Babylon the Great

Written to Christians suffering persecution under the Roman Empire, the book of Revelation encourages Christians to be patient and faithfully obedient to Christ. Reading the book, however, can prove to be a daunting challenge for most modern Christians. Revelation reads completely different from the kind of literature we are accustomed to. It speaks of heavenly creatures, terrible plagues, and multi-headed monsters. It’s a very weird (yet fascinating) book to say the least!

Consider for a moment the strange scene described in Revelation 14.6-13:

And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, and having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and springs of waters.”

And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.”

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or in his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “So that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14.6-13

Why are the angels pronouncing judgment on “Babylon”, a powerful world empire that fell hundreds of years before Revelation was written? What on earth (or in heaven?) is going on here? Apart from a couple of phrases we usually associate with hell (vs. 10-11), and an encouraging verse about those who “die in the Lord”, which we sometimes hear read at funerals (v. 13), these verses sound very strange indeed!

In order to get what is going on with these verses, in order to feel the full force of the strange imagery, and in order to understand the reality to which it points so that we can begin to apply it to our lives, we must first consider Babylon through the lens of the Old Testament, especially the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.

Babylon in Isaiah

The poetic writings of the prophets are sometimes complex, but being familiar with Isaiah is vital to understanding Revelation 14.

One of the major themes in the book of Isaiah is the superiority of the LORD over Babylon and her “gods”. The first 39 chapters contain Isaiah’s message of judgment on Israel, culminating in the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in exile in 597 B.C. In Isaiah 40, the tone of the book begins to change from judgment to hope for Israel.

In Isaiah 41-48 we read a series of poems written to remind us that God is greater than Babylon and her gods. Even in the exile, God was still in control (41.2-5), and was orchestrating the exile for Israel’s good (43.22-28). In chapters 47-48 we are reminded that God is faithful to His people no matter what evil Babylon may do.

In Isaiah 49-55 we are introduced to a mysterious character known as “God’s Servant”, who will rescues Israel from Babylon and bring justice. Yet this strange rescue plan necessitates that the Servant will suffer and die at the hands of the nations. It is through this suffering and death that the Servant will bring salvation for Israel and bring God’s justice into the world.

Surrounding these poems are announcements of doom against Babylon. One such warning is found in Isaiah 51.22-23:

Thus says the Lord, the LORD, even your God
Who contends for His people,
Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling,
The chalice of My anger;
You will never drink it again.
I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
Who have said to you, ‘Lie down that we may walk over you.’
You have even made your back like the ground
And like the street for those who walk over it.”

God will take the cup of wrath that Babylon made Israel drink, and he will make them drink from it. In other words, God is going to give Babylon a taste of her own medicine! They will fall victim to the same evil that they brought on others!

It is in this context that the “good news”, the “gospel” is proclaimed:

How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52.7

Today we use the word “gospel” in many different ways. We have “gospel singing” and “gospel meetings”, and we refer to faithful preachers as “gospel preachers.” The word “gospel” is often used as synonymous with God’s plan of salvation.

Although Isaiah doesn’t detract from God’s plan of saving individuals, here in Isaiah, the word “gospel” specifically refers to Israel’s prophesied victory over Babylon. For Isaiah, there are three elements of this “gospel” he immediately mentions:

“Your God reigns!”

And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”…

The LORD has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52.7, 9)

This message, announced to Israelites in exile, means that God has won the victory and now reigns over Babylon, and the Israelites are free to go home!

God Himself is coming to restore Zion.

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see with their own eyes
When the LORD restores Zion. – Isaiah 52.8

Jerusalem had been destroyed. But now, the “gospel” was the message that the LORD would restore Zion in a public, visible way.

God is going to bring salvation from Babylon, and all the nations will see.

Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the LORD has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52.9-10

As history rolled on by, Babylon did indeed fall, and the Israelites returned home from exile. But nobody concluded that Isaiah’s prophecies had been fulfilled. Instead of God reigning, other empires rose to reign in Babylon’s place. There was never any evidence that God Himself ever returned to Zion. Rather than being saved from oppression, the nation of Israel continued to live under oppression for hundreds of years.

So what was Isaiah speaking of? When would Isaiah’s prophecy be fulfilled? The early Christians concluded that God’s victory, His personal return to Zion, and deliverance from Babylon was finally experienced when Jesus died on the cross as an innocent lamb (Is. 53.7).

Babylon in Jeremiah

A second key text to understand is Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived through the destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians, and spent much of his life under the shadow of their power.

At the end of his book (Jeremiah 46-51), Jeremiah has a long list of poems about how God is going to bring judgment on all of the earthly kingdoms that surround Israel (Egypt, the Philistines, Moab, the Ammonites, and Damascus).

He saves the longest poems for last. Chapters 50-51 form the climax of the book as Jeremiah describes how God will bring judgment on the biggest and most evil of all the earthly kingdoms. God is going to judge Babylon.

Babylon in Revelation 14

After reading the prophets we can finally start to see why the image of “Babylon” was so important in Revelation and why this book would provide so much encouragement for Christians living under the yoke of Roman Empire. And once we grasp that, we can see why this book can be encouraging for Christians today as well.

The first angel announces that God is going to bring judgment:

And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.” – Revelation 14.7

The second angel announces that Babylon is fallen:

And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” – Revelation 14.8

In judgment, Babylon will be made to drink of the wine of her passion. (Remember what we just read about this cup in Isaiah 51.22-23?)

The third angel warns that this judgment will be thorough and complete, and it will be for all those who have allowed themselves to be seduced by Babylon’s appeal.

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.” – Revelation 14.9-10

This “good news” about the fall of Babylon is described in verse 6 as “the eternal gospel.”

What does the “Gospel” in Revelation 14 Mean for Us?

First of all, the gospel cannot be separated from judgment – specifically judgment upon Babylon, the image and ultimate example of an earthly nation. For Christians who were being persecuted in the Roman Empire, this most certainly would be a message of “good news!” When Christians see all the wickedness happening in their country, in their government, and in the world at large, they can take courage. They can know with confidence that judgment is coming upon Babylon, no matter what form Babylon may take in our day.

Secondly, for John, this is a call for endurance.

Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” – Revelation 14.12-13

The book of Revelation encourages Christians to resist the temptation to place their trust in Babylon. Babylon has been judged. Babylon has been defeated. Therefore, no matter how wicked earthly nations may grow, Christians can rest assured that their deeds will follow beyond the evil of Babylon, beyond the grave itself. We must therefore remain patient and faithfully obedient to Christ.

Kingdoms in Conflict: An Important, Yet Overlooked Theme in the Bible

God and Government

From beginning to end, the Bible continually shows that there is a conflict between the governments of this world and the Kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world were established as a result of the fall of man, and God’s kingdom was established for the purpose of confronting and ultimately destroying these kingdoms (Dan. 2.44; 1 Cor. 15. 24-26). Christ came to rescue His world and to destroy the power of the evil one. To ignore this theme is to overlook the full significance of the cross and causes us to misunderstand the mission of God’s kingdom to confront the governmental powers of the world.

For some reason, this theme is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t catch us off guard. Throughout the Old Testament, God continually shows himself as superior to the pagan rulers and authorities (the Egyptians, the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Assyrians and the Babylonians). A major theme in the prophets is how God is more powerful than these political powers and will ultimately deliver His people from Babylon. If Jesus is to be understood as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, we should read the New Testament with the expectation that this conflict between Israel and the pagan nations would somehow, in some way, be resolved.

When Jesus arrived on the scene, he came to announce a “kingdom” to a world where Caesar thought of himself as the only “Lord” and “Savior”. We can be sure that the early disciples gave serious consideration to the question of how our citizenship in the kingdom of God should impact our relationship to the governments under which we now live.

