Jesus was very engaged in the local communities; constantly traveling from city to city, town to town, healing and preaching. People asked him all kinds of questions about social issues and expected him to do be this political force and king to lead them into a revolution against Rome and win them their freedoms and rights! But, what happened? What was Jesus political activism really like? What were his focuses of advocacy?
First and foremost, Jesus made it absolutely clear that The Kingdom of God takes precedent over any kingdom of earth (Matthew 6:33). And that God’s word is far more important than food and water (Matthew 4:4), he even stated this while fasting and being tempted by Satan. There is an order of importance when it comes to issues in this world (Matthew 23:23) which Jesus called out the Pharisees on. And in all these issues we face in the world, God should always, without compromise, receive the glory (Matthew 21:22). Jesus’ focus was not on Social Justice or political issue but on the Will of God alone (John 6:38), which as a result, did impact social issues. In some cases, it was the Will of God for him to address social issues, but the essence of this was for God’s glory to make God’s Will known in this world; and NOT to advocate for any one political party or any one worldly man-centered ideology. Jesus’ goals can be summarized in Luke 4:18-19 where his purpose (“anointed”) to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim the favor of The Lord. But remember, these are in the true context of God’s ultimate desires (1 Tim 2:4), God’s importance (Acts 3:6; Matthew 23:23), and God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31)- not mans. The goals are eternally focused, heavenly aimed; not worldly focused and earthly aimed. The “poor” are those who have been prevented from knowing and worshiping God. The “prisoners” are those who are imprisoned in their sins. The “Blind” are those who can not see God and see his will or his glory. The “oppressed” are those, much like the prisoners, are oppressed by their sins. The “Favored” are those who God has chosen to receive all these things. This is from a Heavenly, eternal, perspective of Jesus’ activism in this world. To understand how Jesus impacted Social Justice and Political issues we need to understand the social and political climate in his day.
Jesus fed and healed thousands but he valued more those who did not need food or health to follow him (John 20:29). Jesus even rebuked those who needed his miracles of food and healing in order to follow him (John 4:48). Social activism does not make someone righteous. Being highly involved in political activism does not make anyone more righteous. Paying more in taxes or donating large amounts of money to welfare programs does not make anyone more righteous (Mark 12:41-44).
The Political Climate of Jesus’ Day
Rome oppressed the Jewish people. The Jewish people oppressed the people groups who were not fully Jewish, the people of Samaria for example. The Jewish people willfully and purposefully segregated themselves from the gentiles (people who did not know the true God of Israel). Within the Jewish culture there were various religious/political factions or parties. The Scribes and Rabbis where predominately Pharisees in that they advocated for a strict following of The Torah, Jewish ceremonious and religious laws; and prided themselves in knowing the laws and all their small details. Then there were the Sadducees, the wealthy ‘priests’ who were not so much keen in following the strictness of the traditions and laws. The Essenes were more like the fringe charismatic sect of the Pharisees who absorbed many Persian and Roman beliefs. Then there were the Zealots who were the diehard patriots of Israel used violence against Rome to push for revolution and freedom from Roman rule. The Herodians were mostly focused on restoring the Herodian dynasty to rule the region. Most of these groups believed in a coming king and messiah that would help them achieve what they advocated for. Some of the revenue from the Temple would be given to the elderly and poor but even in this seemingly generous charity, there were its sinful human side effects of injustice. The Jews struggled with the willingness to pay Roman taxes. Healthcare and Employment was on an individual bases but helped by the family name and location of birth. was Discrimination, prejudice, systemic oppression, sexuality, religiosity, and state protest/ civil disobedience were common issues in that time.
How Did Jesus Address The Social Issues?
First of all, Jesus did not side with one political party. Jesus political affiliation was only and directly in line with God The Father’s will. He was however more harsh on those who were more religious and self-righteous in their systematic religiosity.
