Between Two Jesuses: The Choice Between Political Force and the Gospel of Peace

The trial of the Christ reached its climax when Pilate gave the crowd a choice between two Jesuses: Jesus Barabbas and Jesus of Nazareth. You may not know this, but Barabbas’s full name is Jesus Barabbas as recorded in early manuscripts. The Lexham English Bible includes these texts:

And at that time they had a notorious prisoner named Jesus Barabbas.

Matthew 27:16 (LEB)

Jesus Barabbas was a violent political revolutionary. He fought for freedom against the Empire of Rome. Brittanica summarized his life well:

In Matthew 27:16 Barabbas is called a “notorious prisoner.” In Mark 15:7, echoed in Luke 23:19, he was “in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection” against the occupying Roman forces. John 18:40 describes him as a bandit.

Jesus of Nazareth on the other hand was not a fighting political revolutionary. He was revolutionary, but not a fighting one. He taught paying taxes to unjust governments, turning the other cheek when a elite citizen slapped you, and doing twice as much work (walking the extra mile) than the government demanded. In short, his Gospel for this age wasn’t one of violent overthrow. It was a Gospel of peace—a Gospel which commands love for one’s neighbors and for one’s enemies which includes despotic governments.

At the end of 2020, it’s easy to guess which Jesus many of us American evangelicals would choose if the choice where given. This choice is expressed clearly by Glenn Sunshine in his book Slaying Leviathan.

As if the threat from the federal government were not enough, states and municipalities have added their own regulations into the mix. For example, in some places, it is illegal to collect the rainwater that falls on your house. These regulations even subvert rights expressly guaranteed in the Constitution: in New York City, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, for example, during 2020’s COVID-19 restrictions, churches were prohibited from meeting in direct violation of the First Amendment while Black Lives Matter protests were permitted. In other words, freedom of peaceable assembly applied only to groups promoting approved messages.

The regulatory state, on all levels, is thus the biggest threat to liberty and republican government today. Its reach extends to all of life, limiting our freedom of action far more severely than natural or divine law does. The result is the rise of a soft totalitarianism that has given birth to a new Leviathan.

We may not be trying to establish a new country [like the founding fathers], but we are fighting a reborn Leviathan. We need to resist the temptation to try to conform society to our will rather than to reality; we need to work to restore those elements of our political philosophy drawn from the Christian tradition that have been lost; we need to use all the tools at our disposal to defend our rights and the rights of others.

Slaying Leviathan, Kindle locations 1950-2004

We would like someone who stands up and fights for our rights; someone to disrupt society with civil disobedience; someone to, if need be, throw off the current Leviathan like our founding fathers. In short, most evangelical Americans would choose Jesus Barabbas.

I agree that there is some room for pushing back in order to maintain some form of church assembly. But fighting for the right to retain a rain barrel seems hardly Christian. Fighting may be consistent with American values, but hardly consistent with Christ.

If we were to choose Jesus of Nazareth, what should we do? I don’t know of anyone who is happy about the political climate of this last year. But what we need to do is find our center in the command to love our neighbor. We need to take on seriously his claim “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn 13:35, KJV). What does this love look like? James the Brother of our Lord said:

Understand this, my dear brothers: every person must be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

James 1:19-20 (LEB)

Before we shred our political enemies, how many of us understand the other side? Many conservatives blast #BLM with little concept of the history of racism in the USA. Many liberals hate on gun owners with little concept of the need for self defense. We jump first to wrath, demanding our rights and give little thought toward the personhood of our political enemy.

No, this is not the way of Jesus of Nazareth. He demands that we love our neighbors by listening to them. When we listen, we understand the enemy as a person and may be inclined to change our mind. Or at the least follow the example of Paul who gave up his rights for the Kingdom.

I have not made use of any of these rights. And I am not writing these things in order that it may be thus with me. For it would be better to me rather to die than for anyone to deprive me of my reason for boasting.

1 Corinthians 9:15

If we choose to follow Jesus of Nazareth, our focus will be on anything but our rights. Although we have rights granted in the United Stated Constitution, we must set aside those rights when it comes to following the Christ. We must take up our cross—the ultimate symbol of non-rights—and follow Jesus of Nazareth. But I’m dreadfully afraid that too many professing Christians would gladly take up the sword and follow Jesus Barabbas.

Will we necessarily change our voting if we follow Christ? I’m not sure. But we will have a much more loving and humble attitude which will glorify our Father who is in heaven.

So, I leave you with this: if it seems evil unto you to serve Jesus of Nazareth, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the god which your founding fathers served that was a product of the faithless enlightenment, or the gods of the Republicans or Democrats, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jesus of Nazareth.

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