Vive la Révolution!

jesus-and-pilate (1)

Vive la Révolution!
Brian Zahnd

Pagan astrologers read it in the stars — a new king of the Jews had been born. And so the magi came from the Orient bearing their gifts and accidentally got tangled up with the current King of the Jews — a debauched and murderous megalomaniac named Herod who decades earlier had been made an imperial client king by the Roman Senate.

Not long after that the death squads were breaking down doors and killing baby boys in Bethlehem.

An angel got Mary and Joseph and the baby king out of town in the nick of time. And so the Holy Family became refugees seeking asylum in a foreign country in order to escape a violent regime in their homeland.

All this was happening while Augustus Caesar was the Roman Emperor. The coinage of the Roman economy bore the image of the “august” Caesar with imperial titles like, Son of God, Savior of the World, King of Kings, Prince of Peace. Sitting in his palace on Palatine Hill, Augustus could never have imagined that in less than forty years these titles would be re-appropriated for a Galilean peasant who had suffered a state sponsored execution under the jurisdiction of a Roman governor. Much less could Caesar Augustus have imagined that within a few centuries millions of people throughout the Roman Empire would pledge their allegiance to the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, calling him the risen King of all kings.

But that’s what happened.

If this all sounds very political, you’re right, it was…and it is.

The baby Jesus didn’t become a refugee fleeing a despotic regime for spiritual reasons, but for political reasons.

Jesus the Messiah wasn’t executed by the Roman government for spiritual reasons, but for political reasons.

The early Christians weren’t persecuted by the Roman Empire for spiritual reasons (Rome was remarkably tolerant of religions), but for political reasons.

The seminal Christian confession of “Jesus is Lord” was not a benign spiritual platitude, but a subversive political claim.

The intuition of King Herod and Pontius Pilate who persecuted Jesus at his birth and authorized his execution was correct — this single Jew posed a threat to the present world order. And so Herod attempted and Pilate succeeded in killing this single Jewish life. But the life that the principalities and powers persecuted with death, God vindicated in resurrection. Everything Jesus ever taught or did as he announced and enacted the government of heaven was endorsed by God on Easter Sunday.

The Kingdom of God is not the disembodied bliss of a Platonic heaven, but God’s alternative arrangement for human society. Under the reign of King Jesus (whom Christians confess is Lord now, not Lord-elect) the poor are blessed, the sick are healed, sinners are forgiven, war is abolished, mercy triumphs over judgment, and love trumps everything. Of course the implementation of God’s alternative society does pose a serious challenge to the status quo. Jesus plainly said so. “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” Such provocative rhetoric was enough to impel the very rich and the very powerful to conspire to kill Jesus. And thus Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate became friends on Good Friday. (See Luke 23:12)

But — even though the Kingdom of God is without coercion, persuading by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need be, by martyrdom, but never by force — to resist the Kingdom of God always leads to a self-inflicted Gehenna. Opposition to the Kingdom of Love is the highway to hell — not the retributive hell of an angry god, but the consequential hell of going against the grain of love. If God is love, then to oppose love is to hurl oneself into a godless abyss.

Politics at its best is the pursuit of the common good and equal justice for all. Of course politics is all too prone to fall prey to the demonic pursuit of power. This was the third temptation of Christ — to pervert the pursuit of the common good into the demonic pursuit of power. Jesus overcame this most seductive of all temptations in the wilderness and embodied his fidelity to God all the way to his crucifixion at Calvary.

Because I believe that Jesus died in fidelity to the truth of God and was vindicated in resurrection, I also believe in the revolutionary politics of Jesus. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m not a conservative or a liberal. I’m a revolutionary Christian. I believe the Sermon on the Mount is our Constitution and the Beatitudes is our Bill of Rights.

As a follower of Jesus I am not permitted to dismiss Jesus’ command to care for the poor and love our enemies as “impractical in the real world.” No! The world of greed and war is a fake empire, a giant falseness, a colossal lie. The real world is the world of God’s unconditional love and infinite mercy — it’s what Jesus called the kingdom of God. So when a Roman governor in the grand fake empire asked Jesus if he was a king, Jesus affirmed that he was indeed a king and that his life bore witness to the truth of God — a truth that contradicted the grand lie of Rome at every turn.

This is why, in the end, Herod and Pilate had to kill Jesus.

And this is why, in the end, God overruled Herod and Pilate and all the principalities and powers by raising Jesus from the dead!

The revolution began at Bethlehem.
The revolution culminated at Calvary.
The revolution continues wherever Christians dare to take the red letters seriously.

Vive la Révolution!