A Prayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and
understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it.
Jesus, Matthew 21:43
Was Jesus a nationalist? Was he a patriot? How did he view the nation and the state authority, and how did he respond to their demands? How should his disciples respond? These are among the questions addressed in this chapter.
The utterance above suggests that the Kingdom of God was a major determinant of Jesus' attitude toward the nation. The Kingdom was a primary theme of the Logos (or Word), and as such deserves much attention in any analysis of his message. I will therefore give it detailed consideration in a later chapter; here it is only necessary to discuss it in a limited way as it relates to Jesus’ view of the nation. One should first realize that when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, he was not introducing a new term. On the contrary, it was among the most common ideas and was fundamental to Jewish nationalism. The Old Testament prophets often wrote of it, and the Jews drew their views from the prophetic texts. The general view was that God would send his Messiah to restore the Davidic monarchy. He would, of course, deal appropriately with their Roman conquerors. The national agenda of the Jews therefore looked to the restoration of the monarchy of David in all its glory and world power. First, the Messiah, then the consolidation of the people in his cause, then they would proclaim him king. He would command the scene, ejecting the Romans and proceeding to extend the sway of the Jews over the world.
Thus did their zealots envision the Kingdom of God in its coming on earth. Jewish nationalism, therefore, focused on the hope of the kingdom. Jews often spoke of the coming of the Kingdom, for which they fervently prayed. Certain people devoted themselves to praying for the Kingdom and seeking the Messiah so as to join his fight against the Roman rulers. Such persons were said to be "seeking the Kingdom" (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51).
Jesus was only one of many messianic figures. Therefore, those who were seeking the Kingdom compared the many claimants to messiahship to establish which was the Messiah (or Christ). Jesus also spoke often of the coming of the Kingdom, and he urged his disciples to pray for this wonderful event (Matthew 6:10). He urged on them the task of seeking the Kingdom much as the others were doing. He therefore shared with the Jews this intense interest in the messiah, the coming of the Kingdom and the devotion to seeking it. It appeared that Jesus was exactly what the nation sought – a messiah who would bring the Kingdom. Many felt they had good reason to think he would respond favorably to their expectations of him (Acts 1:6), but this he did not do. Why? Because the Jewish nation, although rightful heir to the Kingdom, had utterly failed to qualify for it. Therefore, as Jesus said, the Kingdom was to be taken away from them and given to another nation that would produce the fruits of it.
What is this other nation (Matthew 21:43)? Luke presents a discourse of Jesus on the care for earthly things that includes the following utterance:
Another NationAnd do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his Kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom (Luke 12:29-32).This "little flock" of disciples, to whom God only is Father, constitutes the other nation to which the Kingdom is to be given! It will differ from every other in that its citizens seek first the Kingdom instead of the necessities of life on earth. The citizens of this "little flock" are few, and they follow Jesus as sheep follow the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14, 27).
There will come a day when he will gather all nations for final judgment. This will include not only all the nations of the world, but also the little flock. There, he will separate them the one from the other as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats – an individual, person-by-person selection. Then he will say to those at this right hand, the sheep:Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34).They alone will hear this who devote themselves to seeking first the Kingdom instead of food and clothing, in contrast to "all the nations of the world." It appears that they had not convinced Jesus that they qualified, for in the same context he issues a stinging rebuke, calling them "O men of little faith."
There are therefore now two categories of nations: "all the nations of the world" and "the little flock." Historically, God called the Jews out from all other nations and gave them the promise of the Kingdom of God if they should bear the fruit of the Kingdom. They failed; therefore he took the Kingdom from them and gave it to the "little flock." The Jewish nation then became but another of the large category. Jesus excluded them from the Kingdom on two grounds: first, they sought the things of this life like all the others; and second, they did not bear the fruit of the Kingdom. He instructed the little flock to seek the Kingdom in contrast to the large category and he promised that they would receive it.
