Serving the High Plains

Jesus opposed the wicked rulers

File this under, “If I had a nickel for every time…”

I have stressed that the Bible does not teach the people of God to shut up and do what they’re told, if the civil government is telling them something.

Rather, we should be willing to submit ourselves to human authorities, up to the point at which their directives are in opposition to God. (Those are very different stances to take.)

In fact, the Bible is filled with stories in which the heroes were the ones offering varied forms of resistance to evil rulers.

The push-back to this idea comes in a handful of oft-repeated one-liners. One of them is this: Yeah, but you never see Jesus resisting the evil rulers of his day.

We would have to admit this is true, if we were focusing on the immediate events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. The Gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus went to his death voluntarily.

He could’ve found ways to avoid the cross, if that had been his intention. As one old hymn says, “He could have called ten thousand angels,” to fight for him. Instead, he fulfilled the ancient prophecy found in Isaiah 53, by refusing to cry out in angry defiance, and by going like a lamb to the slaughter, without a fight. He volunteered for the job, so he certainly didn’t resist its accomplishment.

I think that’s what my objectors are talking about when they argue that Jesus didn’t resist human authorities, and so, by extension, neither should we. The weakness of this objection is that it fails to account for the rest of Christ’s three-year public ministry. And, it may also represent some ignorance of the world in which that ministry happened.

In the days of Jesus of Nazareth, the nation of Israel was an occupied vassal state of the Roman Empire. As vassals, they had their own system of government (the family of Herods, who occupied the throne), but also the oversight of Roman officials, like Pontius Pilate. What my objectors overlook is that there was another, prominent government entity in Israel, the Sanhedrin. This was a group of 70 elders, which held sway over internal matters, both civil and religious. These elders were drawn from the ruling classes in Israel, namely the Pharisees and Sadducees.

At this point, if you’ve bothered to read the four Gospels yourself as much as one time, you see where this is going. I believe it would be fair to say that the public ministry of Jesus had, as one of its major emphases, the continual undermining, mocking, exposing, condemning, and unmasking of this ruling class.

There is, after all, a reason they started plotting to kill him early on. They recognized that what he was teaching the people represented an active threat to their power.

Ask one of those guys if they perceived that Jesus went around for three years meekly obeying the governing authorities in Israel. Read Matthew 23 again, the nine-fold repetition of “woe” against this ruling class (as a bookend to the nine-fold blessing of the Beatitudes in chapter five).

We should all then strive to be Christ-like.

Gordan Runyan is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tucumcari. Contact him at:

[email protected]