God and the Pagan Kingdoms of the Old Testament

The entire Old Testament, on one level at least, is a story of how God continually delivered His people from the political oppression of pagan nations and their rulers. Think back to the most significant stories of the Old Testament. After Cain killed Abel, he responded by building a city “in the east”, the part of the world that would eventually become nation of Babylon (Gen. 4 16-17). The continual rebellion of Genesis 1-11 culminates in the construction of the tower of Babel (the same word which is later translated “Babylon”), as the people organize to make a name for themselves in rebellion to the authority of God (Gen. 11.1-9). The scattering of the nations from Babel becomes the backdrop for the story of Abraham, as God calls Abram to leave his home in the east and to trust in Him to “make his name great” and bless all the nations of the earth through him. The promise to Abraham is thus given as the answer to the problem of human arrogance and nation building (Gen. 12.1-3). At this point we are only a few chapters in to the Bible, but we should already be noticing that there is going to be a some sort of conflict between God’s people and Babylon.

We soon find Abraham’s family in Egypt, oppressed by evil ruler, Pharaoh. In one of the most important stories of the whole Old Testament, God demonstrates His superiority over the Egyptian rulers and delivers His people through the blood of a lamb. The conflict between God and the pagan rulers continues into the Promised Land as God gives Israel victories over the Amelikites, the Moabites and the Canaanites. The book of Judges can be read as a series of “mini-exodus” stories, as God continually delivers his people from pagan authorities.

In 1 Samuel 8, Israel demands a king to be “like all the nations”, and so their king would act as a judge over them and fight their battles for them. Samuel then warns Israel of the disastrous results of having a king like all the nations (vs. 10-22). The books of 1 and 2 Kings prove Samuel to be right in his warning, as Israel’s kings continually lead Israel further and further away from God, ultimately resulting Israel going back to Babel once again, oppressed by yet another pagan government. During the fall and exile of Israel, the prophets continually reflect on the clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.

Isaiah, writing during this time of downfall, reminded Israel that God was still in control, and was using even the most wicked of earthly powers as His ministers to accomplish His will (Is. 10.5-15). Isaiah pointed to the Israel’s alliances with these earthly nations as one of the key reasons for their downfall (Is. 30.1-6). Isaiah encouraged Israel not to be enamored by the apparent strength of these nations, and encouraged them to view these nations the same way God views them: as “a drop in a bucket”, “meaningless” and “nothing” (Is. 40. 12-26). Isaiah looked forward to a day when God’s Servant would defeat these earthly powers (Is. 52).

Likewise Daniel looked forward to the day when God’s righteous people would be delivered (Dan. 9), exalted over the “beasts” of earthly governments (Dan. 7), resulting in a Kingdom which could not be shaken, through which all the other earthly governments would be dashed to pieces (Dan. 2).

This hope of victory over the pagan rulers of the world continues to be repeated time and time again throughout the psalms (See Psalms 2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 132, and 144). God reigns over the nations. God sits on His throne. God will raise up His King and will deliver His people. These are the songs that Israel continually sang for the centuries that followed the destruction of Jerusalem. These are the songs that Israel was singing when Jesus came and started proclaiming God’s Kingdom under “Lord” Caesar’s nose.

God and Caesar

So what did Jesus have to do with this story? Did Jesus simply use “kingdom” as a synonym for the church, establishing a nice and neat division of church and state, allowing Caesar to be the ruler the political world, while Jesus claimed rule over the spiritual world? Not so fast.

As Luke opens his gospel account by referring to a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered for a census for the purpose of taxation:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth… And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with May, who was engaged to him, and was with child. – Luke 2.1-5

This opening, which highlights Caesar’s dominion over the world, is usually passed over as a random bit of incidental history.  But if we read Luke-Acts from beginning to end, we should notice that the story which begins with Caesar’s decree which leads to the birth of  David’s offspring in the city where the Messiah was to be born, goes on to emphasize that Jesus was crucified precisely for challenging Caesar’s authority and proclaiming Himself to be king (Lk. 23.1-2). Interestingly, Luke’s second volume ends with Paul, in Rome, right under Caesar’s nose, “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (Acts 28.31). Luke clearly intends his readers to recognize that in Jesus, God had defeated the pagan ruler.

Matthew’s equivalent of the opening of Luke 2 is found in Matthew 2, where Herod the Great receives a visit from some wise men from the east who are seeking the a newly born “King of the Jews”. The Jewish King Herod responds with the same kind of violence that you would typically expect from a wicked pagan ruler. Herod’s son, Herod Antipas, continually looms in the background of Jesus’s ministry, killing his cousin John and threatening Jesus’s own work (11.1-4; 14.1-12). In the end, God shows himself victorious over Caesar and Herod when the guards at the tomb are unable to prevent Jesus’s resurrection.

Mark is even more obvious. One passage which may be highlighted is Mark 10.42-45:

Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be the first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Jesus thus makes it very clear that His followers are not to rule in the same way that Gentile rulers do.

In John, Jesus expresses a similar thought as he explains the significance of His upcoming death.

Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of the world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. – John 12.31-33

There it is again. The world’s rulers will be overthrown through the death of Jesus. The rulers of this world flexed their muscles and condemned Jesus with the most powerful weapon they had: death. And yet it was in that death that that those world powers were ultimately disarmed.

There is much more that could be said about Jesus and His teachings in the gospels, but this should be sufficient to make the point: the gospel writers continued to embrace the theme that was introduced in the Old Testament. God’s kingdom is continually described as in conflict with, and victorious over the governments of this world.

The Christian and Political Powers Today

After Jesus’ victories over the political powers of His day, the New Testament authors continued to reflect on how Jesus’ death and resurrection should impact the way we relate to the human governments under which we now live. Paul recognized the kingdoms of this world as enemies of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15.24-26), but He encouraged Christians not to fight against flesh and blood (2 Cor. 10.3-4; Eph. 6.12), but rather to pray for our rulers (1 Tim 2.1-2) and submit to them, recognizing that God is in control and will use them as His ministers (Rom. 12.29-13.5). John likewise recognized that the world was under the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5.19), but knew that God’s kingdom would ultimately be victorious over the kingdoms of this world (Rev. 11.15-18). Peter embraced the idea that Christians were stranger and exiles in relation to their earthly country (1 Pet. 2.11-12), but like Paul, He encouraged Christians to submit to their earthly rulers for the Lord’s sake (1 Pet 2.13-17).

We must avoid concluding that the Bible presents the kingdoms of men as the ultimate enemy. The Biblical authors were very much aware that there was a darker, even more significant evil power that stands behind all the kingdoms of this world. This evil power is frequently referred to as “Satan” who is the “god of this world.” Jesus frequently reminded people, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body in hell” (Mt. 10.28; cf. Lk 12.4-5). But that doesn’t mean that we should conclude that the conflict between God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of man is a secondary or minor story line of the Bible either. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s kingdom is presented as in conflict with the kingdoms of this world. As students of Scripture, Christians should be mindful of this theme and allow it to impact the way they relate to the kingdoms of this world.

9 Things Peter and John Said That Should Impact The Way a Christian Approaches Politics

Like Jesus and like Paul, John recognized that the nations of this world are under demonic influence. Peter likewise understood this and encouraged Christians to endure persecution from their rulers, while maintaining honor and reverence towards them. Together, with the rest of the New Testament writers, Peter and John encourage Christians to remember that Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.

1.The World Is Under The Power of the Evil One

We know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. – 1 John 5.19

Even after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, John still viewed the whole world as being under the power of the evil one. The church is God’s, but outside the church is Satan’s (1 Cor. 5.1-5; 1 Tim. 1.20; 1 Tim. 5. 15). Three times Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (Jn. 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). In other words, Satan holds the highest position of authority in this world. Paul frequently taught the same thing (2 Cor. 4.4; Eph. 2.2; Eph. 2.2).

Of course John understood that God ultimately holds more authority and power, which is why He will win (1 Jn. 5.4-5). But in the present, Satan is the one who exercises the most power and influence over this world.

If you’ve ever wondered why the governments of this world have continually failed to provide lasting solutions to social and global problems, or why they continually gravitate towards violence and oppression, this should help answer those questions. If we recognize that Satan is the ruler over this world and its kingdoms, we shouldn’t be surprised.