The Two National Categories
Is this "new nation" composed then of only a few from the larger Jewish nation? (At this point most and possibly all his disciples were of Jewish origin.) No. Jesus expects this new little flock of a nation to be enlarged by the addition of other sheep that are not of the Jewish fold. Consider this utterance from John's Gospel:Other sheep have I which are not of this fold. Them too I must bring, so there will be one flock, and one shepherd (John 10:16).All the nations of the world are distinguished individually by ethnic considerations. The new nation cannot be so distinguished since its individuals have their origins in one or the other of the other nations. Its distinction therefore requires a new ethnicity that will simultaneously free its citizens from the old one. Jesus created this new ethnicity by the command:Call no man on earth ‘Father’, for you have one Father, who is in heaven (Matthew 23:9).Then he pounded the nail home with the command to hate "father, mother, brother, sister, wife, and children" (Luke 14:26). I have already explained how he set the example for us; how he replaced the old relatives a hundred fold by a new set of relatives characterized as those "who do the will of my Father" (Matthew 12:50). Thus, a new spiritual ethnicity, rooted in the direct bond to God as father, dissolves and replaces the carnal human ethnic heritage. Jesus, through his Word, is the mediator of this new ethnic bond. All who share this bond belong to the "little flock" that is the nucleus of a new nation. The Spirit (not the flesh) therefore bonds the citizens of this little flock of a nation and they assert their identity accordingly.
A New Ethnicity
People who respond to the call to belong to the little flock come, like Jesus, out of a nativity associated with nations of the world. They are no more participants in the nations of the world, nor do they wish to be. Their separation is effected both by a change in their personal loyalty and by the response of the world: hatred. Jesus experienced the intense hatred of the nation. In this he served as an example for his disciples. He had taught that they were to be hated by all nations. Therefore there is no nation that does not hate his disciples (Matthew 24:9). He always chose his words with care. Whenever he said, "all nations," he meant exactly that. Also, of this we may be sure: whoever is not hated by all the nations of the world has no part in the little flock. Jesus said expressly that such would be hated by all nations. This, then, becomes a criterion by which we evaluate our hope of sharing in the inheritance of the kingdom. Remember his word:You shall be hated by all nations (Matthew 24:9)We change our personal loyalty because we no longer have much in common with the nations. We share neither father, nor family, nor treasure, nor quest, nor life, nor friend, nor enemy. He cancels the loyalty of the first nativity and replaces it with a new one arising from a second nativity. Thus patriotism centered in one's earthly nation, becomes a focus of evil. We are no more patriots in the national sense, for patriotism means "fatherism," and we have supplanted the old fatherism, which focused on the fathers of the nation and the progenitor fathers with a new one focused on the Father in heaven.
This second nativity is nothing less than the new begetting that Jesus made essential to seeing the Kingdom of God. It was to Nicodemus that he said:
The New BegettingTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is begotten from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).This new begetting acts in precisely the same way as the old one, in that it provides one with a new parentage, a new family, a new nation and a new citizenship. Every relationship arising from the first begetting is replaced by the new relationships arising form the second, or new begetting. There is only one close family relation that does not arise from the new begetting, which is the spouse. It is no surprise, then, that this is the one relationship not replaced by the new ethnicity provided by Jesus. Within the new ethnicity, God is the new and only Father; those who do his will are the new mother, brother, sister, son, and daughter. The new nation is the little flock, and the new citizenship is that in the little flock, or more fundamentally, citizenship in the Kingdom of God, since it is to the little flock that the Kingdom is given.
Now, this new begetting is to be distinguished from the old or first begetting by being "of the Spirit" rather than of the flesh. Jesus proceeded to answer Nicodemus’ question, "How can a man be begotten when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be begotten?" by saying:Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is begotten of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is begotten of the flesh is flesh, and that which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes, or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is begotten of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).Still not comprehending, Nicodemus responded, "How can this be?"
Jesus rebuked him saying,Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?This rebuke implies that Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand. And if he could, we can also. Nevertheless, this "begotten from above" experience is widely misunderstood and misinterpreted throughout Christendom. How are we to understand it?
First, there is no begetting without a seed. What then is this seed that produces a begetting of the Spirit? The seeds are the words of Jesus, for in his parables Jesus identified the seed as the word that, like seed, is broadcast in the world. Furthermore, he equated his Word with the Spirit. He said:
The SeedIt is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:63).From this it is clear that to be begotten of the Spirit is to be begotten of his Word – and this occurs when we receive his Word. It is precisely as he said to those "Jews who had believed in him,"He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God (John 8:47).It is also clear that the words he refers to as "the words of God’ are those specific words issuing from his own mouth.
Therefore, the key to the new begetting is the reception of his words into our hearts. Those words are the seed that, if received, enliven our hearts and produce the begetting of the children of God.
One of the great errors of Christendom, and especially of the fundamentalist sects, is the practice of encouraging new believers to seek an "experience" as testimony to the fact of rebegetting. This event, they think, needs to be manifested in some dramatic way. One needs to be overcome by emotion, to be possessed by euphoric mood, to speak in tongues or at least to feel the sudden rush of the peace of God into the soul.
