Uncovering the Political Heart of the Gospel

Uncovering the Political Heart of the Gospel October 23, 2018

Is the message of Jesus political?

For a long time my answer would have been an emphatic ‘no’. The gospel message was about our eternal destiny – making sure people believed in Jesus so they could go to heaven when they died. Politics may have been important, but it didn’t seem relevant to Christianity.

My understanding began to shift when I was given insight into the cultural, political and religious context of the Gospels – something I had never really been taught to consider. As it turns out, context changes everything.

The message of Jesus once seemed to be a call to leave this world behind. To spend this life persuading those around us to sign up and secure their ticket to heaven. The words are the same but the gospel I understand is now very different. The message seems far more dirty, radically inclusive and unmistakably political.


Let me explain by exploring the meaning of a few words and phrases central to the Jesus story.

Son of God, Lord: In the Roman world, the ‘Son of God’ was the emperor. By claiming divinity, the Roman emperor could assert his absolute authority and crush opposition. Similarly, ‘Lord’ was a title given to the emperor (coins across the Roman empire were inscribed with the words ‘Caesar is Lord’). By claiming these names for himself, Jesus was directly challenging the authority of Caesar and the Roman empire.

Kingdom of God: Nowadays we associate the word ‘kingdom’ with fairy stories more than politics, so it’s not surprising that we tend to assume that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God (sometimes Kingdom of Heaven), he was referring to another, ‘spiritual’ world. In the first century, kingdom was much more a political term than it is now. By announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus was openly opposing the oppressive political regime of his day. He was teaching people a better way to live in the world, which would have sounded like a direct threat to powerful, authoritarian Roman rulers.

Gospel: This was a Roman military term meaning victory in battle. Good news! We have invaded and violently conquered another city. Yet another example of Jesus using political language to provoke and challenge the Roman authorities.

Crucifixion: This was a form of execution dreamed up by the Romans to crush anyone who was seen as a political threat. It was designed to cause the most amount of pain possible before death, and to make sure everyone in the vicinity knew exactly what would happen to them if they dared oppose the regime. It was the ultimate symbol of the empire’s power – victory through violence and domination. Jesus got what was coming to him. You could only oppose the Roman empire for so long before being silenced in the most public, horrifying way.


So you see, Jesus’ message was undoubtedly a political one. He opposed the regime, and yet he wasn’t trying to overthrow the emperor. Instead he was challenging the very nature of power itself. Rome was the ultimate symbol of violence and domination, and Jesus subverted it constantly. He challenged the social structures, raising up the weakest and lowest in society and confronting those who used their power to exploit others. He promoted non-violent resistance, even to the point of submitting to torture and death. In allowing Rome to crucify him, Jesus was undermining the whole toxic system of violence, domination and power, and showing the world once and for all that there is a better way.


To be a follower of Jesus in today’s political climate is unfortunately not as simple as voting for the ‘Christian party’. Neither can we get away with being disengaged and disinterested in the way our nation is run.

To follow Jesus today means to care deeply about how the lowest, weakest, poorest people in our society and our world are treated, and to use our own unique skills and influence to make a difference.

It means challenging the dominant, oppressive power structures and systems of our time, and promoting love, justice, inclusion and equality.

It means doing the difficult, tedious, dirty work of standing up for the downtrodden and marginalised, and speaking out on behalf of those who have no voice. It means living upside down, refusing to conform to the destructive patterns of this world, fuelled by a vision of a brighter future.

And it means engaging with the endlessly complex, ever-changing world of politics, using whatever influence we have to promote love and justice for the poorest among us.


Image via Pixabay

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  • The Mouse Avenger

    Nowadays we associate the word ‘kingdom’ with fairy stories more than politics, so it’s not surprising that we tend to assume that when Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God (sometimes Kingdom of Heaven), he was referring to another, ‘spiritual’ world. In the first century, kingdom was much more a political term than it is now. By announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, Jesus was openly opposing the oppressive political regime of his day. He was teaching people a better way to live in the world, which would have sounded like a direct threat to powerful, authoritarian Roman rulers.

    So, are you saying, then, that there isn’t a kingdom of Heaven…of any spiritual sort…at all?

    Don’t get me wrong–you wrote a fantastic, wonderful article that speaks so much truth about Jesus & Christianity, & I’m very glad I read it! 😀

    But this one particular passage is sounding off warning bells in my head, & it’s quite unsettling to me… 🙁 Especially since it deals with a subject that’s greatly troubled me for 3 years…a subject of an article I’ve written & tried to send to Patheos about for almost a year–& I have received no reply from the E-mail I sent it to! 🙁 Let alone an E-mail thanking me for my submission, offering constructive criticism, or the like…& I fear I won’t be able to withstand it much longer if someone can’t take my guest contribution, & post it for all to see, & provide their much-needed input & comments on! 🙁 Please…can you possibly help me out?

  • Emma Higgs

    Sure – send it to me at musicineverysound@gmail.com 🙂

  • Iain Lovejoy

    I sympathise: I sent an article myself and got exactly the same lack of response (and in shameless self publicity – here’s the article which my wife kindly let me put on my blog instead: https://worldviewsandcurrentnews.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/without-form-and-void/). I suspect they don’t have the editorial staff to read them.
    Regarding the article above, Jesus does talk in several places of a place where those who have died rest in the care of God, he just doesn’t call it “the kingdom of God”. I think the point made in the article is that when Jesus does talk of “the kingdom of Heaven” / “kingdom of God” he is referring to something different.
    It is also difficult to see how the kingdom of God is not “spiritual”. The point is that the kingdom of God is not described as a spiritual realm somewhere else which we go to when we die, but as God and the spiritual realm coming down to us here. To (mis)quote Revelation, the kingdom of God is a new heaven and a new earth coming down to us from God, so that God himself will dwell with us, and he shall be with us here, and we his people.
    And this is necessary, if you are to accept as true the promise of resurrection. If it is true, our place of rest in the care of God when we die must only be temporary, for we are to rise from the dead, and where else are we to rise if not right here in this world, but a world transformed into the kingdom of God?

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    Caesar was called “Filius Divi,” not “Filius Dei.” There is a difference in Latin, although I am not sure that carried over t Greek speakers.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    There is no god,
    And the Romans were not the only ones who “invented crucifixion”.
    Sheesh, you can’t even deal with this world-why should I believe you that there’s another one?

  • Tracy Brown

    I think the essence of the matter of concern can be resolved by reading “The Lord’s Prayer.” Specifically: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven. Did you catch the “on Earth” part? Just in the context of the Earth and the people who live on it—for we Christians—the Kingdom of Heaven begins here on planet Earth. When the Holy Trinity finally resolves and reconciles all things to God, the Heavenly portion of the Kingdom of Heaven that exists now will swoop down and swallow up the portion of the Kingdom of Heaven that begins with us here on Earth. Man was created to live perfectly on Earth—and that was despoiled. I believe we are still going to live on Earth when matters are resolved. That is why the Book of Revelation talks about a NEW HEAVEN and a NEW EARTH. The souls of Christians are not going off to Heaven in the end, but the new Heaven will swoop down to swallow up the new Earth—and in that sense—we will all be finally in the kingdom of Heaven..

    You may attack me if you wish. I know how much Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals enjoy devouring and demeaning people in the cruelest of ways. However, please be advised that I have never spent even one hour in a theological seminary, small Bible College, or any other academic religious setting. I will not be returning here to read responses.

  • ounbbl

    Political? Yes, if everything is political. Was He political? It’s your interpretation, if not eisegesis.