Though Jesus was primarily surrounded by Jews, selected Jewish disciples (Paul was a Jew), spoke in Jewish synagogues (not Samaritan synagogues), and mostly traveled to Jewish areas; he was NOT limited to only Jewish cultures and Jewish people. Jesus did state however “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 14:24), but still granted the Canaanite woman her request because of her “great faith” in Him. He healed a Roman Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10), traveled through the Gentile region of Gerasenes (Mark 5:1) and even ministered in a Samaritan city (John 4). To fulfill the prophecies about the Messiah coming to Israel, this statement is true, but also, other prophecies clearly showed he would also come for the whole world. Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 28:14 states that the everyone on earth would be blessed. Isaiah 11:10 states “In that day [Jesus’ day] the Root of Jesse [Jesus] will stand as a banner for the peoples [more than one people]; the nations will rally to him [more than just Israel], and his resting place will be glorious”. Isaiah 42:1-4 states “and he will bring justice to the nations” and “in his teaching the islands will put their hope”. John 3:14-18 is most clear. Though he came first to the Jews, his Godly activism did not stop with the Jews. Then, his final message to the Apostles was to go out into all the world. We see that Jesus did not favor one group of people over another. His ministry did not discriminate.
Some people will push that Jesus would advocate for universal healthcare. Before we assume to know what Jesus would and would not advocate for, lets first see what He did and did not do. As stated above, he freely healed. He went to places where people need healing and people brought to him those who needed to be healed. This is true. But, at the same time, no where did he ever advocate for the Jews to set up a healthcare system. No where did he protest the lack of a healthcare system by the local, regional, and dominate governments. No where do we see him expecting a earthly universal healthcare system for the Jewish people. His absolute primary concern was of the spiritual health, and used the physical healing to reveal a spiritual healing (John 9:3; Matthew 9:1-6). From this example of Jesus we see that spiritual health is greater than physical health (Matthew 10:28). The universal spiritual healthcare system is faith in Jesus and proclaiming the gospel; which, according to Jesus, takes president; but not neglecting the physical reality. Their healthcare system was far from good, in fact, the American Healthcare system treats far better than theirs did, yet, Jesus did not address their worse system if you want to call it a system. Jesus very well could have. He spoke about a lot of things, except for a tax payer funded universal healthcare system. To claim that Jesus would advocate for a Universal Tax Payer Healthcare system would be a false representation of Jesus and ignorance of God’s word- scripture. To push for a healthcare system and not to push for proclaiming the gospel is contrary to the example of Jesus.
Taxes and Government Welfare Programs
Some people will push for increase in Taxes to pay for more social welfare programs and claim that Jesus would advocate for this. Lets look at what Jesus actually taught in regard to Taxes. In Matthew 22:17-21 we see Jesus clearly state “And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” In other words, yes, it is our duty to pay the Taxes imposed by the governments. This is not an opinion, but a command to “render to”. Rome used those Taxes to fund wars and all kinds of immoral atrocities, even to aid in the oppression of the Jews. Of course Jesus knew this. He also knew that Rome’s taxes were oppressive. Jesus, is God, and God spoke through the Apostles too. In Romans 13:6-7, God spoke through Paul about this very topic. It is first important to note “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Yes, Paul is talking about oppressive, evil, discriminating, godless Roman authorities.
It is interesting to note that when the Jews kept their heads low and focused on their religious activities, Rome, for the most part, didn’t interfere. But when they became rebellious, Rome responded. When they did “what is good” like “render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s”, they were allowed to worship in their synagogues and conduct their seasonal festivals. This is NOT saying that they agreed with the cultural immorality of Rome or agree to Roman oppression. It IS saying that even though Rome was cultural immoral and oppressive, paying taxes was obedience to God and not Rome; because it was God who instituted the Roman rule as part of his judgement on the people for various reasons in God’s Will. God is just and DID bring his judgement on Rome for their sinfulness. But God also brought judgement on the Jews for their rejection of God’s ordained rulers. Loving God comes in the form of selflessness and self-sacrifice (Jesus, as the perfect example). This self-sacrifice includes submitting to oppression and seeking God’s glory in it, all the while knowing God will judge them for their oppression (Romans 13:4). Yes, Rome had government run Welfare. Grain and wheat were taxed, and then distributed to the poor. This was what helped Julius Caesar increase in popularity with the people. The taxes went to help pay the costs of attaining, processing, and distributing the grains and wheat. But in 410AD Rome was sacked and the welfare ended.
