A key scene from the movie Son of God accurately portrays the very real fears of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day. Despite the cruel realities of Roman rule, Roman governors like Pilate still allowed a semblance of local rule, in this case the chief priests and pharisaical leaders of the Jewish religion. Cozy in their roles yet still degradingly subservient to the Romans, the last thing Caiaphas and the other rabbinical leaders needed were “rabble rousers” like Jesus of Nazareth giving the people any inkling of hope that perhaps a Kingdom, even one in the heavenly realm, beyond what the Romans imposed at the point of a steel blade could be possible. Thus, when Pilate asked them if he should crucify their king, they demonstrated just how far they had fallen from the worship of the one true God when they answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”
Far better to crucify the King of Kings than risk the punishment of an earthly king. Far better to hunt down, torture, and kill his followers than entertain the possibility that allegiance could be given to someone other than Caesar. From Hammurabi, to Nebuchadnezzar, to the Caesars, to medieval kings, to governmental authorities of the modern day, one fear has united them all – the loss of power over those they seek to rule.
One might argue that God grants legitimacy, even power, to civil governments, and they would be correct. Jesus, after all, instructs us to “render unto Caesar,” and Paul writes in the book named after the tyrants of his day of submitting to the ‘power’ that God ordained on earth. But Paul, while maintaining that all power is ordained of God, in the same passage defines the role of human government, to be “not a terror to good works, but to the evil.” If one does good, Paul reasons in Romans 13:3, why should government be feared? Government, after all, is God’s minister of justice on an earth upon which He has yet to set up Theocratic rule.
Given this, one might think that governments throughout history would embrace true Christianity. Along with the afore-mentioned teachings of Jesus and Paul, the Pauline admonition to, if possible, live peaceably with all men should be evidence that Christians aren’t going to go around stirring up dissent and violently overthrowing governments willy-nilly.
So, why haven’t more governments gravitated toward the teachings of Christ and Paul instead of those of Marx, Lenin, and Alinsky? Could it be that governments, by their very nature, crave far more than just the mere widespread legitimacy of their rule, but absolute power over those they govern? Could a small-town rabbi who taught people that they, as individuals, were valuable to the Creator of the Universe, who taught about an allegiance to a higher power than Caesar, who raised the possibility that God loved people enough to humble Himself and live in human flesh, to be the sacrifice required for those who regard Him as king to forever worship the King of Kings, could such a teacher possibly be a threat to a system bent on power, greed, and destruction?
Obviously, they answered yes when they nailed Jesus to a Cross.
Of course, we Christians had the last laugh. With Christ’s resurrection, from the Magna Carta to the American Revolution and beyond, Christians throughout history, while recognizing the legitimacy of human government, have been a thorn in tyranny’s side. “No King but Jesus” became a rallying cry of our Revolution, as it should be the mantra of every God-fearing, freedom-loving, and legitimate-government honoring human being today.
Governments are God-ordained. Governments are necessary, but they are, as Thomas Paine wrote, a necessary evil. The founders of the American Republic understood all too well that, while we needed government, we also needed to bind it with the chains of a Constitution that would limit its habitual and instinctual usurpations on the liberty of the governed.
For as Christians, our King really is Jesus Christ, and governments that have a problem with that will have Jesus Christ to reckon with.