2. God’s Kingdom Will Be Victorious Over the Nations

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever… We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. And all the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bondservants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” – Revelation 11.15-18

John’s Revelation describes two different kingdoms that are at war against one another: The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of Christ. In keeping with John 5.19, these verses do not describe God as having unilateral control over the nations of the earth. When the Kingdom of Christ is victorious over the kingdom of the world, the nations become enraged. The nations are thus described as being on the side of the kingdom of this world. How can Christians seek to build up and strengthen those nations which exist in opposition to Christ’s kingdom?

3.Earthly Governments are Deceived by the Destroyer

Satan will be released from his prison, and will come out and deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, God and Magog, to gather them together for the war the number of them like the sand of the seashore. And they came up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, and fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20.7-10

The dragon, through His deception, has rallied all the nations of the world together against God’s kingdom. But when they are confronted with God’s justice, everyone who has refused to be a part of God’s kingdom will be destroyed. And so the dragon, the nations, and all who chose them are eternally punished, never again able to corrupt God’s good creation.

Abaddon, the Destroyer, is identified as the king of the nations of this this world (Rev. 9.11; 11.15). The world is deceived by the power of the great beast, and thus they worship the beast and give authority to the beast (Rev. 13.11-15). In John’s Revelation, it’s not just a few of the “bad” nations, or particuraly powerful “empires” that are deceived. Rather all the “nations which are in the four corners of the earth” are deceived by Him. These nations are collectively identified as “Gog and Magog”, an archetype of earthly governments who trust in military power (Ezekiel 38).

4.Babylon Will Be Destroyed

 Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality…

And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning…

So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer… and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. – Revelation 18.2-3, 9, 21-23

Babylon, the great and evil earthly nation that swallowed up the Israelites in 597 B.C. became a symbol of the wickedness, idolatry, immorality, and violence of later earthly nations. In John’s Revelation it is stated that “all the kings of the earth” have committed acts of immorality with “Babylon,” for the nations were deceived by her. “Babylon”, the great kingdom of this world will be destroyed. When she falls, all the earthly governments will mourn, for they have long loved the sensual pleasures that she provides.

5.Come Out of Her!

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues. – Revelation 18.4

God’s people should recognize Babylon and come out of her! Come out of her who is deceived by Satan. Come out of her who seduces kings in their lust for wealth and power. Come out of her who oppresses and kills God’s people.

Why? Because she will suffer plagues for her sins. And when she does,  kings and merchants (vs. 9-18) will share in her plagues when she is punished. Meanwhile the saints and apostles and prophets, who have avoided her seductions, will rejoice when she is judged (vs. 19-20).

God’s saints should be careful to distance themselves from the deceptive allure of the prostitute named Babylon.

6.Christians Are Strangers and Exiles

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2.11-12

Peter recognized that Christians should fill the role as strangers and exiles. These words were used to identify those who live in a city, but do not identify as permanent residents of that city. It should be no wonder that Peter, who lived long after the earthly nation of Babylon had been destroyed, identified himself as living in “Babylon” (1 Pet. 5.13). Peter was picking up on the same concept that was to be described in the book of Revelation. Peter and his readers did not have permanent ties to the earthly city or nation in which they lived. As exiles, they did not wage war against the enemies of their earthly nation, but rather they waged their warfare against fleshly lusts.

7.Be Subject to Them

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may be able to silence the ignorance of foolish men…. Fear God. Honor the king. – 1 Peter 2.13-17

Christians are instructed to subject themselves to earthly rulers. Why? Not for the sake of the rulers themselves, but for the Lord’s sake. The Lord is the one Christians should fear, yet we should still show honor to earthly rulers by subjecting ourselves to them.

By showing honor and subjecting ourselves to earthly rulers, the ignorance of their foolishness is silenced. If Christians want to see the ignorance of foolish rulers silenced, they must keep their behavior excellent, submissive, showing honor to their enemies in power.

8.Do not fear them.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. “And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,” but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.. – 1 Peter 3.13-17

Christians are not to fear earthly rulers. Neither are they to consider their earthly rulers as “Lord.” Rather they are to set apart Christ as their Lord. When earthly rulers slander disciples of Christ, we must be ready to give an answer for our hope, while continually maintaining gentleness and reverence towards them.

9. Recognize that Jesus is our King

Baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him. – 1 Peter 3.21-22

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was exalted above the authorities and powers. Earthly governmental powers have been defeated in the resurrection. Like the flood which delivered Noah from the wicked world in which he lived, baptism delivers Christians from their wicked world. It is for this reason that Peter, living right under the nose of the Roman emperor, could boldly proclaim, “To Him [Jesus, not Caesar] be dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 5.11). When we are baptized, we confess that Jesus is the Lord, the ruler. And by implication, if Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.


Peter and John stand firmly in agreement with Jesus and Paul. They never encouraged Christians to become involved in earthly politics, but rather they sought to overcome those powers by peacefully submitting to them.

9 Things The Apostle Paul Said That Should Impact The Way A Christian Approaches Politics

Jesus never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, and therefore He placed absolutely no trust in this world’s deceptive power.

But what about the Apostle Paul? How did Paul understand the Christian’s relationship to the governments of this world?

1.Submit to governing authorities

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore, whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. – Romans 12.29-13.5

Paul forbade Christians from revolting against their leaders. In Romans 12, Paul encouraged Christians to love their enemies and overcome evil with good. In Romans 13, Paul applies that principle to one specific kind of enemy: governing authorities. (It helps to remember that Nero was the emperor at the time that this was written. He certainly would have been one of, if not the very first person to come to mind whenever Roman Christians read about “enemies”.)

Paul commanded to Roman Christians to overcome evil by submitting to the governing authorities. Insubordination and rebellion against government are thus forbidden. Just as elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever we read the command to “submit”, this implies that there are two different parties being discussed with potentially conflicting wills. Paul wrote Romans with the understanding that Christians and the government were two separate entities.

2. God uses governments “for good”

For it is a minister of God to you for good. – Romans 13.4a

In the same way that Paul reminded the Roman Christians that God can use all kinds of horrible things to work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8.28), so also Paul reminds them that God will even use governing authorities as evil as Nero for good. Throughout this passage, Paul was teaching the same thing the prophets taught concerning evil Assyria (Isaiah 10.5-15) and Babylon (Habakkuk 2). In the same way that God, through His providence, raised up those evil nations and used them as His ministers to accomplish His purpose, so too God would use the Roman government for good. This doesn’t mean that God approved of everything Nero did any more than He approved of what the Assyrians or the Babylonians did. But it does mean that Christians need to remember that no matter who is in power, and no matter how evil they may be, God still has a plan. We can trust that somehow, someway, God will use them for good. Therefore, we can submit to their evil rule.

3.Earthly rulers are enemies of God’s Kingdom

Then comes the end, when He hands over the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. – 1 Corinthians 15.24-26

Paul understood that the rulers, authorities and powers were among the enemies of Jesus to be destroyed at His coming. He reigns in His kingdom, which, “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan. 2.44).

Since it is the mission of Jesus and His kingdom to put all these enemies under His feet and abolish these kingdoms, rulers, authorities and powers, how can His servants enter into, strengthen, and build up that which Christ and His kingdom are to destroy?

4.Do not be yoked with unbelievers

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God has said,
“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
Therefore, “Come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean
And I will welcome you.
And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me”
Says the Lord Almighty. – 2 Corinthians 6.14-18

While this passage in itself does not seem to be written specifically towards political partnerships, it certainly discourages it. To be unequally yoked (KJV) is to be bound together with an unbeliever in a way which allows the believer to be controlled by the unbeliever. So that Christians do not compromise their purposes, their values, or their life, they must avoid these kinds of partnerships. The principle Paul gives here would apply to any relationship in which a Christian will be controlled or heavily influenced by a non-Christian.

5.Do not fight with fleshly weapons

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. – 2 Corinthians 10.3-4

To use a fleshly weapon is to seek to win a battle without God. Christians do not wage war according to the flesh. The spiritual weapons are the only ones a child of God can use, and these spiritual weapons are powerful in destroying the strongholds of Satan. We weaken our strength when we appeal to government power, which of necessity uses fleshly weapons to accomplish its purposes.

