As one of the most divisive Presidential election moves to its close in the USA, there is a division not only among the electorate, but also one deeply dividing Christians. Politics is described as the art of compromise, but we live in a time when things are divided as if one is all good and the other all evil (depending on your preference). Political differences now are drawn in stark contrast, as if good or evil itself was at stake. This division is seen in relations among Christians. Friendships have been strained or broken. One person I saw on Facebook said if you are voting for the opposite candidate please unfriend yourself. People who point out flaws of character or policies of a particular candidate or party are regarded as victims of ‘Fake News’ or betrayers of goodness itself. There is no dialogue over issues or policies, just shouting affirmations or accusations.
We know that Christians are to be known by their love for one another. We know that our love for each other brings power to Jesus and the Gospel in the world (John 13:34-35). Jesus said He had one commandment for us flowing from our love for Him and our obedience, and that command was to love one another (John 15:12). So, how do we love, and how can we be known by our love in times of such deep division? Is it found in wholesale and unquestioning surrender to one political viewpoint or another? I think the Word of God and even the twelve Apostles of the Lord Jesus have great help for us in loving brothers and sisters in Christ in times of such deep division.
As we come to this issue let’s realize that tensions between the Kingdom of Jesus and the political kingdom are as old as the church itself. Christians have always been forced to discern how to live in the Kingdom of Jesus and live in the political kingdom of Caesar. In Jesus’ lifetime one of the most powerful and cruelest world empires in history ruled Judea, the land of the Jews. The Roman Empire dominated the Mediterranean region. Judea was ruled by Rome. In Jesus’ day there were three responses to the rule of Rome. For many there was passive acceptance with a longing for the Messiah to come. For some there was collaboration. The religious leaders collaborated with Rome giving them great power and wealth. The tax collectors oversaw a powerful and often corrupt taxation process that greatly benefitted them. The third response was led by a group called the Zealots. The Zealots believed the Romans had no right from God to rule them. They believed the rule of Rome must be resisted. They sought to incite rebellion among Jews who would throw off the power of Rome. They committed terrorist acts to make occupation painful for Rome and to incite others to rebel.
How did Jesus resolve this issue? How did He teach us to live in His Kingdom while we dwell in the kingdom of Caesar? How did He teach us to love even when political differences are part of our daily lives? As we come to the twelve, the inner circle of Jesus, we find that before Jesus were the three different responses to the rule of Rome (Matthew 10:1-4). Most of the disciples, the working poor of Galilee, reluctantly accepted Rome as they looked for the Messiah who would come and throw out the Romans. Matthew was a tax collector. He was a full collaborator with Rome, making great income off his power to collect Rome’s taxes. Simon the Zealot had been committed to those seeking to cause insurrection and for people to use violence to throw out the Romans. How is it that this group of twelve became brothers in Christ known for their love?
The disciples were united by their love of Jesus, their singular commitment to Jesus as Lord, Savior, and King, and their commitment to the Kingdom of Jesus. They had No King But Jesus. They lived in one kingdom, the Kingdom of Jesus. They weren’t trying to live in two kingdoms, the kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Caesar. They lived in the Kingdom of Jesus in which He is Lord and King. They were in the world, but they were not of it. They honored Caesar, paid taxes, and lived in submission to the laws of Caesar (except when the laws conflicted with the Gospel). They lived in submission to Caesar because Jesus is King, and those in power are there by the will of Jesus. Jesus is the King, and His will is to place those in power and to remove them. Christians were to pray for the rulers. In democracies where they have the power to vote, they did their best to support candidates that best honored the principles of justice, righteousness and good judgment. But they rested in God’s superintending will in who the leaders were.
I think the great problem among Christians today is that we have placed real and almost ultimate value in who the Caesar is, as if the future is in the hands of who the Caesar is. As if God’s will on earth is done through the Caesar, and thus everything depends on who the Caesar is. That thinking is unbiblical, untrue, and in conflict with our loyalty to Jesus, because we have no King but Jesus. We see the conflict between Jesus as King and Caesar as King in Pilate’s presenting of Jesus to the crowds. Pilate said to the crowds, as recorded in John 18:39, “So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” Here is Pilate introducing Jesus to the Jews as their King. He said again in John 19:14, “Behold your King!”. But as recorded in John 19:15, the religious leaders said, “We have no king but Caesar.””
