Subversive Jesus

In my last post, I said that Jesus explains God to us. If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. Whatever is not like Jesus is not like God. And when we do look to Jesus we find that He totally subverted our violent view of God.

Before I continue, I want to refer to the following posts for further study in order to keep this post as brief as possible.

I want to write about this controversial subject because I think it’s relevant to the world we live in. It’s also relevant to what we justify in the name of following Jesus.

It’s pretty easy to give evidence of the Church’s violent and bloody past in the name of Christ. Historically, we’ve created theology to justify going to war, torturing, killing, enslaving other human beings, and subjugating nations. Even though we may not like to admit it, this justification is so deeply embedded in our mindset and culture that I probably sound like some crazy pacifist for bringing it up.

I don’t think we understand just how far we’ve departed from Jesus’ teachings. We read Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and just throw up our hands and continue acting and reacting like everyone around us. This is why this subject is important.

As I said in Logos, the worldview of the Greeks, Romans, and Jews of the first century was that God is violent and war-like. The logic: it’s conflict that brings structure to chaos. This the fruit of eating from the wrong Tree. Jesus came and turned this view on its head. While Jesus did get angry, He was nonviolent.

We can see just how subversive Jesus was to the religious and political community. Their response was to kill Him.

The contrast between the Bible’s depiction of the God of the Old Testament and Jesus was so stark that it led an early second-century follower named Marcion to conclude that Jesus was a different God. Of course, Jesus wasn’t a different God and Marcion’s theory was considered heretical. But Marcion was asking the right question.

Consider just a few of the implications of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”:

The God of the Old Testament allegedly told Israel to wipe out all the Canaanites; Jesus told us to love our enemies.

The God of the Old Testament told Israel to exact an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth…” (which was actually limiting the customary violence of the time); Jesus told us not to resist an evil person.

The God of the Old Testament was pictured as vengeful and retributive; Jesus told us not to take revenge but to forgive those who’ve hurt us.

The God of the Old Testament was a God of violence and bloodshed; Jesus was the Prince of Peace and willingly shed His own blood for us. Here’s what René Girard said about violence and Jesus’ subversive kingdom in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:

Violence is the enslavement of a pervasive lie; it imposes upon men a falsified vision not only of God but also of everything else. And that is indeed why it is a closed kingdom. Escaping from violence is escaping from this kingdom into another kingdom, whose existence the majority of people do not even suspect. This is the Kingdom of love, which is also the domain of the true God, the Father of Jesus, of whom the prisoners of violence cannot even conceive. ( p. 197 *)

Scholar and theologian, Walter Wink, called this paradigm “the myth of redemptive violence.” It’s the idea that we can have lasting peace through war and violence. I think we’ve proven that to be false, even though we still believe it. What actually happens is that violence brings retaliation and more violence. This is the point behind Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek.” Not that we’re to be a passive doormat, but that we’re to arbitrarily stop the escalation of violence. Instead of retaliation, we’re to forgive. This is what following Jesus looks like.

Brian Zahnd said this in his recent book, Farewell to Mars:

Jesus’s answer is as simple as it is revolutionary: instead of an arrangement around hate and violence, the world is now to be arranged around love and forgiveness. The fear of our enemy and the pain of being wronged is not to be transferred through blame but dispelled through forgiveness. Unity is not to be built around the practice of scapegoating a hated victim but around the practice of loving your neighbor as yourself—even if your neighbor is your enemy.” (Kindle loc. 1008 *)

When we consider that God is love (1 John 4:8), and that all the law and the prophets are summed up in loving God and others as ourselves (Matt.22:37-40), we can safely conclude that being violent is not following Jesus. It’s giving ourselves over to idols.

You simply cannot love someone and slaughter them.

10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom.13:10 *)

Was Jesus actually different than the God of the Old Testament? No. He was different than the way God was often depicted in the Old Testament (and there was internal debate within the text).

The pre-Constantinian church (before fourth century) did not teach a violent Jesus nor did they justify using violence. As the anonymous Christian writing to Diognetus in the late second century put it, “violence is no attribute of God.” (Epistle to Diognetus, 7.4)

The violent one is us, humankind, not God. We brought violence into the world. We are of Cain, murderers who have painted God’s face, over and over again, with our violent, blood-soaked brush. Jesus came to expose this pagan view of God and show us who He really is. But have we been listening?

Jesus Christ, who came to free us from this world, was totally subversive to the world construct in which He lived, and the one we live in today. If we’re to follow Him, we should follow His teachings and understand what we’ve been freed from.

* All emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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24 Responses to Subversive Jesus

  1. The Second Coming of Christ is maybe nothing else as our awakening to the truth of interconnectedness and oneness. We can understand everyone and everything as the universal Body of Christ.

  2. I’ve really enjoyed reading your words. I have heard rumors of this allegedly wrathful God of the old testament and yet I don’t see that at all, I just see a lot of mercy, grace, and endless patience. I think a lot gets lost in translation, taken out of context, and misunderstood within the cultural references. Something like “heaping coals on someone’s head,” sounds mean in the modern world, because we aren’t thinking of what a blessing fire is, we aren’t thinking of carrying coals on your head in a pan so you can build another fire when you get where you’re going. This is a gift, not an attempt to set someone on fire. Sheesh.

