Tag Archives: imperialism

Why the World Hates Jesus of Nazareth (5 of 7)

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus, Jn. 15:18

In the previous installment, I made the case that Jesus rejected materialism.

Jesus defended the poor and preached a word of warning to the rich. In his words and actions, Jesus rejected the idol of consumerism. Contrary to the economy of empire, King Jesus seeks to establish a Kingdom on the earth that is about giving and sharing, not taking and accumulating.

In God’s economy, the poor are blessed (Lk 6:20). This aspect of Jesus and his ministry especially threatens those in powerful positions of affluence and privilege. The gospel of Jesus undermines their way of life, and denounces their way of carving up the world for their own personal pleasure.

As I said in the introduction to this blog series, I’m using seven provocative statements as a way of summarizing the radical life and teachings of Jesus as recorded in the NT. It is my deepest desire that the Christian and skeptic alike will come to embrace the true beauty of Christ’s Kingdom, while being ever-mindful of the real cost of discipleship. We must count the cost.

For this is why the world hates Jesus and his good news. And why those who belong to the world system will hate those who choose to follow him.

5. Jesus Challenged Worldly Wisdom

The apostle John writes in his Gospel that Jesus is the logos (Word) of God.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:1-5 NIV

John has in mind two big ideas by referring to Jesus as the logos of God.

In Jewish perspective, Jesus is the Word of God (spoken & written) in human form. No doubt an idea that was (and is) unthinkable to Jews. From a Hellenistic Greek perspective, Jesus is the Wisdom of God—the perfect mind behind the universe. He is transcendent above the material world.

Jesus is also the Wisdom of Proverbs personified (Prov 1:20-33). He is Wisdom in the flesh! The apostle Paul testifies that in Jesus is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-3). He is the divine mind.

“Wisdom, God’s blueprint for humans, at last herself becomes human.” N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus, pg. 120

The Gospel of John would have us know, from the very beginning, that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Creator of all that is seen and unseen. He came from God, and is God in human form—the invisible made visible.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father [God].”  Jesus, Jn 14:9b

This is just the evidence you would think all religious people and skeptics would need to repent and believe in the One that God sent in order to make himself known. However, John tells us that Jesus “came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him” (Jn 1:10 NLT).

Why did the world not recognize him? Because God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who refuse to repent of worldly wisdom (1 Cor 1:18).

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Paul, 1 Cor 1:20-21 NIV

The life and ministry of Jesus can certainly be viewed as foolishness.

  • Jesus was born of a virgin (Lk 1:26-38),
  • Lived in obscurity for most of his life (Lk 2-3),
  • He was single with no interest in marriage (Matt 19:29),
  • Took up the role of rabbi with no formal education (Jn 1:49; 7:15),
  • Rejected by his family and friends (Mk 3:20; Lk 4:14-30),
  • He was a wandering homeless man for three years (Lk 9:58),
  • Performed miracles and casted out evil spirits (Mk 5:9; Jn 2),
  • Forgave sins with the authority of God (Mk 2:5-7),
  • Proclaimed that he and God were one and the same (Jn 10:30),
  • Emphatically claimed to be the only way to God (Jn 14:6),
  • He raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11),
  • Crucified as a condemned criminal (Lk 23:33; Jn 18:30),
  • Followers said he was resurrected in a radical new body (Lk 24),
  • Believed he would return to consummate the Kingdom (Matt 24).

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Jesus, Matt 11:6

First and foremost, Jesus challenges worldly wisdom with his self-proclaimed divine identity, and heaven-born mission. Jesus’ self-awareness is most clearly expressed in The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46).

It can’t be denied that Jesus sees himself as the son of the vineyard owner. The son (Jesus) is sent to the tenants (religious leaders) of the vineyard (Israel), after the tenants had already killed others (prophets) the vineyard owner (God) had sent to collect the harvest. The son will also be killed (crucifixion). Jesus then tells his audience that the Kingdom of God will be taken from the religious and given to others that will receive it (v.43).

Jesus not only claimed to be the only begotten (i.e. one of a kind) Son of God that comes to take away the sins of the world (Jn 3:16), he proved that his wisdom was from another place. This wisdom incited hatred.

The leaders of Israel believed Jesus and his followers were dangerous. They made repeated attempts to trap Jesus with their wisdom, but he always confounded them with his wisdom from above (Matt 22:20-22; Jn 8:6).

“Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.”  Paul, 1 Cor 3:18-19 NLT

It wasn’t just his “new teaching” that intimidated the religious leaders (Mk 1:27), it was something more—something they couldn’t quite put their finger on. He seemed to have someone helping him. It appeared to be the power of God, but still they stumbled over their own wisdom and rejected him.

Even the folks back in Nazareth were mystified at his great wisdom and miracle-working. Nevertheless, they hated him for his claims to be the eternal, omniscient Son of God (Matt 13:54; Lk 4:28-30).

