees with them.
The thing that upsets me the most is when people use religion as a means to win a political argument. Maybe you’ve seen something similar. “Jesus would never be for republicans,” or “Jesus would never be for democrats. If you read the Bible and are a Christian, you can’t support that party or that program.” I have seen too often people using Jesus to make a political point. Of course there is a certain degree of arrogance hidden which basically says: “Jesus is for my political agenda and he’s against all others. How could Jesus be a democrat?” Or some think, “How could Jesus be a republican?”
This idea is plastered all over the internet. How can a Christian with a brain vote for the other political candidate? So the question is this: What was his political agenda? Jesus actually answers this question for us. In the story, Jesus is asked about the imperial tax and whether or not people should pay it:
Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied.Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
And they were amazed at him.
Jesus’ answer is anything short of astonishing (as it says in verse 17, “And they were amazed at him”). In order to understand why, I think it’s imperative to give context to this story. The Herodians and Pharisees were the two political parties at the time that utterly despised and hated each other. They were the republicans and democrats of that day in first century Palestine. Pharisees were the fundamental religious group that opposed the Roman rule or influence. In contrast, the Herodians supported Roman rule over Israel and collaborated with the Romans. The main issue that divided them both was taxes.
Although it was not taxes in general, but rather, it was the “head” tax that all subjects of Rome had to pay. This was a tax imposed by the Roman Empire. It required all their subjects to pay one denarius (or one days wage) one day out of the year. If you think about it, one day’s wage is not that much. The tax however was much more symbolic. In essence, the purpose of the tax was for the people to pay for the privilege of being Caesar’s subjects. It was a way of acknowledging that Caesar was the supreme Lord. It was a loyalty pledge and not paying the tax was considered treasonous under Roman law. As a result, it was extremely unpopular because the Jews believed there was only one God, Yahweh, and that He is their king, not Caesar. There were Jewish sects and factions such as the Zealots that urged that no taxes should be paid to Rome and advocated for an armed uprising.
Such an uprising did take place when the head tax was first imposed 25 years prior to this story. A man named Judas the Galilean led the faction called “zealots” in an armed revolt against Roman rule. The Zealots were theocratic nationalists. Their solution to the problems of Israel was to revolt, remove the people from power, and accrued power for themselves. Judas cleansed the temple of all the gentiles, Romans, abolished the head tax, and tried to usher in the Kingdom of God. This is where God would literally rule over the world and end poverty, violence, war, oppression, and write all the wrongs in the world. Of course, the revolt failed. Judas the Galilean was captured, executed, and the rebellion was put down.
You may be thinking to yourself, “So why is this important and what does this really tell us about Jesus’ political views ?
Now look back again at the story in Mark’s gospel. Jesus came to Jerusalem and was being proclaimed as the Messiah. He cleansed the temple of all the money changers. Moreover, the cornerstone of his ministry is preaching the Kingdom of God. Just like Judas the Galilean 25 years prior. And of course everyone is worried.
Both the Pharisee’s and Herodians come up to Jesus and asked him “should we pay taxes to Caesar,” or in other words, “what is your politics Jesus?” The reason why they ask Jesus is because they want to know, “is this Jesus guy our guy?” They are trying to simplify Jesus and categorize him politically. It’s apparent when the two groups ask Jesus a second time in the Markan passage, “should we pay or shouldn’t we?” In other words, they want a simple yes or no answer. Of course, it’s a total trap. Because on one hand, if Jesus tells them not to pay the taxes, then essentially Jesus is calling for an armed revolt. Jesus would be absolutely crushed by the authorities just like Judas the Galilean. On the other hand, if Jesus had said “pay the taxes to Caesar,” his teachings and claims about himself would be invalidated. Remember paying the tax is saying that Caesar is Israel’s king, not God. How Jesus answers the dilemma says a lot about the politics of Jesus.
What I argue on the basis of the text is this: Jesus refuses a political agenda being impose onto him, a way for his followers to opt out of the political process, and using the political process as a way to solve all the world’s problems. Jesus’ politics is so counterintuitive to how we think that it literally revolutionizes revolutions. Jesus’ ministry is so revolutionary because it doesn’t solve the world’s problems by obtaining power, prestige, wealth, and success. Rather, Jesus gives all those away in order to solve the world’s problems.
1. You cannot impose a political agenda or your view of Jesus onto the real Jesus:
Everywhere else in the gospels, Jesus is absolutely clear when he is giving instruction. With the majority of issues, Jesus is incredibly clear and simple. But when it comes to discussing our relationship to the state, he resists to give a direct answer. What in fact Jesus is doing here is that he is refusing political simplicity. In other words, he refuses to be in this side of the political spectrum or the other. The take away is this: you must not do to Jesus what he would not do to himself. If Jesus is refusing to be simplified into one political party or another, why are you then doing it to him?