6.Do not fight against flesh and blood

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6.12

Christians do not fight against flesh and blood. We fight for them (Lk. 6.27-35). Earthly political fights make enemies out of other humans.

Who is the real enemy we fight against? Rulers. Authorities. World-powers. No, not a fight against the individuals people who fill those offices and march in their armies, but rather our battle is focused on the spiritual evil that stands beneath and supports all those government powers. Therefore, the weapons we need for this battle are a different type of weapon than that which is used by earthly governments.

7.The rulers and authorities have been disarmed.

When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display over them, having triumphed over them through Him. – Colossians 2.15

The rulers and authorities are here described as enemies of Christ which were conquered. The rulers and authorities have only one power: death. On the cross, the rulers and authorities condemned Jesus with the only power they had at their disposal. When Jesus conquered death, he left all government power ineffective towards those who are being resurrected.

8.Pray for rulers.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. – 1 Timothy 2.1-2

Christians are not instructed to pray that their rulers should be strong, prosperous and permanent rulers. Neither should our prayers be limited only towards those rulers of  our country in which we live.  We should be praying for “all” men and “all” who are in authority. This includes even praying for our enemies.  Rather the object of our prayers is for peace and tranquility.

When Christians pray, they have the full attention of the highest office in the land, the King of kings. When Christians exercise power in the voting booth, their voice is barely heard among thousands of other voices, and only once every few years.

9. Don’t Be Distracted From Our Fight

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. – 2 Timothy 2.3-4

To please our commanding officer, it is necessary that we are not distracted by the affairs of enemy powers. When soldiers are placed in foreign lands, their responsibility is to suffer, if need be, to carry out the agendas of the homeland. His assignment is not to become involved in “the affairs of everyday life.”

Christians are soldiers in enemy territory. We live in a territory that is governed by “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and “principality and power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). Our task is not to be distracted by the affairs of his country, but rather to please our commanding officer by imitating His example and following His commands.

When Christians mistakenly think they are building up God’s kingdom by promoting which political options, candidates or policies are the “right ones”, they are letting themselves get distracted from the task that Christians are given. Our task is to do what Jesus did. He preached the Kingdom of God and defeated His enemies by how He lived, died, and rose again, not by some great political victory.


Like Jesus, Paul understood that the earthly rulers and authorities were under demonic influence. They were part of the domain of darkness, among the enemies of Christ which have been disarmed and defeated. Therefore Paul never encouraged Christians to take political action or seek political power.

Paul did not think Christians should feel a need to overthrow their enemies, but rather should overcome evil by good by submitting to those in power. He had faith that just as God had used the Assyrians and Babylonians for good, so He would continue to cause all things to work together for good.

Paul encouraged Christians maintain their separation from unbelievers, so that they are not distracted from a far more important mission.

In A Democracy, Don’t Christians Have A Responsibility to Participate in Politics?

In a previous post I recounted nine things Jesus said or did that should influence the way Christians approach politics. Jesus never tried to gain power in the political system of his day. But, it has been argued that in almost every instance that the Bible references the Christian’s relationship with government, the governments were emperors or kings. Governments in that day didn’t allow for the public to participate in the same way they do today. Caesar and Pilate weren’t elected by popular vote.

We, however, live in a democracy where our government allows and encourages the public to be involved in the political process. Suddenly the governments are not “thems”, but rather the governments are “us” (or so it is argued). Does the Christians relationship to government and politics change in a democracy? Do modern Christians now have a responsibility to try to change society using political methods?

First of all it is not true that in democratic or any other kind of government that the people are themselves the rulers. They choose the rulers, among a select few individuals who have been given the opportunity to run for office. Once elected, these individuals tend to rule for their own selfish good and glory the same way other rulers in other forms of government rule.

Our Citizenship is in a Foreign County

Christians must remember that we are citizens of a foreign country. “For our citizenship is in heaven“, wrote Paul (Phil. 3.20). We are “foreigners” and “exiles” in our own country (1 Pet. 2.11). Does this basic relationship towards earthly governments change depending on the type of government we happen to be under?

Consider Paul’s words to Timothy:

“No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.” – 2 Timothy 2.4

Our commitment to be a soldier of the cross doesn’t change based on the form of government we are under. As a soldier, we must not be distracted from our mission.

Jesus emphasized the contrast between the pagan path of greatness and the Christian path to greatness:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” – Matthew 20.25-26

The disciples of Jesus should abstain from the pagan desire to rule over others. This key distinction doesn’t change when the form of government changes.

Even if Christians themselves were the rulers, this raises another difficult challenge: How can a Christian fulfill the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities as a Christian at the same time?

Governments are to avenge evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are forbidden from avenging themselves (Rom. 12.19). Governments carry out God’s wrath on evildoers (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to leave it to God’s wrath (Rom. 12.18). Governments do not bear the sword in vain (Rom. 13.4), yet Christians are to feed their enemies (Rom. 12.20-21). Romans 12-13 only makes sense if it is understood that Christians are a separate entity, with separate responsibilities from the governmental authorities. If, in a democracy, Christians become one in the same with the government, Romans 12-13 must be seen to be commanding contradictory responsibilities at the same time.

Christians are to be in subjection to earthly rulers (Rom. 13.1). Every instance of “subjection” in the New Testament indicates the presence of at least two separate, and potentially opposing entities. If Christians are one and the same with government, are they then to submit to themselves? If “we” are now the government, how are we supposed to submit to ourselves? To the extent that government can desire something of us that we would not choose ourselves, they are a separate entity.

Earthly Governments Will Be Destroyed

If in a democracy, “we” are now one in the same with the government in Romans 13, are we also one in the same in 1 Corinthians 15 with the rulers and authorities and powers who will be destroyed along with the rest of Jesus’s enemies when He returns?

Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and all power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Surely we would not argue that simply because we live in a democracy that “we” are the rulers and authorities that will be destroyed in 1 Corinthians 15. How can we claim to be one in the same with the rulers in Romans 13, but not in 1 Corinthians 15?

When Paul speaks of Christians wrestling against authorities and rulers and powers (Eph. 6.12), did He envision Christians wrestling against themselves, since they are now the rulers in a democracy?

Absolutely not. The day will come when “Babylon” will be judged and destroyed. We should therefore heed the warning of Revelation 18.4:

Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins are piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”

If we are one in the same with government just because we live under a democracy, we should be very concerned! We should be seeking any way possible to get out! If we don’t “come out of her” we will share in the judgment she will receive.


Thankfully, “we” are not the government. We represent a different kingdom. The kingdom in which we enjoy citizenship will be delivered to the Father when all the other kingdoms are destroyed. We are to change the world, but we are not to use the same methods the world uses. Our power to change the world is rooted in prayer and sacrificial love. Whatever distracts us from this task should be avoided.

Living in a democracy certainly makes it easy to be politically involved if we choose to do so. But that doesn’t mean we have a responsibility to do so. If anything, it means we must be even more careful to maintain the important distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world.

Shouldn’t Christians Use Political Means to Help the Poor?

Then He will also say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” Then they themselves also will answer, “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?” Then He will answer them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25.41-46

In an earlier article I wrote about 9 things that Jesus said that should influence the way Christians should approach politics. Should Matthew 25.41-46 be added to that list? Did Jesus intend for Christians to become involved in political means to help the poor?

It is imperative that Christians help the poor. Helping the poor must never become just as small side project that Christians do when it is convenient. If Scripture ever clearly identified an issue as a “salvation issue”, this is it. Our decision to help or neglect the poor is directly tied to our eternal destiny.

Not only that, but Christians should go to whatever extent they possibly can to help the poor. Notice Jesus’s words in verse 45: “To the extent that you did not do it to the one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” Think about those words, “To the extent…“. That is a very broad challenge.