And that’s the thing about Jesus, isn’t it? He does not allow anyone to separate his “wise” teachings from his self-identifying claim to be the Lord of the universe. C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity, pgs 40-41:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” 

Worldly wisdom scoffs at the idea that Jesus is the Messiah—the savior of the world. Those who embrace the wisdom of the world have constructed a system that doesn’t allow for the Creator of the cosmos to make himself known in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The world today sees faith in Christ as a threat to human progress. The wisdom of God, as expressed in Jesus, and now through his followers, can’t simply be left alone. Jesus challenges the “wisdom of the wise”—religious pluralism, scientific naturalism, and political imperialism.

And he calls for a Kingdom revolution of the heart and mind.

Therefore, God’s wisdom may have it that many of his peaceful followers walk a road of suffering, even death (Lk. 11:49; Rev. 5:10-11).

If they crucified the Son of God for challenging conventional wisdom and cultural expectations, what will they to do those who follow him?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Read the next post:  6. Jesus Was Loving and Intolerant.

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Empire: A Home For Demons

I think there are some obvious reasons why American evangelicals have essentially ignored the politically subversive nature of the New Testament. If it weren’t being done in our churches, there would be no way to continue the quest for politics and also to follow the Jesus revealed in the Gospels.

In Luke 8:26-39, we read the Lucan account of the demonized man by the seashore. Like the temptations of Christ in Matthew 4:1-11, I believe this is yet another episode of Jesus’ encounter with evil that is typically read without any concern for its political ramifications.

Let’s look at the account again.

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the evil spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places. Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into them, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 

The demons intentionally reveal themselves to be like 6,000 Roman soldiers (a “legion” at full-strength). “Legion” isn’t merely used to say, “There are lots of us, Jesus.” Instead, I’m persuaded to believe that Jesus casting out “Legion” is an indirect attack on Roman imperial power.

I’m not satisfied with the idea that this was just some random name this naked, demonized man came up with during his stay in the nearby tombs. The gospel writers either inserted “Legion” for literary effect, or it really happened this way. Think about it.

What happens after this exorcism? Jesus casts “Legion” into the pigs, an unclean animal according to the Hebrew Scriptures. Every Jewish reader would have picked up on this. The pigs then run into the sea. This reminds me of Pharaoh and his legions. They too were swallowed up in the sea.

In the book of Revelation, John alludes to OT verses and imagery throughout his vision. And it appears that he might even have in mind the episode with Jesus and “Legion” as he writes Revelation 19:19-21:

“Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.  But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.”  

John was exiled to the island of Patmos due to his radical views. And the only way to write a final word of encouragement to Christians with the vision he received was to write in code.

It was very appropriately done in apocalyptic fashion.

In the context of the first century, the “Beast” or “Babylon” is clearly a reference to Rome. I think further application has Rome representing the power of the kingdoms of the world in every generation. This “Beast” is cast into a sea of fire along with the rest of those who worship him.

“Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!  She has become a home for demons… for all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries… Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.” Revelation 18:2-5

I encourage you to read all of Revelation 18. It has to be one of the most sobering chapters in all of Scripture. It stands as a warning to all empires, and to the church that lives in them during the present evil age.

Finally, let’s look at the rest of the story and find application for our own situation. Luke 8:34-39 reads as follows:

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off, reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear.  

I think those who were fearful of Jesus’ actions were disturbed by the implications of this exorcism. This was not the work of a traveling magician. This is the rumored Messiah from Nazareth performing “signs and wonders” that rebuked the powers that be.

Jesus has given us the meaning behind his excorisms.

“But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”  Matthew 12:28

The casting out of “Legion” is a clear expression of Messianic opposition to all worldly kingdoms, especially that of empire. The Kingdom of God is arriving on the earth. Not even demonized men in caves can hide from it.

It’s time to connect the dots here.

Everyone in this account of the demoniac man understood the actions of Jesus. Have evangelicals embraced this story for what it might say to the American empire? Have we fully embraced the Kingdom of God with all of its meaning for our lives? I honestly don’t think we have.

Ask yourself, “What kind of people would fear Messiah Jesus?”

I submit to you that it’s those who have made their home in an empire intoxicated with the maddening wine of demons. It’s the lovers of empire that fear when they see that the Kingdom of God has come to town.

They are the ones who fear the loss of imperial comfort and prosperity—built on the backs of slaves, and maintained through lies, idolatry, greed, and violence. They scramble to hold onto this demonic deception.

Those who identify with Caesar are troubled. But we who belong to Christ ought not fear. For we have a better and lasting possession. King Jesus has promised to cast out empire from the earth—those kingdoms which are merely a demonic parody of the radical Kingdom of God.

Only then will the world know true justice, peace, and freedom.

This is a Kingdom that comes—indeed is already coming—which overcomes in Calvary-like living. It wins by dying, not by killing. It is not advanced through political agendas and power-over methods of coercion. Instead, it calls us to trust in power-under, not power-over.

Brothers and sisters, cast out the demons of empire by embracing the way of the cross. Christ calls us to live, love, bleed, bear, and forgive. And be willing to die for the beauty of the upside-down Kingdom.

Because resurrection belongs to those who choose the way of the Kingdom.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


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