Jesus and Caesar

If Jesus only acknowledged Satan as his overlord, he would receive unlimited political power to achieve his messianic mission

Roman columns - Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash
Satan tempted Jesus by offering him political power over “
all the kingdoms of the world.” Thankfully, he refused, and instead of the grandeur of Rome, he opted for the humiliation of Golgotha. But the most startling detail of his encounter is that he did not dispute the Devil’s claim of jurisdiction over the political systems of this age - [Photo by Tom Podmore on Unsplash].

We need to bear in mind that Jesus was “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness to be “tested.” The whole affair was instigated by God. And once there, Satan tempted him with virtually unlimited political power. But there was only one catch. He must acknowledge the Devil as his overlord - (Matthew 4:8-11).

On a high mountain, Lucifer showed him all the “kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their grandeur.” He was offering him more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation. “World” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world if not the creation itself. Effectively, he was offering Christ the “kingdom of God,” the very thing he had come to inaugurate.

Satan claimed that he could give Jesus “all this authority,” and declared that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.” Quite a boast!! But what is truly striking is that Jesus did NOT call him a liar or dispute his claim. Almost certainly he would have done so if the Devil did not possess the right to distribute political power as he saw fit.

To acquire such awesome power, Jesus only had to “render homage” to the Devil. The Greek verb proskune├┤ denotes the giving of homage or allegiance to someone or something. To gain universal sovereignty, it was necessary for Jesus to acknowledge Satan as his lord and master.

Whether Jesus was tempted if even for a moment, the passage does not say. But considering that the “Spirit drove him” into the wilderness to be tested, it is implausible that the gospel writers did not consider this temptation as a very real possibility; otherwise, what was the point?

After all, Jesus was the Messiah appointed by God to reign over the earth, and this was confirmed by the Hebrew scriptures. But how could the Davidic king reign over the rebellious nations without the military and economic powers of this world? Was it not his destiny to subdue and rule over the entire earth? (“I have set my king on my holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession” – Psalm 2:6-8).

Effectively, Satan offered him a shortcut to his God-ordained position, a way for him to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross. And just imagine all the good that Jesus could accomplish if he commanded Caesar’s legions! With the military and economic might of Rome at his fingertips, would not righteousness, peace and prosperity quickly prevail across the empire? Surely, if ever there was justification to resort to State power this was it! Who better to wield military might than the Prince of Peace?

But rather than bow to Satan and his ways, Jesus submitted to the path of the Suffering Servant described by Isaiah. In God’s kingdom, true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrificial service to others; “greatness” is measured in acts of mercy, especially to one’s enemy. The employment of force to beat others into submission is incompatible with the way of the Cross.

Calvary - Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash
Photo by Wim van 't Einde on Unsplash

Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus “
took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death.” And because he submitted to the humiliation of crucifixion, God exalted him to reign over the Cosmos and gave him the “name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” But Calvary preceded exaltation and glory.

And his disciple is summoned to adopt this very same mind - Let this same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus, “who being in the form of God, counted not the being like God a thing to be seized, but instead, poured himself out… he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore, God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth” - (Philippians 2:6-11).

Institutional Christianity has a long sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use state power to impose “right” beliefs and conduct is too great. But sooner or later, to advance God’s kingdom through the political means of this evil age ALWAYS necessitates resorting to the coercive power of the State, an entity that will not tolerate any other god before it.

We need to take seriously this scriptural portrayal of political power as part of Satan’s domain. It certainly explains the all too frequent satanic behavior of the rulers of this age.

And if the Devil works behind the political scenes, if to possess political power necessitates giving allegiance to him, and since Jesus himself refused to do so and instead chose the way of the cross, should his disciples not follow his example? Are they not called to render homage to him as Lord and King rather than Satan? Should his followers embrace what he refused?



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