The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (6)

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Detail of Fra Angelico, “Arrest of Christ”

Jesus Christ on Politics (2)

There is no doubt that during the Passion Week Christ was immersed in a highly charged political situation.  From the moment He entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey secular political fervor played a key role in the unfolding of events.  However, we mustn’t loose sight of the deeper truth that God was using these secular forces to achieve the ultimate spiritual end.

When the Disciple Judas arrives at the Garden of Gethsemane with the crowd to arrest Jesus the secular and spiritual domains intersected at a fiery point of great danger.  An angry, heavily armed mob has a high potential for violence.  But note how Christ takes sure control of the situation, ensuring that it is God’s providential purposes and not mankind’s passions that carry the day.  Read Matthew 26:47-56.

47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

50 Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

This is the point of greatest danger.  A member of Jesus’ group physically attacks a man who is acting under authority of the Jewish leadership.  The action would have been interpreted as removing all doubt that Christ is leading an overt rebellion.  Thus the likelihood that this specific situation would careen into open, indiscriminate violence had been maximized.  And, the likelihood that God’s purposes for showing mankind the extent of His mercy would have been utterly obscured.

52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Jesus first deals with His own follower (likely Peter).  He ensures deescalation by telling him to sheathe the sword.  He then calmly explains that He has no need for mortal intervention, as God the Father could protect His Son with infinite power were that His purpose.

55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

In Luke 22:51 a detail is added: But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Jesus has deescalated His own followers so now turns His attention to the arresting mob. He first explicitly rejects the idea that He is leading a rebellion.  He does so by pointing out the open, public nature of His ministry and the lack of response to it by the authorities.  By restoring the injured man’s ear He removes any immediate casus belli.  Finally, He communicates to everyone present that these events are not under control of mortals, but rather are directly and unalterably controlled by God’s providential purposes.

We here have a startling example of men being driven by their own wills in relationship with God willing His ultimate purposes within mortal action.  Yes, the passions of both sides drove words and actions.  The source of these human passions was the will of each participant.  However, God at every turn maintained perfect control of the situation.  Christ always said and did exactly the right thing to herd these unruly, dangerous humans onto the path of God’s ultimate purposes.

Had it been Jesus’ purpose to lead a secular political movement this encounter would have ended in violence and death.  But, as He showed repeatedly, Christ’s primary mission was spiritual — the saving and redemption of humankind’s souls.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

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