I remember one time where I saw one discussion on Facebook take place between two Christians from the same denomination (believed the same things theologically). One of them was white and the other one was black. They essentially were arguing with each other about the last presidential election. The overall theme of that conversation was, “how can a Bible believing Christian vote for the other guy!” But I submit to you that if you look at the Bible on different issues, you could vote all across the spectrum. For example, one could, out of deep Christian theological conviction, think that environmentalism is the most important issue and vote for someone who champions environmental friendly policies. Another person could think that racial and social justice are the prime issues and therefore, they could vote for a candidate that campaigns on these issues. And on and on it goes!
You see how many directions you can go? Jesus Christ closes the door on political simplicity and he makes it so you can’t rightly claim that he would agree with your politics. We try so hard for Jesus to fit our standards, our heart’s projections, and our cultural beliefs. But Jesus is not a projection of our culture or our heart’s. Jesus is a judge of our culture and of our hearts.
2. Jesus refuses both political complicity and primacy:
It’s also important to see in this story that Jesus resists both political complicity and primacy. You may be wondering what both those terms mean? Political complicity means, “be nice, patriotic citizens, and pay your dues.” In contrast, political primacy means that political process is the ultimate way in which we can solve our problems. Yet, Jesus outright rejects both of these. Why?
When Jesus asks for a denarius, he held it up and asked the crowd,“Whose image is this?” It’s important to know that on the coin it had a portrait of Tiberius Caesar with the inscription saying, “Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest.” When holding up the coin Jesus asks, “who’s picture is this?” The word picture doesn’t really capture the gravity of what Jesus is saying. In the original language, Jesus uses the greek word icon which translates image. Jesus then says “render to what is Caesar’s to Caesar and give to what is God’s to God.”
Jesus answer is twofold. On one hand, Jesus is essentially saying give Caesar his coin because it has his image on it and it literally belongs to him. But give your image to God. It says in the Book of Genesis that you are the image bearer or icon of God. You bear his qualities and likeliness and you are His. He made you and created you. Therefore, you are to give God your total allegiance. But on the other hand, Jesus is also saying give Caesar what he deserves. What does a tyrant like Caesar deserves? Doesn’t he deserve resistance as well? The phrase “to give” or “render” means to give what belongs Caesar but you cannot give him all that he wants. Caesar desires total endorsement of his system and undying allegiance. But Jesus says your ultimate allegiance belongs to the God of Israel, not to a political system or a party. Jesus more or less says, “give Caesar the money but don’t give him you’re ultimate allegiance.” Jesus doesn’t just say yes or no! New testament scholar N.T. Wright explains why:
” The point of Jesus was this: Jesus the Galilean is envisioning a revolution… But [he had in mind] a different sort of revolution than Judas the Galilean. Jesus Christ was advocating neither acceptance of the system or straight forward political revolt. Yes, Jesus is saying there will be a revolution happening, the temple will be cleansed but not the way you envision.”
-N.T. Wright (taken from the book Mark for Everyone).
Jesus the Galilean is doing things totally different than Judas the Galilean. Jesus is claiming to be a revolutionary. However, it’s nothing like anything the world has ever seen.
Jesus requires his followers to partake in the political process and they must render to Caesar. Christians cannot simply opt out of the political process; they must contribute. But Jesus is also refusing political primacy because he is doing things totally different than any other king or ruler has done before.
3. Jesus’ ministry revolutionizes revolutions:
So what makes Jesus’ politics so unique? I stated before in this post, that Jesus’ revolution is radically different because it revolutionizes revolutions.
When the second coming happens, Jesus will come to bring the kingdom of God. He’s not going to replace Caesar. Jesus isn’t just going to be just a better king than Caesar. He’s bringing an utterly different concept of kingship. Therefore, he’s bringing a radically different idea of revolutions. Jesus is bringing a kingdom that deals with real poverty, real oppression, and that writes all the wrongs in the world.
Here’s why it’s so radically different. The dividing line of the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God is actually rooted in the teaching of Jesus in Luke 6:21-26. Jesus states that those who are poor, hungry, marginalized, and in mourning are the one’s who are exalted in his kingdom.
