Archive for the 'Politics of the Message' Category

Sometimes in life when working in the christian field of helps and counseling we run into many different situation. Many times people will say one thing and mean another, or tell you something that not exactly true, you know Lie to you. Many time even when lying people will either convince themselves what they are saying is true or actually believe from the being, this is called being deceived and it is usually a form of ignorance or lack of understanding. It can be very hard to deal with people on this level, I know in times past I would be frustrated and even angry with people whom I felt were being deceptive.

As I’ve given a more historical and social focus towards understanding the New Testament and Jesus things start to fall together much much neater. We all recognize that the Jewish people were longing for God to save their nation and restore them to their former glory. Ultimately, through Israel the world would be brought to order. This whole future hope is given the name “Kingdom of God” during this time period. And the Jewish zeal for this to happen was so very strong. It caused so many popular leaders, prophets, and messiah-claimants to cause violent uprisings over this two hundred year period.

Click here to listen to Religion and Politics: A Fresh Look at Imperial Overtones in the New Testament presented by Dustin Smith, Apr 29th 2008, Atlanta Georgia. Commentary by John Obelenus

The thesis of Dustin’s paper is that Paul is using specific phrases and words traditionally used in the context of the Caesar cult (the worship of the Roman emperor as a divine figure in the pantheon) that are re-appropriated for use in the preaching of Jesus as the Messiah, God’s representative.

All along the big comments on this “Politics of the Message” series has been, “What does this mean for us today?”. And I want to outline some of the major points, and ask some questions in order that we can arrive at just what this means for us:

  1. In the atonement series I outlined what Jesus’ offense to both Rome and the Jewish leaders was: namely, that Jesus’ messianic authority challenged both parties use and abuse of power. Therefore, if Jesus uses power correctly they use power incorrectly and stand in the judgment of God for it.

In order to start talking about the cross we must go back in time before rappers starting wearing cross necklaces, before contemporary songs about the cross became popular on Christian radio, before the great hymns about the blood were composed, before the crusaders used it as a standard in their “holy wars,” before the churches began to see it as a symbol God’s love towards humanity, back to the time of Jesus when the cross already had a meaning attached to it. “As everyone in the Roman world knew well, the cross already had a clear symbolic meaning; it meant that Caesar ruled the world, with cruel death as his ultimate, and regular, weapon” (Paul and Caesar: A New Reading of Romans, by NT Wright).

I just started reading through John D Crossan’s God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. The first chapter explains what the Roman Imperial thought world was like just before and during the time of Christ. He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Caesar Augustus was deified [made into a god] during his life time. I thought the following quotation was fascinating.

When we first started talking about these issues that “Jesus is Lord and not Caesar”, one of Sean’s first questions was about us today, who is Caesar? (I use the phrase “Jesus is Lord and not Caesar” as a catch-all for all that we’ve posted about in these last five posts). Obviously at the time of the writing of the NT this wasn’t a question that needed asking. At the time I said I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t worried about that. If we can find the truth behind the expression “Jesus is Lord and not Caesar” in the NT we can apply it to our own situations today. This topic sprung back into my mind since I was listening to NT Wright, who was asked this very same question.

Is it cheating to hijack someone else’s series title? I hope not. JohnO has produced four posts on this subject, The Politics of the Message, and for whatever reason a lot of what he has been saying has just hit me. I have looked around a bit and google is filled with articles talking about the phrases used (especially by Paul) to talk about Jesus in light of the political/religious terminology of the time (i.e. the Caesar cult).

I wanted to summarize what has been said and add a couple of more phrases to this discussion. Then, I’d like to bring out the implications of using this political terminology.

I found another goldmine of information on this topic, so I get to resurrect it again. In Sylvia Keesmaat’s chapter, “In the Face of the Empire: Paul’s Use of Scripture in the Shorter Epistles” found in Hearing the Old Testament in the New Testament, she gives a large treatment on this very topic. In her opening

Time for the third word – apantesis, in Greek απαντησιs. In the NT, this word is only used two other times besides this passage in 1 Thess 4:16 (Matt 25:1 and once in Acts). This word is used very specifically. It means to meet and then return with. In the parable of the bridgegroom we can see this is exactly the meaning, the virgins go out to meet the bridgegroom and return with him. I hope you’re not suprised, but the Caesars used this word of themselves also. The Caesars had welcoming parties, Chrysostom wrote:

Next »