The church doesn’t have the power and resources to help all the poor everywhere. Shouldn’t Christians at least vote to help the poor? Shouldn’t they at least do their part to pressure government to enact compassionate economic policies? If we really want to defend the poor and disadvantaged, shouldn’t we seek to use government to defend them from the injustices they face?

No. Emphatically, no, they should not. I can totally understand why some Christians would choose to take this course of action, and I recognize that they do so with righteous motives. Yet I hope that you will consider some thoughts in response to this idea.

Which Version of Government is Best?

I write this to passionately encourage Christians not to think they are doing God’s work when they try to rally others around the particular version of government that they think is best. Like anyone else, I can imagine how governmental decisions impact the poor and disadvantaged. I don’t find it that hard to recognize how minimum wage laws increase the pay for some at the expense of others who are left unemployed. It is easy to see that all the government interference in health care markets has reduced competition, lowered quality, and driven health care costs to a point where it is affordable for many to pay for the care they deserve. It hurts me to think about how many jobs are destroyed through the high taxation and heavy regulations that businesses face, and how this has a big impact on the lower classes. And I’m not alone. There are lots of really bright people out there who understand that regulating free markets is, in the long haul, the worst possible thing you could do to the poor.

What if I were to take Matthew 25.41-46 as instruction to get Christians active in politics for the sake of the poor? Now that I’ve decided to get Christians involved in righteous political causes, I stand in my pulpit next Sunday and encourage the church do everything in their power to help the poor, which includes getting out there and stopping those liberals from regulating free-markets.

At the same time, you are encouraging Christians to get out there and help the poor by supporting minimum wage laws, wise regulations on big businesses, increasing funding to compassionate welfare programs that support the poor, and funding those programs by taxing the top 1% of earners. You wouldn’t be very happy with me, and I wouldn’t be very happy with you. We both agree that we should help the poor, but instead of using our pulpits to actually encourage Christians to help the poor, we are driving a wedge of division into the church with our message.

As a result, the left and the right argue over which particular kind of government is best for the poor. We spend our time, energy, passion, and sometimes even our money arguing over what our rulers should do about the poor (something the Bible never commands us to do), instead of working together in unity to actually help the poor (which is precisely what we are commanded to do). This leads to one more important point.

The Church Must Do More To Help The Poor

If Christians were to take all of their time, energy, passion and money that they currently invest into political arguments, and were to put that same level of passion into actually helping the poor, the church could make a huge positive impact on the poor, not only in their community, but throughout the country and throughout the world. And what’s even better, when the church works together to help the poor, the glory is given to God rather than to some particular style of government (2 Cor. 9.12).

There is no doubt in my mind that the church needs to do more to help the poor. One of the big reasons we don’t is because we are too busy arguing over what Caesar should do about poverty. This will only change when Christians stop thinking that it is their job to tell the authorities how to rule and start to do what Jesus commanded us to do. We must trust that God who makes all kinds of bad things work together for good (Rom. 8.28), will use even the worst rulers for good (such as Nero, who was the ruler when Romans 13.1-5 was written). Therefore we can simply submit to our rulers, trusting that God will somehow use them for the good He has promised. Only when we learn to trust that they are God’s ministers, and not ours, will we stop clamoring for greater political influence, and actually start working to serve the poor.

Ultimately, the hope for the poor, as well as anyone else, doesn’t hang on which party gets put in power. It hangs on the power that God has given to the church. The church’s power isn’t a power that we release every four years when we unify together and make our voice heard in the voting booth. It is a power that we release when we unite together to show God’s love by how we live, by how we share, and by how we sacrifice to serve the poor.

9 Things Jesus Said That Should Impact The Way A Christian Approaches Politics

Disciples of Jesus have a different set of values, ideals and methods from the world, and it is of utmost importance that we maintain this distinction. Jesus himself never sought to become involved in politics, and whenever he was given the opportunity, he refused to take sides in their political arguments. Jesus recognized that the devil ruled as the god of this world, influencing all the nations of this world, and He placed absolutely no trust in their deceptive power.

Therefore Christians should remain separate from earthly governments and politics. Christians are to pledge their allegiance to God alone, and not to any earthly nation, political party or political ideology. Because Jesus is our only Lord and Master, we are not to serve any other lord or master.

1.Christians should have a different set of values

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6.19-21

Earthly governments are continually in pursuit of earthly treasures (or in their own language “economic strength”. Jesus warns that earthly treasures pass away. This is why those who seek after earthly treasures are filled with anxiety, anger, envy, and jealousy (what Paul calls “works of the flesh”).

Jesus taught that our hearts should be focused on the heavenly treasures of the Kingdom of God, not on earthly things. Therefore for a disciple, it would be unwise to plan significant time and effort pursuing much of what earthly governments hold as having significant value. Our treasure, our hearts, and our confidence is in heaven.

2.Christians should look to a different source to provide for their needs.

No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…

Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will be drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6.24-34

Whenever we are faced with a need or a concern, we are not to look to stronger political leadership. We are to seek His kingdom, trusting that when we do, God will provide us with what we need. To the extent that we seek God, we do not have to worry.

This stands in stark contrast to the governments of this world, who do nothing but worry, for they do not seek God. When Christians serve God as their master, they are freed from pursuing the things that governments of this world pursue.

3.Christians should refuse to judge.

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7.1-5

Christians are not to judge. This is antithetical to the role and purpose of government (Rom. 13.1-5). The only way a government can enforce any law is to enforce judgment upon those who disobey that law. To seek to reform the world through government power necessitates judgment.

Jesus taught that Christians should seek a different method of addressing sin. Rather than acting as judges, Christians are to regard the sins of others as “specks” as compared to the “log” in their own eye. Paul would go on to actually forbid Christians from judging those who are outside the church (1 Cor. 5.12-13). Among those who are outside the church, we are to be known for our humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love (Eph. 4.2; Jas. 4.10-12; 1 Pet. 3.8). We are to follow the example of Jesus by esteeming others are better than ourselves.

4.Christians should seek a different path to greatness.

But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20.25-28

The quest for power and ruling authority that characterizes the world is not to characterize Christians. The greatest in the kingdom of Christ do not rule; they serve. The world is all about exercising power over others, leading to continual political fights as various parties contend for that power. Christians should have absolutely no desire to take part in these fights.

5.Christians should render to God everything that is rightfully His.

“ Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus perceived their malice and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the pol-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. – Matthew 22.15-22

This text is frequently misunderstood. For that reason I’ve written two other articles examining the context of the question and of Jesus’ answer. In short, rather than approving of giving service to Caesar, Jesus referred to the “likeness” and “inscription” on the coin, evoking strong references to the law, in which God was proclaimed as the only sovereign ruler of everything. When Jesus said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”, He was sharply challenging his questioners to decide for themselves the question of who rightly deserved their allegiance. If Caesar’s claims to be the rightful ruler of the world were true, then God’s claims to sovereignty were false. If God’s claims to sovereignty were true, the Caesar’s claims were illegitimate. If we really render to God the things that are God’s, there should be nothing left over for Caesar.

6.Christians should recognize that the nations are under demonic influence.

And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and serve Him only.” – Luke 4.6-8

First of all, it is interesting to notice that Jesus never refuted the devil’s claim that all the kingdoms of the world had been handed over to him to give to whomever he wishes. In fact, Jesus frequently referred to Satan as the ruler of the world (John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11). Likewise Paul would later refer to the devil as the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4.4) and the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2.2). John also understood that “the whole world lies the power of the evil one” (1 John 5.19).

How much trust should Christians place in demonically controlled earthly governments? As much as Jesus did, which is absolutely none.

Interestingly, the reason Jesus declined Satan’s offer was because Jesus understood that we are to serve God and God alone. He understood that serving God seeking political glory are mutually exclusive.

7.Christians should remember that Jesus avoided political/legal disputes.

Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But He said to him, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you? Then He said to them, “Beware and be on guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” – Luke 12.13-15

Once again, Jesus is faced with a legal/political question. He responds by asking “Who made me a judge?” Jesus claims that He did not come to judge earthly legal/political disputes. To the contrary, Jesus came to set us free from the sinful foundations of those disputes, such as greed.

