Jesus and the Most Explosive Political Argument of His Day

The following is a section of notes from Dr. Schreiner’s course “Theology of the New Testament.” This was a fascinating quote that he pulled from Günter Klein (who was a Bultmannian, so read through that lens). Still, there is much to agree with in his view, especially for many Christians’ political agendas in our time. Note the bold highlights (me), and the way that Jesus treated the “most explosive political question of his day.”

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Jesus did not believe kingdom could be inaugurated by human agency, contra the Zealots (Mark 4:28).

Jesus focused on individual repentance, not corporate repentance. Note Günter Klein, Jesus “projected no socio-political programs, he did not demonize the structure of society . . . and he did not call for revolution.”

“This is not to say that he was for a moment blind to the repressiveness of his day” (403-404). “He warned of the dangers of riches and power. But he did not call for an attack upon the structures of his day. Instead, he called for the payment of taxes, even to Caesar.” In this command “Jesus sovereignly declares as irrelevant what apparently was the most explosive political question of his day; he even goes so far as to downgrade it to a trifle by referring to God’s proprietary rights. But it is precisely God’s claim which makes us aware that his rule will not prevail by man changing any kind of structures but only by man changing himself and by preparing him for God’s coming” (404).

Locating evil in social structures “conflicts with Jesus’ proclamation which so uncompromisingly located evil in man’s heart” (415). It is not the transformation of social structures but the message of the gospel which “puts an end to man’s self-idolatry and frees him for a new obedience” (416). Individuals have been transformed, “but can it ever be said of a structure that in it Satan has been overthrown by Christ” (416)?

“This is not to give the false impression that the condition of the world is unimportant. To the contrary ‘the conversion of the individual as such brings about changes within the world.’” (417). It does not agree “with the exuberance of some ranting revolutionary to build the kingdom of God. It seeks change because it has perceived God’s mercy, yet it knows full well that changing structures does not bring salvation any closer.” Revolutionary ideology “leads to that fatal misunderstanding which says that Christ is gathering ‘the dispossessed so they together might overthrow the mighty.’ What here is laced with Christian terms and so unashamedly ideologized is the very opposite of love and would only succeed in perpetuating human conflict” (pp. 417-418).

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See New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas R. Schreiner for more of his view on the Kingdom of God.

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