It goes without saying that Jesus was not a politician in the sense that we understand the word but there is no doubt that his life and teaching has real political significance. This is apparent from his infancy onwards.
King Herod tried to kill him after visitors from the east enquired about “one who has been born King of the Jews”[i], forcing Joseph and Mary to take him to Egypt as a refugee. Right from the beginning of his ministry he preached about the Kingdom of God. At a personal level this is about God’s reign in believer’s lives but it has wider, political implications too. The Roman Emperor who was addressed as Lord, and even ‘Son of God’, would certainly have been aware of these implications, which is why Christians were persecuted until the Emperor Constantine became a Christian.
There is a deeper understanding of the Kingdom rooted in the Old Testament, that remains relevant today. Jesus came to do what Israel had failed to do, to establish God’s reign on earth, so that all who accepted his Kingship, might serve him as citizens of his Kingdom. Previously, God had picked Abraham to be the father of a nation and a blessing to all peoples on earth[ii]. That is why God liberated Abraham’s descendants from captivity in Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. That is why he raised up Judges, prophets and Kings to lead Israel in showing the rest of humankind how God wanted them to live according to his will for them. But the Jews failed to do this and mostly did what was right in their own eyes. So, finally, God came himself in the person of Jesus, to establish his Kingdom on earth. The Kingdom of God is a core theme of Jesus teaching both before and after his crucifixion.
After his resurrection, “he appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the Kingdom of God”[iii], which is why Peter, Paul and the other New Testament writers continue to teach about the Kingdom. Finally, in Revelation 11:15 we find an angel proclaiming, “The Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever”. So anyone who is a disciple of Jesus is also a citizen of his Kingdom with implications for how we live, including our politics. In terms of conduct Christian politicians should eschew arrogance and adopt a servant spirit, like Jesus. Humility, truthfulness, justice and a commitment to the rule of law will shape their policy thinking. The practical outworking of neighbour love will pervade the political values of every Kingdom citizen, especially in relation to the neediest members of society.[iv] Our rulers and those in authority will feature regularly in our prayer lives.[v] How different our politics would be if we took Kingdom thinking seriously!
[i] Matthew 2:2.
[ii] Genesis 12:2-3
[iii] Acts 1:3
[iv] Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31
[v] 1 Timothy 2:1-4