But the kingdom of this world, according to Jesus, is totally opposite. People who live for the kingdom of this world seek power, success, comfort, and recognition above all else. These four values dominate our culture. People must have those things in order to be significant and if they don’t achieve them, they’re decimated. Moreover, all of your life decisions are made on the basis of getting these four things. When we do “arrive” in accumulating these things, they either leave us empty or we get prideful and look down on those who don’t have them.
Jesus says every revolution in the kingdom of this world is rooted in these principles and that’s why that no revolution has really change anything.
All the revolutions that have ever happened was about getting the power and recognition. Every revolutionary thought they’re right and they’re the good guys. Because of course, “we’re for the people.” The very person who claims to have this truth is doing a power play. For the people who say “we’re going to be for the people” is doing a power play. What they’re really saying is “we’re going to be for the people who agree with us and we’re going to exclude everyone else.” That’s every revolution in history. Just look at Marxism in Russia. Of course the Soviet Union claimed they were, “for the people,” but really they were for those who were for them and excluded anyone that wasn’t one of theirs. If you don’t think that’s right, how many people did the USSR kill again because they disagree with their political agenda?
The kingdom of God however and Jesus’ revolution is radically different. Look at verse 12:15 in Mark’s gospel where Jesus says, “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” The gospel writer Mark is particularly fond of using irony as a literacy device. Remember the denarius was only one days wages. It’s almost the equivalent to our quarter. The irony is Jesus doesn’t have one. He has to ask someone for a denarius. He is a king without a quarter. Both Caesar and Jesus are claiming to be the Son of God and High Priest. But look at the stark differences between Caesar and Jesus! Caesar is the king who literally owned all of the money since it was literally minted out of his own personal wealth. But Jesus is a king without comfort, wealth, power, and recognition. Caesar’s coins has an inscription affirming and exalting him. But Jesus is the king that is rejected by his people to the point where even his own Heavenly Father turned his face from him. The climax of his reign is not when he gets elected but when he gets executed.
Why is Jesus the king without a quarter? Jesus doesn’t do it to make a political statement. No. He’s the king without a quarter for this reason alone: because he loves us. This is the gospel. Jesus trades his riches for poverty so that we could be enrich by the love and acceptance of his Father. Jesus bestows his Kingly crown onto us while he is punctured with the crown we deserve–the crown of thorns. Jesus gives us all the riches he rightly deserves while he bears all the punishment and wrath we deserve. He did it all so you could be with him forever.
Jesus says, “have you ever seen a king like me?” Jesus does not care about recognition, success, comfort, or power. He spends time with the marginalized and the poor. Anyone who transfers into the Kingdom of God will be like Jesus. You won’t be driven by those worldly principles. They’re fine when you get them. But you’re not decimated when you don’t get them. Therefore, everything you do is not on the basis of what benefits you, but rather, what benefits others. In the kingdom of God, you live to benefit others. Karl Marx was right when he said religion is the opiate of the masses. Religion distorts our senses and skews reality. But the gospel is the smelling salt of the masses that wakes us up to reality. This is why Marxism has always perplexed me. If we lived in a closed system, no God, heaven or hell, and this is all the power and status i’ll ever get, why in the world would I want to lay those aside for the betterment of others? The gospel alone compels us to genuinely live for others.
You know when you believe in the gospel when your politics move. Whether you become more liberal, conservative, or moderate on a particular issue in light of the gospel is clear evidence you believe in the gospel. This is the amazing thing about Jesus, there so much room for diversity and freedom in the political process that you have a ton of freedom in how you vote. You do not have to be a republican or a democrat to be a good Christian. You just need to follow Jesus and his teachings. When you understand and believe the gospel, you change. Moreover, Christians are far more political because the gospel humbles us and teaches us that we are more the problem than the solution.Christians who have an encounter with Jesus are more humble, pragmatic, willing to work with others, and are not self-righteous. When the gospel changes you, you will never see anyone else as the enemy. Only self-righteousness produces a “us verses them,” mentality.
Upon the cross, Jesus is re-creating the world. Jesus is filling the infinite abyss that can only be fulfilled by a immutable object. Moreover, Jesus exposed the principalities of this world as being not really for the people. The authorities of this world tried to kill him. Their ultimate truth–the gospel of Caesar–was you can resist us if you like, but in the end you will be crucified…and when you’re dead, you’re dead. But the gospel of Jesus refutes that because of the resurrection. Ultimate truth is not power enforced through violence, but love expressed through forgiveness. You can’t kill Jesus’ revolution. They tried and the principalities of this world crucified him. But to their shock, they discover Jesus’ tomb to be empty three days later. The more you try and kill Jesus’ revolution, the more powerful he gets.
Jesus Christ paid what you deserve. Now pay him what He deserves. Join his revolution.