In Jesus’ example, we see him go to the poor personally. He did not tell his followers to just depend on the government to help the poor. His mission did not even account for the assistance of the Temple and the Roman empire. It was more like, let the government do its thing, but you, you help the poor personally- unrelated and separate from government programs. If politicians want to expand government programs and increase taxes to do it, that’s on them. If their systems become burdensome and more oppressive, God will judge them; but the followers of Jesus are expected to help the poor regardless of any government program. The church is obligated to help the poor regardless of any government assistance. Thus, how YOU serve the poor reflects YOUR love for God and your neighbor and has NOTHING to do with government welfare. To claim that Jesus would advocate for more government welfare programs is failing to see Jesus’ ultimate purpose. The weightier of matters is how YOU help all those God puts in your life and not just advocate for and pay into a welfare program do to the work for you.
This is a more sensitive subject but it takes an honest mind and heart to understand. First of all, it is important to realize the only thing we rightly deserve is a just punishment for our sin from the Holy God. That’s it. We deserve eternal separation from God. We have no “rights” before God himself. Even our bodies are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19)! And when we properly and REALLY know God, we quickly realize we are nothing more than dust and ashes, unholy, and not worthy to be in the presence of God (Genesis 18:27; Isaiah 6:5; 1 Tim. 1:15). However, because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are afforded one essential right; to give God what is God’s (Matthew 22:17-21)! We are empowered to do this, in faith in Jesus Christ, by loving God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-38).
When people claim they have some kind of right to Free Healthcare, Free Education, Employment opportunities, wealth, and happiness… they are, at their premise, worldly focused. People will feel ‘oppressed’ when they don’t have access to affordable healthcare, education, employment, and everything else they can think of, that they desire, but for some reason or another, are prevented or limited from attaining for themselves. The most freest faithful God glorifying follower of Christ can be an unhealthy, unemployed, uneducated slave; and he will be the richest person in the eyes of God, given the inheritance of God’s only Son- eternal life. Having never been afforded his worldly rights.
In Jesus’ day there were the Zealots who organized protests and riots against Rome. They, in their mind, were resisting Roman oppression and bringing awareness of this immoral oppression to the Jewish people. The Great Revot started around 66AD but the build up did not happen over night. This was one of several factors why the Jews turned their back on Jesus. They thought he was the coming King and ruler that would lead the Jews against Rome and free them from Roman rule. They failed to see what Jesus was freeing them from; their eternally offensive sin. Their hopes were crushed and their eagerness to resist Roman authority grew. Their protests turned into riots and their riots turned into armed revolts. This lead to Rome coming into Jerusalem in 70AD and completely destroying The Temple. Jesus, no where in scripture, took part in any protest, riot, or armed revolt against Rome. Jesus DID however violate Jewish (man instituted) laws. He healed and gathered food on the sabbath. It can be said he defied and protested man-made religious laws; but not Roman oppression. But what did Jesus teach that applies to systemic oppression?
In Matthew 5:38-44 we see what Jesus taught that directly applies to oppression. “…but I tell you, do not resist an evil person“. Whoah, wait a second, do not resist? How so? He continues “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also“. A backhanded smack on the cheek was a sign of insult, it was act of blatant disrespect. It was condescending and belittling. But the significant is the asking for a second hit, on the other cheek, from the other hand. That is asking for a straight up punch. That’s the point. You are presenting your self as an equal. This peacefully defiant message to the oppressor is that you are equal to them and they should treat you as such, even in this act. If the oppressor cowers and does not hit you with the punch, they realize that it is them who is an insult, who is disrespectful, who is an abuser and oppressor. Essentially, Jesus calls for his followers to peacefully but defiantly help people see where they are evil without becoming like the oppressor.
Jesus doesn’t stop there. “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In the Jewish legal system, the tunic was the most they could take from you. It was the maximum awarded to the accuser. Basically, the accuser wants to take the most from you. So, Jesus says, give him the most, plus your underwear. The cloak was the undergarment under the tunic, essentially, the undershirt. This act peacefully exposes the oppressive greed of the accuser. It turns the tables, from the society and culture seeing a accused delinquent to an oppressive greedy accuser.
