Revolutionary Jesus


Revolutionary Jesus
Brian Zahnd

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know, we all want to change the world

—The Beatles

The revolution of Christ is the radical alternative to the unimaginative politicism of the religious Right and Left.

Jesus is not apolitical. Far from it. Jesus is intensely political! But Jesus has his own politics — and they cannot be made to serve the interests of some other political agenda. As Eugene Peterson says, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is more political than anyone imagines, but in a way that no one guesses.”

The politics of Jesus are set forth in the Sermon on the Mount — and neither the Republican nor the Democratic party have any intention of seriously adopting those politics! They simply cannot. The politics of the Sermon on the Mount are antithetical to the political interests of a military and economic superpower.

The problem with both the Christian Right and the Christian Left is that they reduce “Christian” to the diminished role of religious adjective in service to the all-important political noun. But as Karl Barth taught us, God cannot serve some other interest, God can only rule. …

Conventional politics is a contest to gain the use of coercive force. But Jesus rejects this method. In the politics of Jesus the world will be changed by non-coercive love or not at all. It’s not the task of the church to change the world by legislative force. It’s the task of the church to be the world changed by Christ. This is revolutionary in a way that conventional politics never can be. …

The church doesn’t need to enforce this revolution, the church only needs to live it. To those who will dare to adopt the politics of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city built upon a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

This revolution is nothing like the American Revolution with its musket-toting minutemen or the French Revolution with its bloody guillotines. This revolution was played out in the Book of Acts as small bands of people learned to live under the revolutionary reign of Jesus Christ, so much so that it was said of them, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:6–7) That’s the revolution we are to belong to!

Today at Word of Life things feel revolutionary again. I like that. I began my journey with Jesus as a revolutionary Christian and the revolutionary aspects of discipleship may be what I most needed to recover after being domesticated by a conservatism committed to maintaining the status quo.

But this also means our message feels a bit dangerous. We talk about Jesus and the kingdom of God in a way that doesn’t seem safe. Because we make it clear there is no easy fit between the American way and the Jesus way, we make people uneasy. And people made uneasy with their assumptions can become angry and lash out.

Sometimes we have to put up with rumors and innuendos directed our way — subtle or not so subtle suggestions that we have abandoned the faith. Of course, what we have done is to abandon an Americanized faith in search of an apostolic faith. And because an apostolic faith is characterized by the radical forgiveness of Jesus, we forgive our detractors and press on. It can be painful enduring the sting of undeserved criticism, but it’s worth it. It’s worth enduring some pain to find the Cana where Jesus is still turning water into wine.

Water To Wine, pp.46-47, 49-50


  • Wow. I’m surprised and taken back by the previous comment. Ok, I take that back. I’m not. As a pastor’s son I know firsthand how things can be misconstrued to mean something they don’t. I know that people are constantly offended by any stance a leader takes, and then offended if he or she take none at all. As an outsider, Debby, I read what Brian wrote and hear someone who has discovered the hidden treasure of the Gospel. Not just any “gospel”, but the historical “Gospel” of Jesus as both Lord and Messiah. Unfortunately, most evangelical churches in America (at least many of the ones I’ve been exposed to) still preach a watered down message about how to go to heaven when we die. Then they add a church outreach program and talk a lot about reaching the community, etc. The problem is this: What message is the community hearing? Are they hearing the same old message of how to go to heaven when they die? Are they hearing that God is angry with them and wants to send them to hell, but thank God for sweet Jesus who stepped in the way of God’s wrath? Or are they hearing “the Gospel” that Jesus is God’s chosen one to rule over the cosmos? That believing in this Jesus means allegiance to only one Kingdom – God’s Kingdom. When I see what is being discussed at Word of Life (which I have no history with, and only came to know through reading some of Brian’s writing) I’m excited that “the Gospel” is actually being preached! And if that’s happening, and people are becoming followers of Jesus and living in allegiance to the Gospel of the Kingdom, than revolution is happening! I can only voice my opinion and give an outside perspective. So, I say thank you to BZ for this post! And to both Debby and Brian, I emphasize Jesus’ words that we should be known by our love for one another (and even our love for our enemies)!

  • kenc1101

    “Conventional politics is a contest to gain the use of coercive force. But Jesus rejects this method.” But the American church has not rejected this message, and until it does nothing will change. What do I mean? Every church has a denomination or affiliation to it in which it believes it is the right way. How do I know this? Just go to any church or visit any church website. They will have a creed. A set of doctrines and beliefs and tenets. To become a member of that church you must agree to their tenets. Where in all of the scriptures does Jesus talk about church membership? There are many times a set of rules to go along with the tenets. You must agree to those as well. What I hear most of the time from pulpits is this -“If you want to be a good follower of Christ, you must serve, you must give, you must attend. You must set the example. Serve, give, attend, serve, give, attend. By the way, you must obey the delegated authority that has been put over you. God’s word demands it.” But who are we giving to? Who are we serving? It is Christ we should be submitting to, not a church. Not those who put themselves in positions of authority and demand we follow them. This is not the model Christ left for us and it is not much different from the governments of the world. It is coercion. Christ’s example was one of serving. Always. The greatest among you must be a servant. There are not many bodies of Christ with many heads, only one with Christ as the head. Until we truly follow Christ’s example we will never become what we intended us to be and the world will continue to reject it, as they should.

  • I’ve never considered the Nicene or Apostles’ Creeds to be “political,” nor have I ever thought the Sermon on the Mount to be a “stump speech,” i.e., if your kingdom is not of this world, you’re obviously not running for office.

  • Jesus is Lord.

  • I always thought that more a title than an office, but even if the latter, Jesus doesn’t have to run for what he already holds.

  • Precisely.

    “All authority in heaven in and on earth has been given unto me.” -Jesus

    The only question is, will we submit to the rule of Christ or not?

  • King’s rule; politicians compromise, i.e., politics.
    But we are not voters; we are subjects.

  • Gerald Lewis

    It has to difficult when every word you speak or write is critiqued by the masses. I appreciate the way you love and respond to the angry protestor. You not only preach the Jesus Way but you do your best to live what you preach. Thank you for displaying patience and being kind to folks. It is a great example to me.

  • Voluntaryist

    Great article! Thanks for writing it. I wish there was a group in our area with this vision.