Assurance of the New Begetting
Yet Jesus said nothing about the necessity of such experiences. Can you remember when you were first begotten? Neither must you remember exactly when you were begotten of the Spirit, since it is not necessary that it be marked by emotional manifestations. We must be begotten from above, but he said nothing about feeling it. The mark of the new begetting, in the message of Jesus, is one thing and one thing only:He who is of God hears the words of God.What assurance does anyone have of the new begetting? If you can receive the words of Jesus, if you continue in them, you have been begotten of God; you are "of God." There is no other valid test of the new begetting. The outward manifestation of this must primarily be one of attitude and conduct, as you turn from following the ways of the world to live by those principles enunciated by Jesus. Will you feel different? I would hope so, for surely one must feel better when bitterness and hatred have been replaced by love and compassion and when one's wasted self has confidently found its purpose!
My sheep hear my voice.
That is the key to the Kingdom, and the door of admission to the little flock, that new nation with a spiritual ethnic heritage that produces new relationships and new citizenship. This radical transformation, which is nothing less than a rebegetting, must also effect a new attitude and disposition toward those relationships of the world, including the national ones.
What was Jesus’ attitude toward the nations, the non-Jewish ones and that of the Jews?
Jesus' Attitude Toward the Jewish Nation
His attitude toward non-Jewish nations was non-Jewish, which greatly contributed to the animosity he experienced from his countrymen. Consider, for example, the early discourse delivered to the inhabitants of his native village, Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He began this message in a well received manner so that there was immediate acclaim. Then, in the space of a few moments, he converted them into a blood-thirsty mob intent on destroying him. He did this by reference to incidents in the experience of Elijah and Elisha in which God's prophets preferentially ministered to non-Jews (Luke 4:25-27). To Jesus, the Jews were but one nation among many, distinguished primarily by their gross hypocrisy. That he could sustain his position by reference to their prophetic scriptures only infuriated them the more.
As another example, consider the temple cleansing incident. He rebuked the Jews he found there, saying,It is written, my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers (Mark 11:17).In Jesus' view, God had from the beginning given special status and attention to the Jews. He considered them his "vineyard" and placed them under his care and protection, but they had not produced the desired fruit. In the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), Jesus presents himself as the advocate and last hope of the Jewish nation. The Father had given them up as barren but he had interceded, and his presence among them as the "vine dresser," digging and fertilizing, was a last effort at redemption. But very early he concluded that they were hopeless. He foresaw the impending destruction of Jerusalem and the nation. Their rejection as a nation was complete and final, and was because, as Jesus also said,
. . . you did not know the time of your visitation (Luke 19:44).
Once Jesus had reached this conclusion, the Jewish nation became for him but one among many nations of the world – perhaps worse than others due to hypocrisy and to their failure to produce fruit. Henceforth, if the Jews were to again be related to the Father, they must seek it as individuals in the same way as individuals from every other nation – by admission to the little flock. Thereafter he focused on the task of redeeming a remnant from the national failure, one whose members would be the charter members of this little flock. He conceived that its numbers would always be few (Matthew 7:14; Luke 13:23-30), but would expand to include individuals from all the nations of the earth (Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29). It would be different from them, though, in that it would bear the fruit of the kingdom for God. It would seek first the kingdom instead of the necessities of physical survival. The latter was the focus of the efforts of the nations of the world, including the Jews. This new nation, composed of people whom the Father included according to his judgment of each individual, would be hated by all others (Matthew 24:9).
If the kingdom agenda of Jesus had resembled that of the Jews, the Davidic Monarchy definitely would have been restored. However, it was not God, but Satan, who had promised him all the kingdoms of the world. Thus this was a temptation which Jesus had already overcome so as no more to consider it. John tells us how, when the people were persuaded by his wondrous signs and were intent on taking him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself (John 6:15). Soon his early popularity began to sour as the result of this and similar action and he became the object of growing animosity that he did nothing to counter. On the contrary he continued to utter strong words of rebuke which only fueled the fires of their passions. Finally the day came when all, yes, all, forsook him and fled, leaving him to the Jewish rulers to fulfill his prophecy of them, that they would kill him.
He refused to involve himself in national affairs and took no position on the public issues of his time and nation. I hasten to say that this does not imply a lack of concern. He was concerned to the point of tears when he envisioned the fate of rebellious Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). Yet he did not involve himself with words and deeds designed to rescue the nation from Roman domination.
