Americans often use the fall of Rome as historical warning to not take for granted the United States. Christians however, ought to look to the biblical state of Israel for it’s warning against seeking a theocratic nation state. The reign of God is not a nation, but a society and the understanding of this became blurred as soon as Constantine made Christianity the official religion of empire.
The point is this: it wasn’t enough for Jerusalem to hail Jesus as the coming king—they did that! They also had to believe in the new way of peace the coming King was proclaiming. Did you catch that? It’s not enough to believe in Jesus; we also have to believe in the Jesus way!
For the world says: “You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest men. Do not be afraid to satisfy them, but even increase them”—this is the current teaching of the world. And in this they see freedom. But what comes of this right to increase one’s needs? For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide; for the poor, envy and murder. … And no wonder that instead of freedom they have fallen into slavery.
When your city is built upon violence, freedom is just another word for killing your brother. But when your city is built upon love, freedom is just another word for being your brother’s keeper.
John (and the rest of the apostolic writers of the New Testament) presented Christ as the Savior of God’s good creation and the restorer of God’s original intention for human society. This is the gospel! This is the apostolic gospel, and it’s a gospel that gives us an eschatology of hope. By eschatology of hope, I mean a Christian vision for the future that is redemptive and not destructive—more anticipating the New Jerusalem and less obsessed with Armageddon.
If Jesus of Nazareth had preached the paper-thin version of what passes for the “gospel” today—a shrunken, postmortem promise of going to heaven when you die—Pilate would have shrugged his shoulders and released the Nazarene, warning him not to get mixed up in the affairs of the real world.
Conscripting Jesus to a nationalistic agenda creates a grotesque caricature of Christ that the church must reject—now more than ever! Understanding Jesus as the Prince of Peace who transcends idolatrous nationalism and overcomes the archaic ways of war is an imperative the church must at last begin to take seriously.