Jesus didn’t have anything to say about legal/political/governmental disputes. Neither should we.

8.Christians should maintain sharp distinction from the world.

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. – John 15.18-19

Jesus’s disciples follow a different Lord and Master, and therefore they look at the world in a very different way. Christians are frequently described as being different from the world, or “foreigners”, “exiles”, or “strangers” in the world. (Phil. 1.27; Heb. 11.13; 1 Pet. 1.17; 1 Pet 2.11). As a result, we should not be surprised when the world hates us.

If, however, we are indistinguishable from the world in our values, our ideals, or our methods, we have missed what we are called to be. As we seek to follow Jesus, we should have the same relationship to the surrounding culture and political powers as Jesus had.

9.Christians should refuse to fight like the world fights.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” – John 18.36-37

The reason Jesus didn’t fight for political power is because His kingdom is not of this world. The evidence Jesus gave to prove that His kingdom is not of this world was that His disciples weren’t fighting either.

The world fights, not only with violence, but also with evil speaking towards political opponents.

Disciples of Jesus shouldn’t have any part in these physical or verbal fights (Eph. 4.29-31). To the contrary, everything we do is to be done in love. (1 Cor. 16.14). This is strikingly different from the kingdoms of this world which rely on physical violence and verbal sword swinging to maintain their power and influence.


Jesus taught his disciples to live a different kind of life from the world around them. Jesus never took part in earthly politics. He recognized that the kingdoms of this world were under the influence of Satan. He only sought to build one kingdom: the kingdom of God.

Should we not seek to follow this example of Jesus?

Render to God!

Christians should pay their taxes, but the famous teaching of Jesus, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22.15-22; Mk. 12.13-17; Lk. 20.20-26), is one of the most misunderstood verses in the New Testament. Jesus was not suggesting that Christians should give their loyalty to both God and Caesar. To the contrary, Jesus was challenging His hearers to give all of their allegiance to God alone.

The first part of this two part article, “Render to Caesar?”, broke down the textual and historical context, which gives us better understanding of the taxation question as it was presented to Jesus. This second part breaks down Jesus’ response.

The Coin and Counter Question

But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him “Caesar’s.” – Matthew 22.18-21a

Jesus certainly could have chosen to answer their question without this counter-question. The coin and the counter-question served the important function, and the significance must not be ignored. Jesus used the coin and counter-question to allude to key Scriptures which taught that our allegiance belongs to God alone.

Instead of immediately answering their question, Jesus requested to see the coin that was used for the tax. The coin in question, the denarius, had an image of Caesar on it. Two words, “likeness” and “inscription”, in the counter-question point to two key commandments in the Old Testament.

God Prohibits Any Likeness (or Image)

You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. – Exodus 20.3-5

The first two of the Ten Commandments prohibit worship of anyone or anything but God, and it also forbids making any image of a false god. God demands the exclusive allegiance of His people. Jesus’ usage of the word “likeness” in the counter-question would have reminded His listeners of this prohibition against creating images of any false gods.

Carrying around the “likeness” of Caesar was bad enough. But when we consider the “inscription” on the coin, it is even more revealing.

The Law Demands Worship of God Alone

Inscribed around the image of Caesar was the words “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS”, which is an abbreviation for “Tiberius Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus”. The other side of the coin had the image of the Roman goddess of peace, Pax, with the inscriptuion “Pontif Maxim”, which stands for “Pontifus Maximus”, which in turn means “High Priest.”

In one of the most ironic passages in the New Testament, the gospels depict the Son of God, the High Priest, the Prince of Peace, the King, holding in his hand a tiny silver coin of a king who claimed to be the son of god, and the high priest of Roman peace.

All Jews understood that the Law commanded Israel to worship God and God alone. Every morning Jews were known to pray the words of Deuteronomy 6.4-9,

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

By referring to the likeness and the inscription on the coin, Jesus appealed to key commandments from Scripture, and thus demonstrated the hypocrisy of his questioners, while reminding the hearers that Scripture taught that the LORD alone is God, and Caesar is not.

Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s

Two hundred years earlier, one of the slogans of the Macabbean revolt against the Syrians had been “Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve – and obey the commands of the law.” (1 Macc. 2.68). In other words, Israel wanted to pay back the Syrians with the violence they deserved, while maintaining faithfulness to the law.

That’s what they meant. But what did Jesus mean when He said “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”? On one hand, He could have meant, “Yes, pay the tax”, yet without the sting of “Yes, submit to your Roman masters.”

Secondly, He could have purposely mirrored the Maccabean slogan, as if to say “Give the Romans what they deserve!” (i.e. nothing), while crafting His words carefully to avoid the direct charge of inciting tax revolt. The fact that Jesus had just referred to Caesar’s blasphemous image, and the blasphemous inscription on the coin certainly support this understanding. But again, the words were spoken in such a way so as to avoid direct charge. His words are, after all, literally saying “Yes, pay the tax.”

Had He undermined Caesar’s right to collect taxes? Or had He told them to pay the tax?

I suggest that He had done neither, while at the same time He had done both. Nobody could deny that Jesus’ saying sounded an awfully lot like the revolutionary Maccabean slogan, yet nobody could say that Jesus had forbidden the payment of the tax. He was certainly not giving legitimacy to Roman authority, but neither was He advocating tax revolt. It seems most likely to me that Jesus had given a purposely ambiguous answer so that His listeners would be left to wrestle with the question, “What do I really owe Caesar?”

Render to God What is God’s

The second part of Jesus’ answer is anything but ambiguous. According to Scripture, everything belongs to God. Jesus had already reminded his listeners of the first two commandments. Scripture teaches that the LORD alone is the only true God and everything rightfully belongs to Him.

The earth is the LORD’s, and all that it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it. – Psalm 24.1

For every beast of the forest is Mine,
The cattle on a thousand hills. – Psalm 50.10

God claimed that even the silver and the gold rightfully belonged to Him.

The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. – Haggai 2.8

The emperor, on the other hand, also claimed that all people and things in the empire rightfully belonged to Rome. The denarius notified everyone that those who transacted with it owed the emperor their exclusive allegiance and worship.

With one straight forward counter question, followed by the command to “render to God the things that are God’s”, Jesus skillfully pointed out that the claims of God and the claims of Caesar are mutually exclusive. If one’s faith is in God, then God is owed everything, and Caesar’s claims are illegitimate. If one’s faith is in Caesar, God’s claims are illegitimate, and Caesar is owed, at the very least, the coin which bears his image.

What Jesus certainly didn’t mean was that the lives of His disciples could divide their lives and their allegiance into two separate parts (the “religious” part and the “political” part). Every aspect of the world, and every aspect of our lives should be given to God.

The Response To Jesus’ Answer

Jesus’ reply to their question invited His listeners to choose allegiances. Not only did Jesus cleverly escape their trap; He authoritatively rebuked his opponents by basing His answer in scripture. No wonder Matthew records:

And hearing this, they were amazed, and leaving Him, they went away. – Matthew 22.22

Following the same rhetorical structure as the trap question about His authority, 1) Jesus was asked a trap question. 2) Jesus replied with a brilliantly crafted answer. 3) Jesus left the questioners with a question of their own to ponder. 4) As a result, Jesus effectively made His claim to Messiahship while at the same time avoiding their trap.

Had Jesus’ answer simply meant “Yes, pay the tax”, no one would have left “amazed.” They would have rejoiced, for their trap would have worked! But in the context we examined above, no Jew would have taken Jesus’ response as an endorsement of taxation. To the contrary, a few days later, Jesus was accused of forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar.

And they began to accuse Him, saying “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King. – Matthew 23.2

Did Jesus actually encourage tax rebellion? No. But it should be clear that Jesus’ answer was not understood as a clear-cut approval of the taxation either. Had Jesus’s teaching been understood as an endorsement of Caesar’s tax, then this accusation would have never surfaced, for it would have been quickly refuted by those who heard Jesus’ teaching.

But if Jesus’s statement is understood as a challenge to serve God alone as King, then this accusation makes perfect sense.

