In the early part of this past summer I posted a note on my personal Face Book page asking the question, “Was Jesus a revolutionary?” Since that time, NLI Ministries has been launched, and I wanted to make this “article” available to those who regularly interact with NLI but do not know me personally. During the seven months since I originally posted this article there has been increased interaction between ecclesiastical and political groups, Christians and secularists alike are joining together calling for revolution. Everywhere you turn, Christians are starting movements or “yoking up” with secular movements because after all, Jesus was a revolutionary. What is the definition of revolution? And, after examining the definition of revolution, can we honestly assert that Jesus was a revolutionary?
Here are the definitions of revolution:
1 a: (1): the action by a celestial body of going round in an orbit or elliptical course; also: apparent movement of such a body round the earth (2): the time taken by a celestial body to make a complete round in its orbit (3): the rotation of a celestial body on its axis
b: completion of a course (as of years); also: the period made by the regular succession of a measure of time or by a succession of similar events
c (1): a progressive motion of a body around an axis so that any line of the body parallel to the axis returns to its initial position while remaining parallel to the axis in transit and usually at a constant distance from it (2): motion of any figure about a center or axis revolution of a right triangle about one of its legs generates a cone> (3): rotation 1b
2 a : a sudden, radical, or complete change
b: a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed
c : activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation
e: a changeover in use or preference especially in technology <the computer=””>revolution> <the foreign=”” car=””>revolution></the></the>
While I tend to regard 1b & c1 as possessing a far more interesting application to Jesus, would be revolutionaries tend to hone in on 2: a, b, c, & d.
Perhaps the best way to determine if Jesus was a revolutionary is to consider definition 2: a, b, c, & d, and then decide whether or not these definitions are applicable to Jesus during his earthly ministry.
2A): a sudden, radical, or complete change-
Did Jesus bring about a sudden radical and complete change? Spiritually speaking, the death of Jesus on the cross did bring about a sudden, radical, and complete change; but, did He bring this kind of revolution in the natural realm? No, and that was part of the reason the Jews did not accept Him as Messiah. The Jewish messianic expectation centered on the concept of the conqueror which would come and “revolutionize” society. It was hard for them to conceive of the “suffering Servant” and Jesus constantly designated Himself as the “Son of Man” to redirect their messianic paradigm. What of the parable of the leaven and the mustard seed? The leaven seems like it should have no effect on such a large piece of dough, and the mustard seed is so small. Was Jesus not assuring His followers that although “you may not see it now, this kingdom I have inaugurated will continue to expand and grow?” It appears He was not the “revolutionary” the Jews were expecting.
2B): a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed –
Again, this aspect of revolution must be considered from both a spiritual and natural perspective. On one hand, the Lord did most definitely come to deliver man from the dominion of Satan, sin, and self; but, He left both the religious system of the Jews and the Roman government intact. The Jews expected the messiah to overthrow the oppressive government that ruled them and install them as the chief nation; once more, Jesus was apparently not the “revolutionary” they had in mind. (Remember Barabbas)
2C): activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation –
This may be the most controversial aspect of our present discourse. Did Jesus set out to fundamentally change the socioeconomic situation of His day; and if so, should we as Christians endeavor to do the same? One has only to examine the teachings of Christ to see that He was indeed interested in the poor and the oppressed.
“And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, ‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED…’”
If He were speaking in reference to socioeconomic conditions it would appear that our Lord did fail miserably. When He ascended to the Father, He left behind many poor, blind, oppressed people. Jesus even stated, “You will always have the poor with you…” He called the poor and suffering blessed on many occasions. It appears that Jesus viewed socioeconomic factors differently than most of us do.
We tend to think that if we, eliminate poverty, put a Christian in every government office, change all the unjust laws and “revolutionize” the present society we will further the kingdom of God. Jesus knew it was the heart of man that needed to be changed. Poverty, oppression, injustice, etc… are not conditions that will be changed by revolution, rather, it is by the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of the kingdom of God in the hearts of men that will cause men to love one another as they love themselves. Think about it, abortion was illegal for a long time; but, abortions were still being performed. Drugs are illegal; but people still abuse them.
When one examines the life and teachings of Jesus, it is apparent that He sought the change in man’s heart over the change of socioeconomic conditions. When the heart changes, the conditions change. Revolution?
2D): a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm <the Copernican=””>revolution> -</the>
In regards to this aspect of revolution, one could contend that Jesus was indeed “revolutionary”. He constantly asserted, “You have heard it said; but I say to you…” He offered to the Jews a new way to see their religious laws. He put forth a new way to see our fellowman. He challenged the concept of “neighbor”. He broke the rules when it came to fraternization with minorities. These are but a few of the ways Jesus challenged the “norm”.
I maintain that while Jesus’ earthly ministry obviously possessed revolutionary characteristics, He was not, by our definition, a revolutionary. He did not seek to destroy the Jewish law; on the contrary, He fulfilled it. He did not seek to overthrow the Roman government; on the contrary, He taught that one should love His enemies. The focus of His ministry was on establishing the rule of God in the hearts of man. It would seem that Jesus viewed the socioeconomic, political landscape as a backdrop against which the light of the life of the kingdom of God would be expressed through the lives of His disciples.
Jesus is not Patrick Henry or Che Guevara, and we are not called to join a “movement”. We are called to the cross, to the preaching of the gospel, and to the laying down of our lives. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you.” (II Corinthians 4:8-12 NASB)