Christ and Caesar

Satan offered Jesus unlimited political power to achieve his messianic mission if only he accepted him as his overlord. 

Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash
Satan tempted Jesus by offering him political power over “
all the kingdoms of the world,” but he refused the offer. Instead of power and grandeur, he submitted to the way of the ‘Suffering Servant.’ Arguably, the most startling detail of the encounter is that he did not dispute the Devil’s claim to have jurisdiction over the political systems of the world - [Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash].

Christ was “driven” into the wilderness by the Spirit to be “tested.” The event was instigated by God. And in the wilderness, Satan tempted him in four ways, the greatest of which was the offer of unlimited political power - (Matthew 4:8-11).

IN THE WILDERNESS

The Devil took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the “kingdoms of the world (kosmos) and their grandeur.” He was offering him more than just sovereignty over the Jewish nation. “World” or “kosmos” can refer to the entire physical world if not to the creation itself, the ‘Cosmos.’ Effectively, Satan offered him the “kingdom of God,” the very thing the Messiah had come to inaugurate.

In the version of the story in the gospel of Luke, the Tempter boasted that he would give Jesus “all this authority” if he acknowledged his sovereignty, and he declared that “it has been delivered to me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it.”

Jesus did NOT call him a liar or dispute his right to dispense political power, which almost certainly he would have if the Devil did not have this right. And if Satan had received this authority from a higher source (“it has been delivered to me”), that could only be God. Most likely, behind his claim was the fall of man. His “right” or rulership over humanity was the consequence of Adam’s sin - (John 12:31, 14:30).

To acquire such awesome power, Jesus had to “render homage” to the Devil. The Greek verb denotes the sense of giving homage or allegiance to someone or something, and not the modern western idea of “worship” in a religious sense. Thus, to gain universal sovereignty it was necessary to acknowledge Satan as his overlord.

MESSIAH

Whether Jesus felt tempted by this offer the passage does not say. But considering that the “Spirit drove him” to be tested and that Satan made this offer, the gospel writers must have considered this a real possibility. Likewise, pointing out that Jesus was “hungry” after fasting forty days indicates that the earlier temptation to turn “stones into bread” was all too real.

After all, Jesus was the Messiah appointed to reign over all the earth. But how could the Davidic king reign over the rebellious nations without the military and economic powers of this world’s governments? Was it not his destiny to subdue and rule over the entire earth? (“I have set my king on my holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession” – Psalm 2:6-8).

Effectively, Satan offered him a shortcut to his God-ordained position, a way for him to avoid suffering and death on a Roman cross.

But imagine all the good he could accomplish if he held Caesar’s throne and commanded his legions! With the military and economic might of Rome at his command, would not righteousness quickly prevail across the empire? Surely, if ever there was justification for the resort to State power this was it. Who better to wield the imperial might of the empire than the Prince of Peace?

SUFFERING SERVANT

But rather than bow to Satan by resorting to the political methods that dominate the present age, Jesus submitted to the path of the Suffering Servant. In the Kingdom of God, true victory is achieved through self-denial and sacrificial service to others, and “greatness” is measured in acts of mercy, especially to one’s enemy.

Contrary to the messianic expectations of his contemporaries, and in defiance of Satan’s offer, Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and became “obedient unto death.” And it was because of this choice that God exalted him to reign over the Cosmos and gave him the “name, which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” But Golgotha must precede ascension and glory.

DISCIPLES

The disciple of Jesus is summoned to adopt this same mind. Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus:
  • Who being in the form of God, counted not the being like God a thing to be seized, but poured himself out, taking the form of a slave, being made in human likeness; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross. Wherefore, God highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth” - (Philippians 2:6-11).
Institutional Christianity has a long and sordid history of mixing Church and State. The temptation to use political power to impose “right” beliefs and reform society is too great. But sooner or later, to advance his kingdom through the political means of this age ALWAYS necessitates the resort to the coercive power of the State.

We need to take seriously the scriptural portrayal of political power as part of Satan’s domain. If the Devil works behind the political scenes in this world, and if the possession of political power necessitates giving allegiance to him, and since Jesus himself refused to do so and instead chose the way of the cross, should we not follow his example? Are we not called to render homage to Jesus as our Lord and King rather than Satan? And should we embrace what he rejected?



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