This post is based on the Grace Commentary for Luke 1:5-7.
Obama gave his health care speech tonight. So here’s a question: Do you think that following Jesus should influence one’s viewpoint on the health care debate? Why or why not?
Interestingly, about 2000 years ago, a high-ranking public official named Theophilus was asking similar questions about the political plans of Caesar. Luke writes to Theophilus about Jesus to help answer these questions.
Foremost in the mind of Theophilus was almost certainly this question: “If I follow King Jesus, declaring that He is my Lord, how will that affect my current position in the Roman Empire and my statement of allegiance to Caesar as Lord?”
Luke addresses this question in an indirect way throughout his Gospel. He begins to do this in the section before us, Luke 1:5-7, by writing about Herod instead of Caesar. This approach is repeated throughout the Gospel. Luke constantly pits Jesus and the Kingdom of God, not against Caesar, but against Herod the Great (and his son, King Herod Antipas; cf. 1:5-7; 2:1-2; 3:1-22; 7:18-33; 9:7-9; 13:31-33; 23:8-11). In the Gospel of Luke, there seems to be an ongoing contest between King Herod and King Jesus. Ultimately, King Herod (the son of Herod the Great) seems to “win,” for under his reign, Jesus is put to death.
So the Gospel of Luke presents a dual message about what kind of Kingdom Jesus brought: The Kingdom of God is both a direct challenge to the Roman Empire, and at the same time, absolutely no threat at all.
Those who belong to the Kingdom of God challenge governments and rulers, not by threats of rebellion and insurrection, but simply by the way we live. We seek to do the things and accomplish the programs which governments and rulers promise, but which they can never fulfil. Most of the things that governments and rulers promise can only be accomplished through the church. So in this way, we are no threat at all. They can imprison us, or kill us, but we seek only to be a blessing on our community and nation (24:47).
Certainly, Theophilus didn’t understand all this after reading Luke 1:5-7. And maybe it’s a new and challenging idea for you too. Maybe you are thinking about all the promises and prophecies in Scripture that Jesus will destroy all the wicked nations and wayward rulers and rule the world, and wondering how that fits in with the idea that the Kingdom of God is no threat to the kingdoms of men. Maybe Theophilus had such questions as well. Maybe as a public official within the Roman Empire, he was a little bit nervous. He didn’t want to be on the “losing side” when Jesus destroyed the Empire. What should he do?
I feel these questions personally, for I am a “government employee” as well. But even if I wasn’t, all of us who live in Twenty-first Century Western Civilization are part of “The Empire.” Like the Roman Empire, we have the best military. We consume the vast majority of the world resources. We think that it is our responsibility to bring Pax Americana to the rest of the world. We think other cultures need to adopt Western culture, Western ways, and Western ideals.
But really, is “The West” really the best? If it is, should we be fighting for it? If it isn’t, should we be fighting against it? Either way, is fighting really the answer?
Maybe there is a different Kingdom, with a different King, which is calling for our time, energy, and attention. And maybe that Kingdom can function in any society, any culture, any government, because it is not of this world. Maybe that Kingdom, when it expands, doesn’t overthrow Kings and rulers and governments through power and might, but redeems them through service, sacrifice, generosity, kindness, justice, forgiveness, mercy, and most of all, love.
Hopefully, Luke will help us with some of this. But at this point, all we have are questions. Theophilus has heard rumors of another Kingdom, and he wants to find out more. I hope that by the time we get to Luke 24, we understand what Luke was telling Theophilus to do.