The Political Jesus

What I am doing here is to look at Jesus' life as if he were a religio-political leader and seeing what fits.
In science one puts together a theory and then tests it against the data.
One then adjusts the theory in an effort to make it more precise.
I am not advocating that this is the 'true' picture of Jesus, it is simply one working template which could give us insight into him.

Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist (Or was he?)

... while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven, "You are my son, today I have become your father."
Luke 3:21-22 (quoting Psalms 2:7).

You might notice I am quoting a variant of the text.
Many scholars believe it is the original since it is more controversial.
The text was likely altered to conform with the other Gospels rather than imply Jesus became God's son.

The First Temptation of Christ

After Jesus' baptism, he is driven by the Holy Spirit out into the wilderness (desert) where he is tempted by Satan (the "adversary").

... the devil showed him [Jesus] in a moment of time all the kingdoms of the world and said to him,
"I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms,
for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose.
Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours."
Luke 4:5-7

Jesus refused of course, but I am struck by the way Satan parallels the Roman Emperor.
Who else controls "all the kingdoms of the world", gives them to whom he wants and wants to be worshiped as a 'god'?

John the Baptist arrested

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God.
"The time has come," he said "and the kingdom of God is close at hand." Mark 1:14

John's arrest put things into motion.

Jesus 'political' message

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth; it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword." Matthew 10:34
"Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:39
"I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already!" Luke 12:49
"Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division." Luke 12:49

Jesus said. "In truth I tell you. there is no one who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children or land for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and land ... now in this present time and, in the world to come. eternal life. Mark 10:28-31

Jesus said to them [the Twelve Apostles], 'In truth I tell you, when everything is made new again and the Son of man is seated on his throne of glory, you yourselves will sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or land for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times as much, and also inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:27-30

He [Jesus] said to them, 'In truth I tell you, there is no one who has left house, wife, brothers, parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive many times as much in this present age and, in the world to come, eternal life.' Luke 18:28-30

It seems strange to me that Jesus would be promising a return of a hundred times as many 'houses' and 'land' in this world to anyone who follows him.

John's arrest would have created a leadership vacuum Jesus could step into.

It is possible Jesus' first aim was to organize a rescue force to free John.

Eating with sinners

Jesus recruits his first disciples in Mark 1:16.

Later, Jesus recruits Levi, a tax collector and eats dinner at his house along with other tax collectors and 'sinners'.
He is criticized "... for there were many of them among his followers" Mark 2:15
Presumably, these were the money people Jesus would need to support his movement financially.

Simon the Zealot

Jesus selects out his Twelve Apostles from among his disciples.
It seems amazing to me that one of them should be referred to as "Simon the Zealot". Mark 3:18
The Zealots were a radically anti-Roman, Jewish resistance group.

The Gerasene Demoniac

At one point, Jesus confronts a man possessed by many demons:

Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice,
"What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God?
Swear by God you will not torture me!"
For Jesus had been saying to him,
"Come out of the man, unclean spirit".
"What is your name?"
Jesus asked.
"My name is legion," he answered, "for there are many of us."
And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.
Mark 5:1-20

Instead Jesus cast them into a herd of swine which charge down the hillside into the lake and drown.
It seems possible this is really talking about driving the Roman legion out of Israel.

The Mission of the Twelve

Jesus sends out his Apostles " the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 10:6
...I am sending you as sheep out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves." Matthew 10:16
If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. Matthew 10:22
I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. Matthew 10:23

In our political model, these could be viewed as "advance men" preparing the way for Jesus as he moves toward Jerusalem.

The Loaves and the Fishes

Jesus feeds his followers miraculously with only the few loaves of bread and the few fishes they bring with them.

This happens twice in Mark 6:30-44 and 8:1-10. Matthew also has two 14:13-21 and 15:32-38. in both Gospels the first is 5000 and then 4000 men.

Luke 9:10-17 has only one with 5000 men, and John 6:1-13 also has only one and only mentions a crowd.

Only Matthew mentions the additional presence of women and children.

If we adhere to our political model, one cold imagine Jesus and his tax-collector money men, having prearranged food along the way for his followers.

Variations, and the women and children, could be later embellishments.

King Herod and Jesus

Meanwhile King Herod had heard about him [Jesus], since by now his name was well known.
Some were saying "John the Baptist has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him".
Others said, "He is Elijah"; others again, "He is a prophet, like the prophets we used to have".
But when Herod heard this he said, "It is John whose head I cut off; he has risen from the dead." Mark 6:14-16

I am not sure what this verse is really telling us.
Why would people think Jesus is someone else risen from the dead? Why can't he just be Jesus?

Now one day when he [Jesus] was praying alone with his disciples he put this question to them,
"Who do the crowds say I am?". And they answered,
"John the Baptist; others Elijah; and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life".
Luke 9:18-19

In the text this is the set up for Peter's confession of faith; that Jesus is the Christ.

The Imminence of the Kingdom of God

And he [Jesus] said to them [his disciples],
"I tell you solemnly, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power". Mark 9:1

This may be a very important verse in explaining why Jesus movement survived his death and resurection.
We will note later that the revolts in the late 60's AD are at the limits of this generation.

For us the Kingdom of God is the Church on earth, but in the Jewish mind of the times it was the re-establishment of Israel brought about by divine intervention.

Jesus must die

After Jesus raises Lazarus from the grave, some of the Jews ...
... went to tell the Pharisees what Jesus had done.
Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting.
'Here is this man working all these signs' they said 'and what action are we taking?
If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him,
and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.'
One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest that year, said,
'You don't seem to have grasped the situation at all;
you fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people,
than for the whole nation to be destroyed'.
John 11:45-50

From that day they were determined to kill him. John 11:53

Clearly the opponents of Jesus saw his movement as a political threat.

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(c) 2004 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.