As we approach voting time, many people will vote according to their faith. Who knows – some may even vote according to their resistance to any faith. There’s a perception (justified or not) that religious people, especially Evangelical Christians tend to vote for the republican ticket.
Seems like a good time to see what Jesus had to say about the government in His time.
Before looking at what Jesus said, let’s look at a little history of the period.
The Romans took control of Jerusalem in 63 BC. starting with that, we have a number of significant events:
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So – it’s against this backdrop that we take a look at the three years of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and what the political climate was at that time.
What they wanted: From the Nelson Study Bible, we see what was desired for in their Messiah (or deliverer of the Jewish people):
In the first century, the Jews looked for a Messiah who would deliver the nation from Roman domination, become their King, and rebuild the nation of Israel to its former glory. By looking for a military deliverer and a political Messiah, the Jews minimized the messianic roles of prophet and priest. Thus many Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah because He came as a humble spiritual Savior and not a conquering political ruler.
Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Mt 26:54). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
But – what they got:
Jesus indicated that He was the King for whom the Jews were looking. However, His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly kingdom.
Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible: New King James Version (Mt 26:54). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
Oops. Not quite a match. Actually – not even close.
But it was even worse than that, at least from the point of view of the Jewish leaders. Witness this exchange between Jesus and the Jewish leaders from Matthew 22:15-21 –
Paying Taxes to Caesar
Mt 22:15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Mt 22:18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
Mt 22:21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Mt 22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Uh Oh! What kind of leader who’s going to overthrow the Romans would say something like Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Something surely went wrong there. How is this man (Jesus) going to get His people out from under the oppressive burden of the Romans? Not only does He not want to go to war with them, He even says to pay the crushing taxes. By the way, you may have noticed from the timeline, if the people didn’t pay the taxes (or not enough taxes), the Romans would raid the Jewish Temple and take gold and silver from there – which was a major desecration of the Temple. And Jesus says to just pay the taxes!
Sounds really bad, right?
But wait. Let’s look at timeline again. Specifically, look at the second to last line – the one where it says Emperor Constantine converted and became a Christian. Yes – it’s the Roman Emperor Constantine. And yes – it was the Romans who considered their emperor to be god. This Roman Emperor who was “god” converted and became a Christian! And then look at the following year. In the year 313 he issues an edict legalizing Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. This same Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at a location believed to be the site of Jesus’ tomb for the three days before His resurrection. Looks like Christianity just “overthrew” the Roman Empire?
What happened to the war? What happened to the violence involved in overthrowing the tyranny of the Roman government? How could this happen? This Jesus – apparently was the Messiah who was going to free His people. It just didn’t happen the way or in the time frame they expected (wanted).
There are a number of examples to show that God raises up rulers, both good and evil, for various purposes. When people turned away from him in the Old Testament, they would get evil rulers. Sometimes these men would be from their own people. Sometimes they would be overthrown by another King. But when the people turned back to God, He would save them from these same evil rulers that He had previously put over them. For example – when the Israelites started following pagan practices, God raised up the Evil Pharaoh we read about in Exodus. When the time came, God brought in Moses to free His people and take them to the Promised Land.
One of my favorite prophets was Habakkuk. In his short little book (only three chapters) he questions why God is taking so long to do something about the evil in the world. He even has the nerve to ask of God is listening!
Hab 1:2 How long, O LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Hab 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Hab 1:4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
You’ve got to like someone who can be honest enough with God to talk like that! And yes – God does appreciate honesty. After all – it’s not like he doesn’t know already how we feel. He most certainly does know – He even knows better then we’re maybe willing to admit to ourselves. So why not tell the truth when we talk (pray) to Him? Anything other than total honesty is lying. Lying to God! Why do that? Just be honest, like Habakkuk. Tell Him what you feel. I do – and that’s one of the reasons I like this book so much.
And then it gets better. God answers! And check out this answer!
The LORD’S Answer
Hab 1:5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
Hab 1:6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwelling places not their own.
Hab 1:7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
<the description goes on, but I think the point is made.>
You have to love this. Habakkuk is asking God – “where are you?” And God responds – “You think I don’t care? Well, just watch this! I’ll show you who I am and that I do care!”
But – even after this – Habakkuk has a second complaint. And God answers that one as well.
Did I mention that God likes honesty? You’ve got to believe it after reading this wonderful book in The Bible.
After the second exchange, Habakkuk says a prayer to the Lord, modeled after one of the Psalms. Here’s the beginning of his prayer:
Hab 3:1 A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. On shigionoth.
Hab 3:2 LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
and it ends with:
Hab 3:19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
For the director of music. On my stringed instruments.
What a response. We should respond like that. And did you notice – For the director of music. On my stringed instruments. It’s a song! Not some boring, quiet prayer of very solemn and “churchy” words. It’s a song!
Aren’t we all like Habakkuk though? We look around – just like He looked around. And we see evil taking over – just like Habakkuk did.
But here’s the difference.
Habakkuk didn’t get to vote for his king. Nobody did. They got the king that was able to conquer them. And he was their king until someone else killed him. Then they would be king – until someone killed them. And on and on. But look what it says. God raises up those kings – the “good” ones as well as the “bad” ones. In Habakkuk we see God saying He’s going to raise up the Babylonians to conquer His own people – because they have turned to evil. But after a time – when they turn back to Him – He will bring them out from under the yoke of their conquerors. The bottom line message – the one for which Habakkuk says his prayer – the one for which he says The Sovereign LORD is my strength – is that God is in control.
Combine this with the message from Jesus – Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
Both of these say, essentially – trust in The Lord. Turn to Him. Keep on His path. He is in control.
This is a tricky message here – so I have to be sure I say it in a way that it’s understood.