What is the Christian Response To Taxation?

Since even our money ultimately belongs to God, and He alone is the rightful King, do Christians actually owe their government anything? Did Jesus teach that Christians should only spend their money as God would want them to spend it, rather than giving their money to Caesar? In other words, did Jesus actually encourage tax rebellion?

There is absolutely nothing in the New Testament that would support this conclusion. The New Testament commanded Christians of that day, and commands Christians in our day, to submit to government and to pay whatever taxes they require of us. (Rom. 13.5-7; 1 Pet. 2.13-15).

This isn’t to say that Caesar “has a right” to collect taxes, or even that we “owe” anything to government as if it belonged to them. Christians are not commanded to pay their taxes because we think government deserves it, or because we think they have a rightful claim to it. Rather we are to pay our taxes because the Creator, and only King to whom we are to pledge our allegiance, commands us to pay them.

The New Testament describes Christians as strangers and exiles in a foreign land (Heb. 11.3; 1 Pet. 2.11). To get into a political fight with our earthly rulers over the money they take from us distracts us from what we are called to do, which is to spread the Kingdom of God. Our only concern is that we are giving to God anything and everything that He is owed. This includes a willingness to submit and pay taxes to to even the most unjust of governments.

Neither Jesus nor the apostles advocated tax rebellion. Yet, at the same time, Jesus never taught that Caesar’s claim to authority was legitimate. The idea that Christians should support both God and government, by living with dual allegiances and dual citizenships, is not supportable historically, contextually, or exegetically.  If we would render to God all the things that belong to God, there should be nothing left for Caesar.

Render to Caesar?

In Jesus’s famous teaching, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt. 22.15-22; Mk. 12.13-17; Lk. 20.20-26), Jesus challenged his hearers to give God everything He is rightfully due, giving all of their allegiance to God and not to Caesar. Unfortunately, this passage has become one of the most misunderstood and misapplied teachings of Jesus.

The passage is frequently used to prove that Jesus endorsed Caesar’s authority to collect taxes as legitimate. According to this popular view, Jesus taught His disciples to pay taxes because the Christian responsibilities to God and to Caesar fall into two separate categories, each with a legitimate but separate claim to authority. Therefore, Christians should strive to give their support to both God and Caesar, while wisely distinguishing what is due to each. If it is determined that that something is owed to the government (whether it be to be good citizens, or to vote, or to serve in office, or even fight for their nation), Christians should support their government in giving what is owed.

If we read the discussion about Caesar and taxes in isolation from the surrounding context, it is easy to see why this view is so popular. After all, Jesus did say “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  However, there are difficulties with this popular understanding.

This teaching was never intended as an endorsement of Caesar’s authority to collect taxes. Rather, in His response to a question about taxes, Jesus was purposely ambiguous in His answer. This purposeful ambiguity was designed to leave His audience asking themselves “What really belongs to God, and what really belongs to Caesar?” Rather than teaching His disciples to give their support to both God and Caesar, Jesus’s response was designed to reveal the hypocrisy of the questioners who had tried to divide their allegiance to God.

To make the case that this is a more faithful understanding of the text, this two part article will first examine the historical and textual context of the question that was asked to Jesus. Part two will examine the importance of the coin and Jesus’ counter-question, examine what it means to “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, and what it means to “Render to God what is God’s”, and  will examine the response to Jesus’ statement. Finally, to prevent any misapplication of the text, the article will briefly consider the proper Christian response to taxes.

The Textual Context

The taxation discussion must not be read as an isolated discussion on the separation of church and state (a concept that would have been most foreign to first century Judaism). All three synoptic gospels place the conversation in the final week of Jesus’ ministry, a week that would climax with Jesus being crucified with “The King of the Jews” written above His head.  The trap question comes on the heels of Messianic symbolism (The entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple); references to Messianic prophecies (2 Sam. 7, Zech. 4, 6, 14); Messianic parables, and a quotation from a Messianic psalm. Jesus was, again and again, implicitly claiming that He was the Messianic King. The question of taxation is a question about the implications of Jesus’ claims to Kingship. If Jesus is going to be King, what does this mean about Caesar’s similar claim?

Among all the Messianic symbolism and teachings, Jesus was asked a trap question (Mt. 21.23-27; Mk. 11.27-33; Lk. 20.1-18).

By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority? -Matthew 21.23b

By what authority was Jesus referencing to Himself as the Messiah? If Jesus claimed that His authority came from God, He would have surely been arrested by Herod, the “other” king of the Jews. If Jesus denied that His authority came from God, He would have undermined His whole work.

Yet Jesus answered with a brilliant counter question about John the Baptist. Was His authority from God or men? Now the tables were turned. If the chief priests and scribes answered that John’s authority was from men, they would have alienated themselves from the crowds. Yet if they answered that John’s authority was from God, this would only give validity to the claim that Jesus, the successor of John the Baptist, likewise had His authority from God. Any doubts about the meaning of Jesus’ counter-question can be removed by reading the parable that follows.

Before continuing to examine the textual context, notice carefully the rhetorical structure of this trap question. 1) Jesus was asked a trap question. 2) Jesus replied with a brilliantly crafted answer. 3) Jesus left the questioners with a question of their own to ponder. 4) As a result, Jesus effectively made His claim to Messiahship while at the same time avoiding their trap. We will see this exact same structure in the trap question about taxation.

Jesus then tells a Messianic parable about a rejected son, followed by a quotation from a Messianic Psalm about a rejected cornerstone (Ps. 118.22-23). In Matthew’s account, Jesus then told a parable of a great supper (Mt. 22.1-14), in which the king had made a supper for his son, but those who refused the invitation would be thrown into outer darkness. This too was a way for Jesus to refer to Himself as the rejected son of the King.

Given Jesus’ many subtle claims to kingship, an obvious question to ask would be “If Jesus is King, what does that mean about others who make the same claim? How does Jesus’ claim to kingship relate to Caesar’s claim to kingship?” To best understand the taxation discussion, we must remove modern philosophies of the separation of church and state from our minds and place ourselves back within the Biblical text by considering the question from the perspective of Jesus’ questioners. By reading the taxation question in this light we can better understand Jesus’s response.

The Historical Context

The conversation about taxation occurred at a time when Jerusalem was boiling over with political and religious fervor for revolt and revolution. In 6 A.D. the Roman occupiers of Palestine imposed a census tax on the Jewish people. The tax was not well received, not only because of the cost, but because of what the tax represented. By 17 A.D. Judas the Galilean lead a tax revolt by teaching that “taxation was no better than slavery”, and he and his followers had “an inviolable attachment to liberty”, recognizing that God alone was the rightful king and ruler of Israel.

In this context of tax-revolt, the question of paying taxes must be seen as more than just a philosophical question of the separation between church and state. This was both a deeply political question, as well as a deeply religious question. Either, God and His divine laws were supreme, or the Roman emperor and his pagan laws were supreme.

All three synoptic gospels record that this conversation occurred during the Passover week, a week in which Israel remembered the Exodus, in which God had given them their freedom. Yet ever since the Babylonian invasion hundreds of years earlier, Israel had been ruled by others. In 163 B.C., Judas Maccabeus cleansed the temple and lead a successful revolt against their pagan oppressors. As a result, Israel enjoyed a short period of semi-independence, but ever since 63 B.C., Israel had been ruled by their Roman overlords. As the Jews looked back to the Passover to celebrate their freedom, they also agonized over the fact that they weren’t free, and they longed for the day when God’s kingdom would be exalted over the pagans once again.

For most Jews at this time, conversations about the establishment of the Kingdom of God, a new temple, the Messiah, taxation and revolt against the Roman Empire all went together. Here was another temple-cleanser, another Galilean preaching about the establishment of a new kingdom, claiming to be the new king. What would this so-called Messiah have to say about taxation?

