It has been my conviction shared in many conversations that Jesus did not directly confront the Roman empire. Instead, his focus was on Israel, their failure to repent and follow God, and the judgment they were under, thus Rome.
Consider this famous passage in Mark 12
13 Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words.14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.”16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”“Caesar’s,” they replied.17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”And they were amazed at him.
John 18:33 Pilate went back into the palace and called for Jesus. He said, “Are you the ‘King of the Jews’?”34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you this about me?”35 Pilate said, “Do I look like a Jew? Your people and your high priests turned you over to me. What did you do?”36 “My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”37 Then Pilate said, “So, are you a king or not?” Jesus answered, “You tell me. Because I am King, I was born and entered the world so that I could witness to the truth. Everyone who cares for truth, who has any feeling for the truth, recognizes my voice.”38 Pilate said, “What is truth?” Then he went back out to the Jews and told them, “I find nothing wrong in this man.”39 It’s your custom that I pardon one prisoner at Passover. Do you want me to pardon the ‘King of the Jews’?”40 They shouted back, “Not this one, but Barabbas!” Barabbas was a Jewish freedom fighter.
The conflict of two Kingdoms
It is not born out of this world but out of somewhere else. The only proof Jesus offers may be tailor made to catch Pilate’s attention, a Roman baptized in violence and power — if it were from here, my followers would be fighting to free me. As Christ’s kingdom does not originate on/through worldly systems, it does not use the violence of the world to defend itself.
Not the powerful.
Not the mighty and violent.
What is Truth?
As Ravi Zaccharias says, it’s a shame Pilate didn’t wait for the answer. I for one would have liked to hear what Jesus said in response.
Here’s how I interpret Jesus’ response: truth is bound up in Jesus, the incarnation, and His mission. The two are inseparable. To properly understand truth we have to understand the mission and purpose of Jesus’ life.
Truth is not created but discovered as we pursue Christ and join Him in the great mission — the mission of restoring the world to God’s created order setting what’s wrong to right, and being willing to sacrifice in the process. I am fully persuaded that if you listen to Jesus’ voice, you too will come to know this truth.
Give us Barabbas, the freedom fighter.
In their pursuit of freedom, in their pursuit of throwing off Roman oppression, in their pursuit of being the people God called them to be, they were more than willing to sacrifice Jesus.
Give us the freedom fighter—the one trying to establish God’s kingdom through violence. That is the choice they made.
Are we still making that choice?
If so, know this, Jesus and His followers will continue to choose the cross that swallows up violence, the cross that publicly shames the principalities and powers. The cross that turns the world upside down.
But if you insist on that choice, you will still be trapped inside the world system that is being judged.
Make a choice.
Jesus or the freedom fighter. You can’t have both.
Check out these other posts about great conversations in the Bible.