I believe too many Christians are living in two different and often opposed kingdoms: the Kingdom of Jesus and the kingdom of Caesar. Strangely, in the era of Donald Trump many ‘evangelicals’ believe that the kingdom of Trump as Caesar is the one which will bring peace, prosperity, and security to the USA and blessing to the world. How is it that we came to believe that the agent of bringing the blessing and rule of God to a country and world is through the Caesar, and not through Jesus and His Kingdom? When or where is it Biblical that a Christian should ever look to the Caesar as the instrument of God’s blessings to a country or to a world? We know from church history that whenever the church became closely allied to a Caesar it went badly for the church and ultimately for the nation.
Let’s look briefly at the Biblical truths that guide us through this dark and disturbing political world. The Apostles went into the world in which for them there was no King but Jesus. Jesus commanded them, and through them us, as He taught in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” That word first doesn’t mean that we should have a long list and that seeking first the kingdom and righteousness of God is at the top of the list. Seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness is the list. The King of the Kingdom of God is Jesus. We are to singularly seek His rule in our lives and through our lives. The righteousness of God is His character perfectly reflected to us in Jesus. Thus, the priority of our lives is to become like Jesus in character and action. He is the King in whom is our love, obedience, loyalty. The Apostle Paul put it most simply and completely when he said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” When the power of Caesar confronted the service of Jesus as King, the choice for the Apostles was simple. As Peter said in response to the order by those who held the political power of the Caesar not to proclaim Jesus and His Kingdom, “But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:19-20).
Second, what guides us in this life is that we live on earth as citizens of heaven. As Peter instructed Christians in 1 Peter 2:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” A sojourner is someone who comes from another country and is passing through. Exiles are those separated from their homeland. We honor the kings and laws of the land, but our loyalty is to Jesus and to His kingdom. Our homeland is the New Jerusalem, kept safe in heaven for us which is waiting to be revealed. Our love and loyalty is not to a country on earth. It is to Jesus, His kingdom that is now, and that will soon fully come. Abraham is our example in this as he and others are described in Hebrews 11:13-16, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” The secret to the faith of Abraham and other examples of faith is that they lived on earth as strangers and exiles. They were patriots of heaven, not of any country on earth.
Many Christians have mixed this up. They see the USA as the instrument of bringing God’s purpose to Earth. With all due respect to former President Ronald Reagan, the USA is not the shining city set on a hill, a beacon of light to the world. The light of the world is Jesus shining through Christians, united in His church (Matthew 5:14-16). We are not confused as to what brings the light to the world. It is Jesus, through His disciples. God uses nations, but Jesus is building a kingdom of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The world is not changed for good through Caesars or nations. It is changed through lives transformed by Jesus through the Gospel. All Christians should want from a nation is the opportunity to live quiet, godly lives, passionately committed to the Gospel advancing. As the Bible puts it in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Notice there is no nationalism in the prayer. It is a prayer for all people.
As Christians live in the kingdom of Caesar, we do so as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know the problem of every person and their collective as nations is that they are at war with God. They are in rebellion. Christians are the ambassadors to them of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are the messengers bringing the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. An ambassador is in a country as an official representative of another country. Here is how our ministry is described in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Notice this ministry of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ is for all who are new creations in Christ Jesus.
Again, as citizens we are responsible for voting. We pray. But we remember our influence in a country is through our character and through the witness of the Gospel. We are the salt of the earth. We, with Jesus shining through us, are the light of the world. We know that nations are not saved or lost. People are. We want good leaders and laws, but we know only Jesus can change hearts. We also rest in the rule of God over the Caesars of the earth, as Jesus is the Lord and authority. We know that it is God who raises kings up and causes them to fall (Isaiah 40:21-24). As Jesus said to the agent of Caesar at His trial, Pontius Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” (John 19:11). Jesus’ servants understood this as well, as Jesus said of them in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Finally, as Christians we put our hope solely in Jesus and His kingdom soon to come to earth. We know no Caesar and no nation is bringing peace and blessing to earth. Those who see a Caesar as the hope of the world are doomed to disappointment no matter how many so called prophets declare him to be. We know that good or evil for the future lies in no Caesar nor nation. We have no King but Jesus and our thriving, living hope for the future is in Him. We urge people to register and to vote. We inform ourselves of the candidates and issues. We pray and seek God’s leading in our votes and in the results. But we rest that God’s purpose will be accomplished. We live as advocates for people of all nations. We speak up for justice, and we are advocates for compassion. We do this all with an unconquerable hope. Our King Jesus has all authority now, and He will triumph. The future is in His hands, not ours nor any Caesar or nation. Peter spoke by the Holy Spirit for us this way, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:10-13). Whatever 2020 and the elections might bring, live as an ambassador of Christ, full of His love, joy, and peace. Live with unconquerable hope. We have no King but Jesus. He has all authority now, and He is coming for us, soon!