Jesus keeps going, “if someone forces you go to with them one mile, go with them two miles“. Roman Soldiers would force Jews to carry their stuff. By law, they had to go a Roman mile. They were literally forced by law to serve Roman Soldiers by carrying stuff for them. But going an extra mile, flips the table again. That extra mile was a willing and free decision. It shows dignity, self control, and a free will, a freedom the oppressor had no control over. This peacefully exposes the oppressor that you are free and that he is the oppression.
Jesus teaches on, “give to the one who asks, and do not turn away from the one who wants to barrow from you“. When someone asks for something, if you have it, give it. No big deal. Its God’s property anyway. Everything belongs to the Lord, even all your stuff. But when someone, who is a user and is overly needy, wants something from you, give it as well. What they do with it, is on them. What you do when they ask is on you. This is not designed organized systematic form of giving. This is not talking about taxes and welfare programs. This is generosity, willful giving with no strings attached. It exposes the hearts of those who are oppressive, who covet, and who are greedy, which, when you do not turn away, isn’t you. The greedy turn away and want to hold on to all “their” stuff.
It was a common cultural saying to “love your enemy and hate your enemy” but Jesus again, flips that on its head. Jesus, speaking as Lord God commands “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you“. When we LOVE our “enemies” AND pray for them; we expose them and reveal our selves. We expose the evil in their heart and reveal the light of God for them and the world to see. Not just that, when we pray for them, we guard our hearts from becoming like them and keep ourselves focused on the Lord. If we hate our enemy, and our enemy hates us, we all look, act, and think the same. We all hate. But WE are the ones who break that cycle. We are the ones who reveal the righteousness of God to them and the rest of the world who watches. We love those who oppress us and pray for them. This exposes them for who they are, the oppressor. We show that even though they oppress us, we are still free to love and pray for them. A freedom that they can not oppress. We love because while we were sinners, Christ first loved us.
Jesus is our example under the shadow of systemic oppression. He was hated, oppressed, beaten, spit on, and murdered. Yet, he exposed all them, peacefully, boldly, and righteously. Col. 2:15 declares “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” THIS is why the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s-1960s was so successful. It greatly exposed the systemic oppression and made a public spectacle of them. But, at the same time, this is why in modern times the resistance to systemic oppression is not so successful. The activism has turned away from Jesus’ example and now we see people rioting and hating the oppressors. Sit-ins, peaceful marches, and kneeling expose the hearts and minds of the oppressors but rioting and speaking verbal hatred, no matter how subtle, expose the hearts of the oppressed- revealing them as no different from the oppressor.
Would have Jesus marched with Martin Luther King? He may have, but he would have joined the crowds for the purpose of healing and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of Heaven. His focus would have been heavenly focused. Would Jesus have sat with Rosa Parks? He may have. He routinely defied cultural norms. He sat and spoke with the Samaritan woman which would have been a questionable action in that culture. He for sure would have gone to racist churches and called them out on their hypocrisy like he did at the Temple, flipping tables. He would have openly and publicly spoke against racist pastors like he did to the Pharisees. Would he have participated in protests and riots of police brutality? No. That was already going on in his day. The Zealots were protesting and rioting against Roman oppression but there is no record of him attending or supporting anything of the sort. His entire focus was two things, proclaiming the kingdom of God and moving toward the cross.
Another hot button topic in political activism. First, we need to know how God defines “life”. Jer. 1:5 is a good starting point. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” And just like that, God reveals to us our personhood as a fetus and even before our formation. You are YOU as a fetus, and you are valued as a living person. It is God who forms us in the womb, a fetus, it is God forming YOU (Psalm 139:13-16). Even in Jewish Law, injuring a fetus, is the same as injuring a person; LIFE for a life (Exodus 21:22-25). This is not a culturally specific law or a ceremonial law; this is a moral law applicable to all people, at all times. The argument for abortion always comes with, “what about rape”, but the follow up question is, “how is that the life of the fetus’ fault?”. Abortion is not even necessary still, adoption, family care, and even the mother can still do exactly what God intended. The next argument is “what if the mother’s life was at risk?”. There are all levels of “risks” and that must we weighed with the family and God (James 1:5). Sacrifice the life of the person to potentially save the life of the mother is never an easy choice but one must always remember that the life in the womb is innocent and deserves a voice, just as much as we all do. We see that God shows that a person, is a person, no matter how small, stage of development, dependence on the parents, or where they are located (in the womb our out of the womb). With all that said; what Did Jesus say regarding children?
