Saying, “Jesus is Lord,” is a Political Statement

As a minister and pastor committed to social justice, I am often criticized. Interestingly, the criticism does not come from the world. Rather, it comes from fellow, conservative ministers and pastors. The criticism usually goes something like this: “Kevin, you should simply focus on the gospel, and preach the gospel. Keep politics out of it!” As if there is zero relationship between the gospel and politics.

In reality, the gospel is extremely political. The gospel is not, and should never be, associated with a certain political party or political power, but the gospel is political! Jesus was political. He claimed that with His entrance into the world came “the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15); and He boldly proclaimed, “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Simply put, Jesus was not executed for being a nice guy that went around helping people, healing people, and raising people from the dead. NO! He was crucified because He claimed to be a King with a higher authority then the Roman Emperor. Yes, I understand that ultimately, He was crucified as a sacrifice for our sins. But the Romans had no interest in what Jesus was spiritually. Only what He claimed to be physically; i.e. “the King of the Jews.”

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Romans 10:9. I like it because of its brevity and clarity. I quote this verse almost every Sunday at my church during Communion. The Apostle Paul, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Usually, we have taught that to confess “Jesus is Lord” is to ask Jesus into your life and to completely commit ourselves to Him. I have even said to make Jesus Lord is to “make Him the boss of your life.” All of that may be true, but that phrase, “Jesus is Lord,” go far beyond a simple commitment. In the context of Paul’s day, not only was it a confession of faith; it was also a political statement!

In Jesus’ day, and in Paul’s day, and throughout the first century of Christianity, a popular saying among the Romans was, “Caesar is Lord.” In a very real sense that simple phrase was the “pledge of allegiance” in that day. Every good Roman citizen proudly proclaimed, “Caesar is Lord!”

By the time John wrote Revelation, not saying, “Caesar is Lord,” could get you killed. Consider John’s letter to the church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11).

Ancient Smyrna was a city of considerable wealth and commercial greatness. This city claimed to be the Glory of Asia. Smyrna was home to several temples to Greek gods, including Apollo, Aphrodite, and Zeus. As an important, wealthy, powerful city, the people of Smyrna would look with “contempt on the poor and humble Christians and would despise them as of no importance.”[1] As a result, it was dangerous to be a Christian in Smyrna because Smyrna was steeped in Caesar worship. Caesar worship started as pride for one’s country, a type of nationalism that believed the Roman Empire to be the greatest empire in the world. Rome was the super-power of that day, and to be a Roman citizen meant being in a privileged position. The one person that symbolized the greatness of Rome was the Caesar. What was once simply adulation to their leader, became worship of Caesar as a god become man, sent to earth to bring peace and prosperity. In places like Smyrna, once a year, every citizen was to offer an incense sacrifice to Caesar, and say the words, “Caesar is Lord.” After doing so, they would receive a certificate stating they had made the sacrifice and said the pledge of allegiance. Without that certificate, without that mark, a person could neither buy or sell or participate in any form of commerce. Say that pledge, make that sacrifice, receive that certificate, and then you could worship any god, and worship any way, you pleased. But if you did not say that pledge, or make that sacrifice, you would be ridiculed, mistreated, and possibly imprisoned and killed. To the believers in Smyrna, Caesar was the Beast referred to later in Revelation, and this certificate was the mark of the Beast. If you did not have this mark (this certificate) you were destined to live in poverty, and threatened with persecution, and prosecution, every day.

So, for the first believers, like those in Smyrna, the confession of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” was also a political statement that said, “We stand in opposition to the political powers. We have pledged our allegiance to Jesus, not Caesar.”

For the early Christians, a “patriotic Christian” was a contradiction of terms. A couple of years ago, I attended a conference where one of the speakers asked, “Are you an American Christian, or are you a Christian that lives in America?” Biblical Christianity is the latter.

_______________________________________

NOTES:

[1] William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, 2001. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, p. 16.

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About Pastor Kevin

I am a husband, father, pastor, teacher, scuba diver, reader, bike rider...in that order.
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