The path to the abundant life is not better economic policies and a new chairman of the Fed. It’s the expansion of the Kingdom. It’s serving Jesus as King.
So, if that’s right, how do we relate to the secular authorities? Well, Jeremiah — a contemporary of Ezekiel, writing from Judah — explains —
(Jer 29:4-7 ESV) 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
The United States is not the 1,000-year reign of Jesus. It’s not the new Israel. It’s not the Kingdom.
Rather, we are strangers in strange land, citizens of heaven sojourning here among foreigners.
(Phi 3:20-21 ESV) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
God did not place us here to gain earthly power and rule over the world by the power of the sword, imposing Christianity on the unwilling. Even the great, righteous Hezekiah failed at that.
Neither did God save us so we’d patiently await our rescue, hiding ourselves from the challenges of this life. We are not to cloister ourselves away from the nastiness of the world as though God forgot to bring us home at the right time.
Rather, our role is to be salt and light.
(Mat 5:13-16 ESV) 13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The salvation of the world won’t be found in politics, even very wise politics. Neither will economics do it, even very wise economics. It certainly won’t come by accumulating worldly power.
(2Co 12:9 ESV) 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
It’s simple. Have faith in/be faithful to/trust in the true King and be salt and light. Seek the welfare of the city, state, and nation where God has placed you, but do it for love of the people who live there and do it in the name of God. Don’t do it in hopes of converting your nation into the Kingdom. That’s impossible. Jesus isn’t running for election, and he wouldn’t be likely to be elected if he did.
This is the story of John 10. Jesus announced that he had come to claim his throne, and yet he refused every hint of earthly power. Rather, he just healed people and taught. He knew that helping those in need, especially those despised by the powerful, would show where the real power and real influence truly is.
And this, I believe, is why John tells us —
(John 10:22-24 ESV) 22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Why does it matter that it was Hanukkah? What does Jesus being the Messiah have to do with the Festival of Lights?
Well, we rarely study the story in Bible class because it’s not in the Bible. Here’s a summary from the Wikipedia —
In 167 BCE Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned circumcision and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the temple (the sacrifice of pigs to the Greek gods was standard ritual practice in the Ancient Greek religion). Antiochus’s actions provoked a large-scale revolt. Mattityahu, a Jewish priest, and his five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah led a rebellion against Antiochus. Judah became known as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”). By 166 BCE Mattathias had died, and Judah took his place as leader. By 165 BCE the Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy was successful. The Temple was liberated and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this event. Judah ordered the Temple to be cleansed, a new altar to be built in place of the polluted one and new holy vessels to be made. According to the Talmud, olive oil was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that there was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.
The version of the story in 1 Maccabees states that an eight-day celebration of songs and sacrifices was proclaimed upon re-dedication of the altar, and makes no mention of the miracle of the oil. A number of historians believe that the reason for the eight-day celebration was that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret. During the war the Jews were not able to celebrate these festivals, when lamps were supposed to be lit in the Temple (Suk.v. 2–4).
In short, Hanukkah celebrates the rebellion of the Jews against the Hellenist ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, resulting in a brief period of Jewish independence, until the Romans showed up.
Here’s the story in song —
This is one reason the Jews were so incensed at being under Roman rule — they’d finally won their independence!
The palm branches waved as Jesus entered Jerusalem were the symbol of Judean independence under the Maccabees. One reason the high priest was so powerful in Jesus’ day is that the Maccabeans were Levites and their revolution led to a government by the priests, rather than the house of David. The Romans kept this in place, using it to control a religious people.
Thus, when Jesus announces that he is the “Good Shepherd,” that is, the Messiah and son of David promised by Ezekiel, he is promising the restoration of the house of David to rule over Israel. Indeed, he’s promising the coming of the true Kingdom.
For a while, many Jews interpreted the revolution under the Maccabees as the coming of the Kingdom. However, the Maccabees quickly proved not to be the Messiah. They conquered Edom and forcibly converted the nation to Judaism via involuntary circumcisions for all the men. (This led to Herod the Great, an Edomite, becoming king over Judea by Roman command — not quite the result they wanted.) The Essenes were so upset at having Levites rule as kings they fled to the desert and formed an alternative community.
And so, to ask Jesus whether he is the Messiah is not merely about the Prophets. It was also political question. Was he going to overthrow Roman rule the way the Maccabees had overthrown the Greeks? Surely, the Messiah would do at least that!
But Jesus chooses to speak in terms of Ezekiel 34, where God promises to put David back on the throne while expelling the existing political and religious leadership. Jesus declares that days of the current leaders to be numbered.
And just as God accomplished his cleansing of Judah using the Babylonians, God would cleanse Judea using the Romans. You see, the Messiah would bring the exact opposite kind of freedom from the political freedom celebrated at Hanukkah. The Romans would win.
Jesus came in judgment, not to empower the Jews to rule the world or even to free them from foreign rule. Rather, he intended to bring a very different kind of freedom — exactly the opposite of what Hanukkah celebrates.
The Jews would rebel, be defeated, and Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed. The Temple would never be rebuilt.
And yet, the Kingdom would grow, ultimately destroying Rome. The Roman Empire is no more, and the Kingdom survives and even thrives in places.
The Kingdom has been misunderstood, misapplied, and mismanaged in every way imaginable, and yet it survives.
(Dan 2:34-35 ESV) 34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
(Dan 7:27 ESV) 27 ‘And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’