People in Habakkuk’s time and in Jesus’ time couldn’t vote – had no control over their leaders. The clear message from God to Habakkuk was – trust me – I’ll take care of it. The message from Jesus – trust me – give to God was is God’s, but also give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But trust me. In all cases – the oppressors of God’s people were overthrown. You can go back through history to verify this. It’s happened over and over again. To some extent, we (as individuals) are not able to control who our leaders are. God is. When it’s time for His people (after Jesus’ time, that would be all of us) to learn some lesson because we turn away from Him – He will take appropriate action. When we return to Him – the same is true – He will take appropriate action.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying don’t vote.
What I am saying is – by all means vote. But remember what Jesus said – Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
What do I mean by this?
Well, think back to Forgiven,the opening page for an earlier site. For Christians – what is it that belongs to God when we vote? What is it that we’re to “give to God”?
I think too many Christians get way too emotional about certain issues related to the government. Let’s just take one – abortion. (Nothing like taking one of the most emotional topics to make the point.) As a Christian – I believe it’s wrong. However – at the same time, I don’t think it’s any more appropriate for me to try to force anyone else into my point of view than it was for Jesus to force the rich man in the parable to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. If you’re not familiar with that parable – Jesus did not force him to sell everything. He tell the man that selling everything was the answer to his question – but Jesus didn’t force the man to do it. And – even though he refused to sell everything and did walk away from Jesus – Mark 10:21 records that Jesus looked at him and loved him. Is it any different in the abortion issue? As a Christian – I can make known my belief, based on the way I interpret the Bible. But what is it that gives me the right to force everyone else to live by what I believe – even if it is from God (according to my understanding)? What gives me the right to do something that Jesus Himself didn’t do?
Isn’t this the very thing that turns non-Christians off about us? And how are we supposed to tell people about the Good News from God – how are we supposed to tell people that they can be forgiven – if they don’t even want to listen to us? How are we supposed to See to it that no one misses the grace of God when we not only can’t talk to many non-Christians, but for even the ones that will talk to us – we maybe have the wrong message? Where’s the message of forgiveness in telling everyone going into a Planned Parenthood (for example) facility that they’re going to Hell? Would it not be more forgiving to support them afterwards – be there for them if / when they are troubled by what happened – and be there to let them know that God loves them and forgives them?
On a related topic – for those that refuse to vote for someone who supports abortion because they don’t want their tax dollars going to fund abortions – consider what Jesus said. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Think about what this sentence meant at that time. The Romans were tyrants over the Jews. They were killing them. And shortly after that, the Romans turned their sites on the Christians, with methods of death that are unbelievable. People think the death penalty is cruel today – how about back then when they were taking Christians – hanging them up on poles – and setting them on fire to provide light at night. How’s that for cruelty? And guess what. Those Romans soldiers who did those things – they were paid with tax dollars collected from the very people they were killing! And still, Jesus said Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. If God didn’t hold it against the Christians and Jews for paying taxes to Caesar, who was killing them – why would one think He’d hold it against us for paying taxes to a government who was using them to pay for government sponsored abortions? I don’t see it happening. Let me also ask – is it more important that we fight about not paying taxes for this type of thing – or is it more important that we avoid putting ourselves in the position where these same people that we think we’re helping by the refusal to pay taxes – by the emotionally destructive way in which it’s done – they won’t talk to us about the message that God really wanted us to get to these very people? How have we accomplished our commission from God by doing that? Are we showing His grace – or merely our lack of our own grace?
I’ve been there. I was also like that. But – I know it’s not really the thing to do these days, but I have to say I now feel that was wrong. Very wrong. I feel like I was letting God down being like that. I was letting down His people – some of you who are reading this now.
There are certainly things to vote for – or against – depending on our views. But – are we to try to do the work of God ourselves – or are we to vote on the things that are the work of Caesar? I submit that we are to vote on the things of Caesar. Trust God to take care of the others. He has a way to make His message clear – as we saw in Habakkuk – in a way that we never could. But the other things – things like national security at a federal level – whether roads get built at a local level – these are examples of the things of Caesar. Would we really vote against someone who would do badly needed work that the government is intended to do (after all, government is a structure given by God) just to avoid voting for someone who wanted to fully fund planned parenthood? Would we vote against someone who supported research to cure cancer, because that person also supported legal abortions? And if we do that – how are we to get God’s message out to the people we’ve alienated in the process? Remember – it’s not our message that’s most important – it’s God’s. There are things that God put us in control of – and there are things He kept for Himself. Remember these things. And maybe most of all – remember that God loves all of us.
Remember His message to Jonah. After Jonah went to Nineveh (in what is currently Iraq) to proclaim God’s love for the people there – people who were not Jewish – and Jonah was upset that God didn’t kill all of them – this exchange took place between Jonah and God at the end of Jonah 4 –
Jonah’s Anger at the LORD’S COMPASSION
Jnh 4:1 But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jnh 4:4 But the LORD replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jnh 4:5 Jonah went out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. 6 Then the LORD God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine. 7 But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the vine so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
Jnh 4:9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?”
“I do,” he said. “I am angry enough to die.”
Jnh 4:10 But the LORD said, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
God told Jonah not to be concerned about the vine – the little thing in life. He should have been concerned about the 120,000 people in Nineveh – as God was concerned about them.
If you’re a Christian – don’t be like Jonah. Be concerned about the big thing – be concerned about the people – God’s people. And not just the people who are just like us – but all of His people. His message to us is See to it that no one misses the grace of God.
If you’re not a Christian – it’s good to know what God’s message really is. It’s one of love. It’s one of forgiveness. It’s one that He wants you to hear. It’s For the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men.
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Someone’s at your door.