In Matthew 18:5, he make a very important statement “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me“. Because God sees the child in the womb, how does abortion welcome the child? Abortion is the most unwelcoming decision for a child. This exposes the oppressiveness of sinful man toward God. Abortion does not welcome the child, thus, it does not welcome Jesus. In Matthew 19:14 he said “Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these“. Abortion hinders them. Period. It is absolutely clear in scripture and according to Jesus (who is God, and wrote the OT) that abortion contradicts the nature and declarations of God. To advocate for abortion is to not follow Christ. To be a Christ like activist is to defend the life of the innocent from the oppression of sin and death.
This was, believe it or not, a topic in that day in age. The Roman culture was very sexual. Even Roman emperors had open and public same-sex attractions. We all know the OT reveals sexual immorality was anything outside of the marriage between a man and a woman, but what did Jesus specifically state in regards to sexual immorality (besides the fact that Jesus is God and he wrote the OT)? Jesus does two things; (1) He states ““Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female,” (2) and he validates the authority of the OT by quoting Gen. 1:27, 5:2; Gen. 2:24. He reinforces that a Godly marriage, which is not sexually immoral, is between a man and a woman. He continues and states that a man who divorces his wife for any reason besides his wife being sexually immoral, commits adultery, and adultery is sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:9-20). With this understanding in mind, we can ask, would Jesus support Same-sex marriage? That would be the same as asking would Jesus support sexual immorality. It is absolutely clear that Jesus would not.
Would Jesus participate in a Pride Parade? There are no accounts of Jesus going to the areas where prostitutes hangout or visiting any Roman brothels. The prostitute that he defended from being stoned, was not in a prostitution area, the Pharisees brought her to him. Secondly, he called her deed sin still (John 8:11). But, notice, he exposed the fact that they were all sinners, and not just her. There are many interpretations of what he was writing in the sand that made them back off. Some say he was writing the names of all the Pharisees who have also committed adultery, then asked which one of them is without sin. Regardless, he didn’t condemn her because he came to save her from her sin, yet, still called her a sinner. If he was to make his way into a Pride Parade, he would not shy away from calling sin, sin, and would not celebrate with them of their sin.
Would Jesus attend a Same-Sex wedding? Attending a wedding is an outward show of support. Because a Same-Sex wedding contradicts what he taught in Matthew 19:4, he would not support it and thus, would not attend a Same-Sex wedding.
Would Jesus advocate for LGTBQ civil rights? Yes and no. Not in the sense that we may think. First we need to keep in mind that we have no right over our bodies before God. The only thing we deserve is death, but that death is why he went to the cross. He would support the ability for LGBTQ community to engage him in a dialog about their lifestyle, as he allowed the Pharisees ask him questions. He may even go to LGTBQ events to engage in conversations, as he did with the Pharisees. If, anyone is openly hostile toward him, he would have no problem telling them where sin leads them, as he did with the Pharisees. But, if anyone is open to his message about HIS redemption and transformation he would lovingly explain the mysteries of heaven to them. The question, at the heart, is would he advocate for acceptance of sexual immorality? Clearly, he would not. But at no point would he be unloving toward anyone willing to understand. He would remain gracious and kind to those who are truly open to the truth.
When it came to his activism, he was personal. He addressed people at their level targeting their specific areas of need. He was harsh to the proud and self-righteous but loving and gracious to the lost and humble. He called for his followers to do the same. He had no expectation of the political system to reach the people. He did not use the political systems to address personal needs, spiritually or physically. He did not get involved in political systems or advocate for any one political ideology. His motives and agenda was focused on eternal spiritual matters. His goals were first to address spiritual issues of the heart and used material and physical means to achieve his priority goal; to save people from their sin. Was Jesus a liberal? In some sense, compared to that culture, yes. Was Jesus conservative? In some sense, yes. Would he be republican, democrat, or independent? Yes and no to all those. His activism transcended ideology and political parties. His ideology was God The Father’s Will, and his political party was The Kingdom of God. To reduce him to a liberal democrat or conservative republican is to apply on him what he was not. It would be a selfish man-centered attempt to reinvent who he is- and misunderstand him completely.
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