Jesus made himself the prime example, for the sheep of the little flock, of how to relate to the nation. First, he accepted all national entities, neither saying nor doing anything designed to alter, overthrow or otherwise change the realities of the national status quo. The prominent Jewish leaders, who maintained their positions by collaboration with the Romans and who had much to lose from radical changes in the world, misinterpreted his motives and thought he meant to attempt a revolution. These are the ones who feared that his activity would cause "the Romans to come and take away our Holy Place and our nation" (John 11:48). They brought the charge of sedition against him before the governor, but no proof was forthcoming and Pilate resolved to release him (Luke 23:16). That they were unable to back their charge with convincing evidence strongly suggests that Jesus never engaged in seditious activity. It was the multitudes of the Jews who were fired up with sedition – the Jews whom Jesus at one point avoided by retreating into the wilderness when they attempted to force the scepter upon him.
So Jesus inflamed the Jews, seeming deliberately to court their hostility. Then he went on to condemn all the nations of the world because of their quest for earthly things (Matthew 6:32; Luke 12:30). To his disciples, the new nation, he issued a command designed to redirect their aspirations from that of other nations, saying:Do not lay up treasure on the earth,, and . . . do not be like all the nations in seeking what you shall eat and what you shall drink and what you shall put on (Matthew 6:19,31,32).We see then how it was that Jesus lived within his native nation as a stranger and an alien. His goals, interests, and national agenda as Messiah were so radically different from theirs that death dealing hostility was inevitable. They looked for a Kingdom of God on the earth as it was in the days of David and Solomon, but he taught his followers to pray for the coming of God's kingdom on the earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
Jesus accepted the national distinctions that exist everywhere. He affirmed the legitimacy of the existing authorities, both Jewish and Roman, while knowing that these same forces would conspire to put him to death. Of the Jewish rulers he said:The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you but not what they do . . . (Matthew 23:2,3).Then he moved on to say to those same Scribes and Pharisees,But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matthew 23:13,14).To the Roman governor, Pilate, he said:You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above . . . (John 19:11).He said this knowing that Pilate was about to authorize the Jews to crucify him. He also accepted the authority of the Romans to collect tribute, in the confrontation with the Pharisees on this subject (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25).
He concluded this latter incident with one of his most definitive utterances about the proper response of his followers to the worldly authority. The Pharisees and Herodians were seeking to lure Jesus into a seditious public statement. They guilefully asked him if it was lawful (from the Jewish perspective) to pay tribute to Caesar. Of course, the collection of tribute is the prerogative of conquerors, but its payment is always onerous to the conquered, and especially to the Jews. Posing this question, publicly, constituted a shrewd effort at entrapment, for it appeared that any answer he might give would be damaging. If he responded positively, he would lose support from Jewish followers. If he answered negatively, he might be charged by the Roman officials with sedition. If he responded evasively with some neutral comment, both results might well follow. Then Jesus deftly turned the thing against them.
The Tax and Image QuestionsShow me, he said, the money for the tax (Matthew 22:19; Luke 20:24).They presented a coin and he asked them,Whose likeness and inscription is this? (Matthew 22:20; Luke 20:24).They fell into his trap, and answered, "Caesar's." He responded:Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's (Matthew 22:21; Luke 20:25).He dumfounded his enemies by dramatically focusing on this principle. The Jews, following the Genesis account of creation (Genesis 1:26), ardently professed that man bears the likeness of God, having been created in his image. They may not have drawn from this the logical conclusion that man is the exclusive possession of God because he has the stamp of God's image upon him. So Jesus thrust the truth upon them in a way that was intellectually undeniable, using the coin as an example. For as the coin belongs to Caesar, it is right to render it to Caesar; and as the man belongs to God, it is right that man renders himself to God. The common element in each case is that both bear the likeness of their respective creator-owner. It follows immediately that, since man thus belongs to God, he does not belong to Caesar. It is as wrong for him to render himself to Caesar as not to render to Caesar his tribute in coin of the realm. Had the Roman representatives of Caesar been quick witted, they would not have liked these words, for Caesar definitely laid claim to lordship over men. This was his primary claim! Instead, they focused on the subject, tribute, and so missed the clear implication. Jesus surely denied Caesar, or any national government, any legitimate claim on the persons of human beings. The same extends to his successors into the Twentieth Century and beyond, even to the end of the world.
