Once there was a very proud nation that had been richly blessed by God. The nation’s founders had enshrined allegiance to the one true God within its laws. Furthermore, the nation’s children were educated to study, respect and adhere to their nation’s founding values. This nation had once fought mighty battles, conquered enemies and become very powerful, but now there were many problems in the nation and the people were worn down and tired. Some said this, and some said that, and there was much division among them.
Worse, the nation now had to deal with a challenging new evil – political power was now held by those who did not hold to the same values as their forefathers. Laws and customs that went against much the nation had formerly held dear had been introduced and enforced. So, the religious leaders of the nation worried and pondered what to do. They reminded the people of their long and proud history and told them it was their duty to keep to the old laws and never forget they were a people chosen by God to be a great beacon to all other nations. The people looked anxiously for a deliverer and whispered to one another that one day he would surely appear. Some of them banded together to form secret groups calling for armed resistance to the new politics they abhorred. They encouraged each other that when the right leader arrived, he would re-establish the old ways of the forefathers and make their nation great again.
One day some of the people gathered before the place of government where very important national decisions were made. The religious leaders among them set about stoking their anger and the people became very agitated. They loudly demanded that one of their great heroes famous for his brave acts of resistance be pardoned and freed, and another innocent man put to death in his place. It mattered not to the angry patriots that their hero had committed murder and other violent acts deserving of justice, for they were blinded into great fury over the denial of their proud national identity and could no longer see to choose wisely or discern truth from lies.
The nation did not live happily ever after.
Though the parable above may sound as if it was taken straight from today’s headlines, this true story actually describes the political and spiritual atmosphere that was present in Israel at the time of Christ’s crucifixion.
Three vital human components made up the perfect storm that concluded in the execution of Jesus: misguided religious zealotry; ambitious political power; and fanatical patriotism. Let’s briefly consider each one of them:
The Priests: Variously described in the gospel accounts as Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Teachers of the Law, Elders, Chief Priests, Sanhedrin and Council, these were an elite priestly class wielding enormous influence over the Jewish population. Knowing the scriptures as they did, how is it they not only missed their Messiah but were complicit in putting Him to death? There is a crucial key in the High Priest’s statement in John 11:49-50:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.”
Caiaphas, their High Priest leader, had been appointed by Rome. In order to maintain the status quo and continue enjoying their comfortable elitism, it was vital for him and the other religious rulers to negate the growing influence of Jesus over the people. Caiaphas and company believed their nation’s very survival was threatened by Jesus and His claims of a coming new Kingdom (Jn. 11:47-48). To them this Jesus was a growing danger, and they wanted Him gone. The idea that He could actually be the coming One their ancient texts pointed to does not seem to have been entertained by them.
In order to remove Jesus permanently they needed the alliance of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate would be forced to act if they could convince him that Jesus was a genuine threat to Caesar’s authority over the nation. Intense nationalism – survival of their nation at any cost – was their highest motivation. Hence the very explicit accusation, mixed with a deliberate lie, they levelled at Jesus before Pilate:
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.” They fully believed in ridding the nation of Jesus they would be doing God (and themselves) a favour (Jn. 16:2).
The Politician: Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, was interested in Jesus only in terms of his own political advancement or otherwise.
It is doubtful Pilate would have become involved at all if it weren’t for the crafty accusation by the priests that Jesus intended to set up His own kingdom, opposed to Caesar’s indisputable authority. In the highly competitive world of Roman hierarchy the governorship of Judea, considered an undesirable backwater of the Empire, was not rated very highly. If he ever hoped to advance in rank and obtain a more important posting, it was vital that he suppress any possible Jewish insurrection and keep the population subdued and peaceful. Any failure on his part to prevent an uprising would not be viewed favourably by Caesar and would almost certainly end any prospect of political advancement for Pilate. His motivator was personal ambition.
The Patriots: The patriotic crowd, swelled by travellers visiting Jerusalem for Passover, had been stirred up by the priests who needed to ensure Jesus’ execution. It was the custom of the Governor to pardon one prisoner as a political favour each Passover, and Pilate, unconvinced of Jesus’ guilt, offered to pardon Him. In response the crowd, led by the priests, demanded instead the pardon of well-known resistance leader Barabbas, and the crucifixion of Jesus.
The crowd’s endurance had been sorely stretched as year after year they watched their proud nation suffer under the cruel yoke of Roman colonialism. What they wanted was a hero – any hero – one who could lead them in a revolt against the Romans and restore the sovereignty of their nation. Furthermore, they believed God was on their side, for weren’t the religious leaders there right among them spurring them on?
After all, this fellow Jesus with His mad sayings and little band of disciples could not possibly set up their long-awaited Kingdom. Some whispered He consorted with a Samaritan woman, alone. There were rumours He had asked people to eat His flesh and drink His blood. He had said He was greater than Moses, and that He would destroy their temple and then rebuild it in three days, hadn’t He? No, give us Barabbas who we know, not this fellow who not even our religious leaders believe. Their motivation was fanatical national pride along with false hope fuelled by anger, lies, rumours, and popular conspiracies. (Matt. 27:20-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-25; John 18:28-40)
Man-controlled institutional religion, political ambition, an angry crowd demanding their rights – this combination could not ever represent the coming of the Kingdom of God. It didn’t then, and it doesn’t now.
I have previously written extensively concerning what the Kingdom of God looks like. Here, here and here may be good places to revisit. But ridding ourselves of any confusing myths about the Kingdom of God is also vital in this hour. So, what does the Kingdom not look like?
*It is not tangible. The Kingdom is wholly spiritual and not of this world, therefore is not embodied in any human institution such as government, royalty or church (Jn. 18:36; Rom. 14:17; 1 Cor. 15:50).
*It doesn’t look like our church. Nowhere does scripture equate the Christian church with the Kingdom of God. The role of the church is to act as priests in the Kingdom and to advance the spiritual atmosphere of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ on the earth (Matt. 11:12; Rev. 1:6; 5:10).
*It doesn’t look like our nation. The Kingdom is not a democracy, governed by people. It is a theocracy, governed by the King. We don’t get to vote in the Kingdom, instead we are invited into it by being born again of the Spirit of God. Spirit and flesh never mix (Jn. 3:3-6; Luke 12:32).
*It does not need human assistance to establish it. Human beings, however good their intentions may seem, do not build the kingdom through politics, religion or any other means. The Kingdom is not built, it is bestowed (Luke 22:29).
*It cannot be seen, but it must be sought (Luke 17:20-21; Matt. 6:33; Luke 12:31).
*It is not an enhancement to our ’christian lifestyles’’. Our lifestyles must change to accommodate the Kingdom (Matt. 6:33).
*Greatness in the Kingdom looks different to greatness in the world (Matt. 18:4).
*It is not associated with any human prowess, political power or national might, but is experienced through tribulation (Acts: 14:22)
For over two centuries Christians have been praying the words of Jesus, “Your Kingdom come”. If we are not merely paying lip service, then everything that takes precedence over our King and His Kingdom – our religiosity, our politics, our opinions, our traditions, our excessive national pride – must give way now to the ever expanding coming of the Kingdom of God. It is time to let go all compromise with false Christian religion and seek the Kingdom, for whether we are ready or not, it is coming. It is also time to understand that the world and the institutional church always have and always will resist the coming of the Kingdom.
Seeking the Kingdom first is costly. But it is worth whatever it may cost.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2021 and beyond. Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.