The Question

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not? – Matthew 22.15-17

It is important to note that this question was presented as a “trap” question. That is, the Pharisees had designed the question to box Him in. If Jesus says that it is lawful to pay the tax, He would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers. In the minds of the Jews at the time, the Messiah was to defeat the pagans. No Roman collaborator could possibly be the Messiah. Therefore, if Jesus had answered “Yes, pay the tax”, all of symbolism and teaching of the previous week would have been seriously undermined.

If Jesus said that the tax was illegitimate, the Herodians would have surely branded him as a political criminal, and He would have almost immediately incurred the wrath of Rome. With either answer, Jesus would have been stopped.

When Jesus answered “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, this could not have been understood as saying “yes, pay the tax.” That was one of the two answers the Pharisees were hoping for. Again, if Jesus’ hearers understood “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” as “Yes, pay the tax”, Jesus would have been immediately discredited as the Messiah.

So “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” could not have possibly meant “Yes, pay the tax.” Or, perhaps, could it have meant exactly that, yet while somehow avoiding the sting of “Yes, submit to your Roman overlords”? Or did Jesus mean something different entirely? Please consider Jesus’ response carefully while reading Part 2 here.

The Sermon on the Mount and Politics

We cannot serve Jesus while at the same time seeking political solutions, which of necessity rely on principles which contradict those of Jesus’s kingdom. In “The Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5-7), Jesus taught that the principles of the kingdom of heaven are visibly and obviously different from the principles of earthly kingdoms. He called the citizens of His kingdom to be the “salt of the earth” and to be a “light to the world” (Mt. 5.13-14).

It is essential that Christians live differently from the world. If we lose our distinction, we will fail to influence the world as the salt and light that God has called us to be. 

If the salt becomes tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under food by men. – Matthew 5.13

Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’ teachings sound somewhat strange, offensive, contradictory to common wisdom, or even foolish. The fact that His teachings are different from everyday thinking is precisely the point Jesus is trying to make.

The Sermon on the Mount and Violence

There is no government on earth that practices, or could practice the principles taught by Jesus. As we read the Sermon on the Mount, we come across some of Jesus’s teaching on violence and the Christian’s attitude toward it.

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also… You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? – Matthew 5.39-47

As we should expect, these are some very strange teachings. Christianity is different. Other kingdoms on earth tolerate, and sometimes encourage retaliation. And here in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings up retaliation for the specific purpose of prohibiting it.

Here He sets forth a clear and broad difference between the spirit of retaliation and the spirit of Christianity. Living according to this difference is not just a minor side point in Jesus’s sermon that can be ignored; it is at the very heart of the theme of His sermon.

And what’s more, Jesus doesn’t simply address the outward action of retaliation. He speaks to the very heart of the matter. The section on retaliation is part of a larger section in which Jesus addressed common everyday understandings of the law (“You have heard that it was said…”), and then immediately gives a teaching that applies directly to the heart (“But I say unto you…”). For instance, when Jesus addressed adultery (Mt. 5.27-30), He condemned not only adultery, but also lust. The principles Jesus taught do not simply refer to the outward act, but also forbid the passion itself. His teachings attach guilt no only to the conduct, but also to the thought.

In another teaching, Jesus forbade not only murder, but also hateful feelings such as resentment or revenge which lead to murder (Mt. 5.21-22). When these unholy motives and intentions are prohibited, the very spirit of violent force towards our enemies is destroyed. Violent force towards our enemies cannot be encouraged or allowed if that which is necessary for that violent force is prohibited. Jesus’ disciples are taught in this sermon that all such attitudes that promote violence towards  enemies are prohibited in His kingdom.

According to everyday wisdom at that time, violence towards enemies was permitted. Jesus directly contradicts this mindset when He says “Love your enemies”. Loving our enemies is contrary to desiring harm upon them. By desiring to use force against our enemies we are violating one of the fundamental principles of Jesus’s teaching.

The tax collectors and gentiles demonstrated a similar set of ethics as the Jews. They preached the importance of love, but they limited their love to those who were deserving of it. If a person was wicked enough, they were seen as no longer deserving of their love. If a Christian decides that certain enemies are just too wicked to be loved, they have become no different from the rest of the world; they have lost their flavor as salt.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Civil State

Christians cannot serve the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men. The principles taught by Jesus are contrary to the principles that are, and of necessity must be, practiced in every human government on earth. No nation on earth would survive very long if it refused to resist its enemies. First, there would be no military forces to maintain a country’s strength. Subsequently, the nation would not be able to enforce its laws upon its citizens. The implied force that lies behind all political solutions and legislation would be destroyed. (If you don’t believe all political solutions are a demonstration of force, just refuse to obey a law and see what happens).

The mindset that is necessary for the maintenance of a strong country is opposed to the mindset that is taught by Jesus. The two mindsets cannot dwell at the same time inside the same person. You cannot be gentle, forgiving, responding to evil with good, turning the other cheek, praying for your persecutors, and at the same time execute wrath and vengeance upon evil doers as God has ordained governing authorities to do (Romans 13.1-7).

Jesus understood this to be the case. He understood that the principles of Sermon on the Mount could not be kept among those who try to serve two masters.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. – Matthew 6.24

Satan is the god of this world. To serve wealth is to serve Satan. Wealth is served in the kingdoms of this world. Jesus teaches that we cannot serve both.

 “Jesus Didn’t Really Mean That”

Many will be quick to point out that Jesus never intended for his sermon to be applied to governments. In this observation, they are correct. After all, Jesus didn’t go to Rome to preach this lesson to Caesar and his guards, and He didn’t preach the sermon to the U.S. Government.

He preached the sermon to those who were to be a part of His kingdom, and He expected His teachings to apply to every aspect of their lives. Therefore it wouldn’t make any sense to suggest that the Sermon on the Mount is fine to apply to individual Christians, unless those Christians decided to become involved in political action, in which case they would be exempted from these expectations.

Consider these words from Martin Luther, the great Reformer (who in many regards should be praised as a hero). From his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, Martin Luther wrote:

Thus we read of many holy martyrs, who under infidel emperors and lords have gone forth to war, when summoned, and in all good conscience have struck right and left and killed, just as others, so that in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; and yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, for their own person, but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to secular person and authority. But if you are free and not obligated to such secular authority, then you have here a different rule, as a different person.

Wait, what? Christians are no “different than heathens”? For “they did it not as Christians… but as obedient members and subjects, under obligation to secular person and authority”?

Is Jesus not to be the Lord over every part of our lives? Would this logic make sense if applied to other activities in life? For example, consider if this quote were applied to lifeguarding.

Some Christians, while working as lifeguards have looked at immodestly dressed women and lusted after them, and in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, but as lifeguards who were faithfully doing their jobs under obligation to their secular bosses.

Or apply this logic to a lawyer…

Some Christians, while working as lawyers, have told lies, and in this respect there was no difference between Christians and heathen; yet they did nothing contrary to this text. For they did it not as Christians, but as lawyers who were faithfully doing their jobs under obligation to their secular clients.

We wouldn’t use this logic towards other walks of life. Why would we apply it to Jesus’ teachings about retaliation and loving our enemies? Jesus never adds any qualifiers to these statements. He did not intend for them to apply to certain parts of our lives and not to other parts.

A Christian might be a lifeguard, but a Christian lifeguard should never lust. A Christian might be a lawyer, but a Christian lawyer should never lie. A Christian might live as a citizen under secular authorities, but a Christian citizen should never retaliate, resist evil with evil, or hate his enemies.

The Sermon on the Mount was not addressed to human governments, but it does apply to every Christian in every aspect of their lives. To seek political solutions to lose our distinctiveness; that is, to cease to be salt and light.

Words of Comfort and Warning

 Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. – Matthew 7.24

Jesus concludes by teaching that those who live according to the principles of God’s kingdom will stand forever. Those who do not will be overcome in destruction. The kingdom which was established by God will never fall. The kingdoms which are in the world will be destroyed along with those who live according to their way of life.

The kingdom Jesus established does not need the right political party, strong political victories, strong law enforcement, constitutionally protected rights, strong military strength, or a strong economy to prosper. If Jesus can overcome the cross, Christians can rest assured that the gates of hell (much less a bad earthly government), will not prevail against His church.