He gave another commandment appropriate to the Roman tribute collection:Give to him who asketh thee . . . (Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:30).Jesus always maintained his perfect consistency by never making any claims on mammon (money, material wealth), and by giving all their dues. Here, the same principle applies as for fathers, for with them it is also a case of an absolute either/or concerning earth, Caesar's locale, and heaven, God's locale. He spoke of "all the nations of the world" (Luke 12:30) as one category. He singled out the two closest to his immediate experience (the Romans and the Jews) for special affirmation of their authority and right to rule and collect tribute and taxes. He commanded submission to the rulings of the scribes and Pharisees because they "sit on Moses' seat." He affirmed the emperor's appointed governor, Pilate, as one whose power was from above. Yet Jesus did not approve of the actions of any of the governing powers. His order to other Jews regarding Jewish rulers was to do as they say, but not as they do. Then he entered the most terrible, harsh judgment against them: hypocrisy (Matthew 23:2,13). He urged on his disciples a conduct and quest far different from that of all the nations of the world whose peoples spent themselves in the quest of food and drink.
The Roman presence was the major public issue in the Jewish nation. Suppose, by way of analogy, that Germany had won World War II and that today, after forty years, all of Europe and America was host to German troops and forced to pay tribute to Berlin. That is the condition that existed, but Jesus would do nothing to change it, though he could have done so.
The Roman Presence and the Agenda of Heaven
Some may respond: "Jesus did not act to establish Jewish independence because he is the Messiah, and as such was bound to follow heaven's agenda. The church, however, lives in the real world of the Twentieth Century and our calling is to preserve the freedom that he won for us."
The facts are correct, but the conclusions faulty, because I have never read where he taught his disciples to do anything other than to follow him. Of course, this results in their following him while he follows heavens agenda, which has not changed so as now to embrace revolutionary activity. The Roman taxation was a hot public issue that he refused either to support or oppose. When they publicly challenged him to take a position, his only response was one of acceptance coupled with a deeper insight into underlying principles (Matthew 22:15-21; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-25). For Jesus it was not an issue, and there is strong reason to think he never broached this or any similar subject. You see, public issues such as this all center on earthly values, interests, and goals, whereas the focus of Jesus’ interest is heaven, and he instructed his disciples, saying:Do not lay up treasure on the earth, where moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break in and steal. Instead, lay up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:19-21).If Jesus' heart were not in heaven, he would have been a poor one to teach others!
Jesus came into the Jewish nation intending to bring them into the coming Kingdom, but they rejected him and his words and therefore failed to qualify. He then extracted a faithful remnant, defined as a new nation, the little flock, distinguished by the fact that they receive his words. The citizens of this nation seek, with Jesus, to follow heavens agenda as opposed to those who follow the agenda of the nations of the earth, and to them the Kingdom is to be given. In consequence, the new nation is to be hated by all nations of the world. He accepted the legitimacy of all the earthly authorities, but condemned their actions. He was among them all, including the Jewish nation, as an alien and a stranger and he described the final judgment as a separation of the little flock from other nations of the world as that of sheep from goats. He presented the most fundamental principle of how to relate to the state in the discussion of payment of tribute to Caesar. He established a new ethnicity for the new nation, for those begotten from above through receiving his words, by calling on them to commit to the exclusive Fatherhood of God, to render themselves exclusively to God, and to seek spiritual, heavenly goals instead of earthly treasures.
How should we relate to the nation? Are things different in America today because we live in a representative democracy?
No, nothing has changed, because the principles of Jesus are founded on the eternal realities of the Kingdom of God, which are absolute and unchanging, and because the world and its nations always remain fundamentally the same. We who would be his disciples are aliens and exiles in this world, whatever the nation. This is not bad, for if we have truly received his word we are begotten from above into a new nationality and our citizenship is in heaven.
Jesus accepted all national entities and did nothing to overthrow any of them. This must mean that they are ordained of God for this world. We must also accept all nations and do nothing to overthrow any of them. The disciples of Jesus are submissive to authorities. We pay taxes and abide by all laws that are not contrary to the law of Christ, which consists of the commandments expressed in his words. But we do not have Caesar's image upon us, and therefore we do not belong to Caesar, or to the state, whatever that state or nation may be. We do have God's image upon us, and therefore we belong to God and his Kingdom. As Jesus said, we are not of this world, and therefore we cannot be citizens of any nation of this world. It follows that we have none of the benefits that are peculiar to citizenship, and none of the rights that accrue exclusively to citizens of the nation. The disciples of Jesus are most emphatically aliens in this world, all the more so because, unlike most aliens, they can never become citizens. Our nation is the little flock, our loyalty is to the Kingdom of God, and our citizenship is in heaven -- now and forever.
Note:John 3:3 and 3:7 are the author's translations. These differ from the RSV only in the expression "begotten from above" that replaces "born anew' in the RSV. "Born anew" does not represent the fullness of what Jesus is stating here, and does not correspond to the literatal translation of the Greek, anothen (ǻnwqen).
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