Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 20, 1966
NUMBER 24, PAGE 11b-12

Christ And Revolution

Dale Smelser

The ultimate social-gospeler has lost all his desire and expectation of life hereafter and has turned his efforts and religious institutions to reforming society into a Utopia, using the pressure of demonstrations to obtain legislative reform if necessary. He pictures Jesus Christ as a social revolutionist and challenges others with such slogans as "Christ would be marching, why aren't you?"

Was Jesus that kind of revolutionist? The scriptures and history explode this concept. He was born in the midst of revolutionary fever, yet had no part of it. The hated Herod the Great ruled Judea for Rome at the time of his birth. Among Herod's many unpopular acts was the erection of a temple to replace that built by Zerubabel. Though a magnificent-structure, its entrance was defiled by the image of an eagle symbolizing Judah's enemy and master, Rome. Numerous conspirators of plots on his life were put to death. After his death a rebellion was marshaled against his successor Archelaus, who then slew three thousand Jews during Passover and slaughtered more as the rebels gathered again on the following Pentecost.

During the youth of Jesus rebel bands took form all over the countryside. One notable leader was Judas Gaulonite. The authorities in response crucified two thousand rebel Jews and sold thirty thousand into slavery. When Tiberius became emperor of Rome the tension was abated somewhat, but that rebellion was fomenting may be seen in that one of Christ's disciples, Simon, had been a Zealot before following the Lord. The Zealots were a rebel group using violence and assassination in an effort against foreign influence. The criminal Barabbas was one of a group arrested for insurrection wherein there was killing (Mk. 15:7). Everywhere was the struggle for independence whether by violent means or pacific, everywhere complaint of inequity and the anticipation of deliverance and the Deliverer.

What an opportunity for a social revolutionist! Yet none of the efforts of Christ were rebellious nor could they be considered as a confrontation with the power structure of the Roman government, not even the unjust trial to which he submitted. At no time did he lead an organized demonstration or practice civil disobedience. His triumphal entry was spontaneous praise. Once in the city, note his purely religious aims; he cleansed the temple of its defilers. The service of God was his specialty. If he had been a demonstration leader, surely Pilate would have known more of him and been glad to get his hands on him. Yet Pilate attested his innocence until intimidated by the mob.

The confrontations of Jesus were with the corruptors of his Father's worship, his enemy that which corrupted the souls of men. So contrary to his mission was social reform and political rebellion that one has to go outside the scriptures to learn extensively of the strife that abounded. His word makes only occasional passing reference to it. Were Jesus and the scriptures of human invention, it would be inconceivable that they did not deal with and capitalize upon these burning contemporary issues which were foremost in the minds of the vast majority. This must be considered a factor in the Jews' rejection of him. They were not interested in a spiritual kingdom necessitating conversion, but a physical king and kingdom to assuage their desire for earthly power.

Let today's socio-politic reformer clergyman make of the following what he will. Christ obviously did scorn the man whose chief purpose in life was to amass money and luxuries. And he did promise blessedness for the meek, the mourning, the poor in spirit, and those persecuted for righteousness' sake. But he did not promise the poor that the rich would provide them social or monetary equality. Is demanding such being any less covetous than the unrighteous rich whom Jesus condemned?

It must be noted then that in spite of the tense atmosphere surrounding him, Jesus took no part in the Jewish movement for national liberation, either violently or non-violently, but advised the Pharisees to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's" (Mt. 22:21), quite unlike modern clergymen counseling rant strikes. He taught that suffering wrong was preferable to committing wrong (Mt. 5:38-42). In one of his parables concerning future reward, workers in a vineyard complained that those who had worked only one hour were paid as much as those who had toiled all day. The master's answer? "Is it not lawful to do what I will with mine own?" (Mt. 20:25). The stand of social-gospelers for labor reforms finds no confirmation here. Jesus came not to end material poverty, for he recognized that "ye have the poor always with you" (Mk. 14:7). Or as another has colorfully stated: "Jesus did not come to take the people out of the slums, but to take the slums out of the people."

Jesus sought a reform without which all others would be only superficial and transitory. He came to cleanse the soul, and the human heart from selfish desire, cruelty, and lust. He did not seek to establish a perfect society and temporal government consisting of all beings on earth, but for those who would separate themselves by his word from the sins of society unto his kingdom he said, "I go to prepare a place for you...I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (Jn. 14:2-3).

Because of the sinfulness of man here, social reform merely results in class ousting class and exploiting in its turn. Man's mistreatment of man is only alleviated to the extent that individuals are converted to Christ or apply his precepts.

Jesus was not a social revolutionist. His doctrine is directed at the soul, not the legal system under which people live. His truth is to prepare us for eternity. There is going to be misery here; let us visit those in distress as we have opportunity; but our mission as Christians is to get ourselves and others to heaven. If we do that, what great matter our brief lot here on earth? If we fail, what vanity our social triumphs!

The modern church with all its social and welfare agencies, its emphasis upon recreation, and its involvement in temporal affairs and political issues does not constitute the religion of Jesus, the Anointed, the Son of God! Let not the social-gospeler defile the character of Christ by claiming him as their example. If they want to teach men love, integrity, and justice, well. But if they want to hate their enemies, abuse and intimidate, let them leave Christ out of it.

(History Reference: Durant, Will, The Story of Civilization; Part III, Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944. pp. 528-574.)

-Box 95 Zion, Illinois