Jesus’ ministry began with a bold declaration that the world was entering into a new era. It was not merely a spiritual declaration, and it was not merely the fulfillment of prophecy. Though it certainly was those things, it was especially political.
Following Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (which included temptations regarding welfare and food provisions (think of today’s food stamps), and political and religious power and influence… politics!) Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and stood to read from the scroll of Isaiah. Rather than reading the prescribed passage, he unrolled the scroll to the place from where he wanted to read – which is labeled in our bibles as Isaiah 61:1-2,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Look at the themes of this passage: poverty, captivity, liberation, Jubilee – these are all political! Jesus is saying “the way of the world will be turned upside down!”
The crowd around him, naturally, took these words of Isaiah in a particular way, based on their unique context. To the Jewish reader who was living under Roman authority, they were the poor, they were the captives, they were the oppressed, and Jubilee would mean the return of their land. So when Jesus declared, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it,” we might expect it to be received by the crowd as good news!
But it wasn’t (for long).
The catch, as it turns out, isn’t in what Jesus said, but what he omitted. Because Isaiah 61:2 does not end with the promise of the year of the Lord’s favor, but with the promise of the destruction of enemies:
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and a day of vindication for our God…
Jesus has promised good news, but has removed the implication of vindication. And he removes this implication intentionally, as he rolls the scroll back up so that the next person to read from it does not pick up where he left off.
Then Jesus proceeds to say (if I may summarize) “this message will not be welcomed here, because it will happen according to God’s terms, not according to your terms” (see Luke 4:23-27).
The good news that Jesus is proclaiming is a political statement: the order of the world will be turned upside-down! But the problem is that the “insiders” will struggle to accept it (because who wants to lose power?) and the “outsiders” will benefit receive its benefits (rather than receiving vengeance).
Jesus was turning the politics of the world upside-down, and declaring the reality of the Messianic Kingdom (the “kingdom of God” in Luke, and the “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew).
And that kingdom did not belong to the Jews. It was not property of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Zealots, the Essenes, nor the Greeks, the Samaritans, or any other people group or faction. No one would lay claim to it, and no one would be able to wield its power for themselves.
This kingdom of God does not emerge from worldly power. We cannot vote for it. We cannot elect it. It is not a policy or a law. It is without walls and borders, it welcomes generously, and it includes the alien, the outsider, and the refugee (now does it sound political?). It is marked by self-sacrificial love for our neighbors.
It is the new order of the world – and it is taking place all around us. It is not a nation that we are born into, but a kingdom that we can be born-again into, as we die to old realities and enter into the new reality of God. It is a new reality to which we are given access by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we learn to abandon the power-structures of our world and embrace the new politics of Jesus.
And it begins to make sense to us when we recognize that the passage Jesus quoted, from Isaiah 61, isn’t about us vs. them. It isn’t good news for us, but bad news for them. It isn’t found on the left, on the right, or in the center. It is about a completely different way of perceiving the world, engaging in relationship with others, and managing power. It is discerned only through knowing Jesus and embracing the gospel.
In the Kingdom of God, God is King. Jesus is Lord. Power is not achieved over or against others, and it is not acquired through displays of strength, cunning, or arms. Instead, power is discovered through surrender, and it belongs not to us, but to the Holy Spirit. It is His power which lifts others up, heals, and repairs that which is broken. God said to Moses, “I am that I am,” and the power of God is what it is – and cannot be wielded by one who wills for it to be something else.
Yes – it is all political. And no – you will never vote for a politician who can achieve it.
The Kingdom of God is the reality that exists when the prayer of Jesus is fulfilled, and the earth takes on the order of heaven (look at the Lord’s prayer – it’s all political. It’s all about His Kingdom). It is the order of the Beatitudes. It is the power which swallows up death and darkness, and brings about life and light.
Read about it in Isaiah 2:3-4.
Read about it in Revelation 21-22.
See it in the lives of people who have lived sacrificially for others.
The politics of Jesus emerge in our lives when the confession “Jesus is Lord” is fully embraced, and we allow Jesus to be king over our relationships, our responsibilities, our desires, our will, and all aspects of our lives.
And the kingdom of God emerges in our communities when together we live according to that same confession, “Jesus is Lord.” The Kingdom of God is now when we live by it; and it is not yet, as we anticipate the return of Jesus and the final judgment of all things that are not in accordance with it, when all fallen powers are redeemed, and all of creation is restored to the new Eden.