    As to the subversive Jesus, I’ve been surprised a few times by how people will often welcome your hatred, your anger. You want to really scare people, love does the trick. That’s just crazy, but I suppose it makes sense because love makes us vulnerable, it forces us to chose, to be accountable, to develop loyalties. An invading army is probably not quite as scary. So, attempting to love people is actually a very subversive act, not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, IB. That’s what I mean by the internal debate within the Old Testament. When we read the Old Testament carefully, we find that God’s true nature is love, mercy, and patience… (all the fruit of the Spirit). The prophets bring this out when the priests and kings go all genocidal and xenophobic and the prophets tell them they’re full of it! Jesus ends the debate, once and for all.

      “You want to really scare people, love does the trick….”
      Yes! That is SO ironically true! We have a lot easier time with warlords and tyrants than people like Martin Luther King or even Gandhi (who followed Jesus as a non-Christian!). Yes, unconditionally loving people, being vulnerable, is totally subversive and rebellious (to this world). 🙂

  3. Hey Mel, good post. I agree with the clarification that the in the Old Testament God was, as insanitybytes22 added, merciful, forgiving — hence the whole purpose of the sacrificial system was to forgive sin, gracious, and looooongsuffering.

    We must be careful to keep the conquest of the Promised Land in its biblical context. The evil of the inhabitants in the land was, like the pre-flood inhabitants, total and complete. He is not genocidal. He is righteous and holy. God was just as serious about purging the evil from Israel in the Law, as he was about purging it from the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    In the NT, God is no different, the wages of sin is death. A reading of the letters to the churches in Revelation demonstrates how important holiness is to God today. Fortunately, He knows how inept we are at obedience and His grace diverted His wrath upon Christ, and He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us live more Christlike.

    I know you know all this. I just wanted to raise the point for a bit of clarification.

    Thanks for listening. 😊

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments, Dr. Oberto. Much appreciated. It is true, we have to understand the context and not judge events based on our 21st mindset.

      Ultimately, all God ever wanted was their hearts. This is what David and the prophets said over and over (Psalm 51:16-17; Isa.1:11-18; Jer.7:22-23; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24). He never wanted their sacrifice but that was the only way they could relate to Him at the time because they were so given over to idols. Jesus made a way for us to obey out of love.

      So, yes, the goal is to leave our own idols and embrace Christ, and His Spirit of grace in us produces Christlikeness. Blessings to you.

  4. Citizen Tom says:

    Good post, but I think it risks a bit of confusion. I understand we are suppose to love, that God is love. Yet God is the Creator of both Heaven and, indirectly, Hell. Sometimes men are violent because they love, and sometimes men are violent because they hate. The violence of those who love and those who hate can look the same, but the results differ because the motives differ.

    • Mel Wild says:

      It is confusing. When I use the word violence, I’m talking about using force to do harm to another human being. There are times when evil people have to be restrained, but it never solves the problem. Only keeps evil at bay. And we have to be honest about why we’re using violent means, and if this was the best option. Because there are a myriad of other options when we trust Christ.

      My point is that we really need to think about how we use violent means and see if we’re reacting how Jesus told us to respond in the Sermon on the Mount and other place. He wasn’t just giving us ideals that can never be attained; He was telling us what it looks like to follow Him and live according to His Kingdom principles.

      Also, consider what Walter Wink called “the myth of redemptive violence.” Using violent means has never brings lasting peace. Certainly our wars are conclusive proof of that. Many wars were questionable, fought for unrighteous motives, and none ever stopped war from happening again. It was Augustine who invented the “just war” to justify Rome’s use of war as a State Church. As Christ followers, we have to realize that we live in a culture addicted to violence. It’s the water we’ve been swimming in; it’s so ubiquitous that we think it’s normal and right. This comes from eating from the wrong Tree, as I said. This is the same Tree Israel was eating from in the Old Testament.

      One thing to keep in mind. If everyone were actually following Christ, loving God and loving others as ourselves, there would be no war, no crime, no violence against another human being. Violence and war are indicative of the failure on our part to live in a Christ-like way, even though it may be the only choice we have.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        One thing to keep in mind. If everyone were actually following Christ, loving God and loving others as ourselves, there would be no war, no crime, no violence against another human being. Violence and war are indicative of the failure on our part to live in a Christ-like way, even though it may be the only choice we have.

        Not everyone wants to follow Christ. Hence, the Judgement.

        It is revealing that Jesus leads an army in Revelation. As Christians we may be part of the Kingdom of God, but this ain’t heaven.

        • Mel Wild says:

          True, This ain’t heaven, and not everyone wants to follow Christ. But we as Christians should be following Him, and in that sense, we are bringing heaven to earth (at least in part). And we do this by loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is why we pray, “On earth as it is in heaven.”

          The picture in Revelation is another can of worms to open for another day. 🙂 It’s highly figurative and difficult to make any clear doctrine from the text. There are many differing interpretations by honest scholars, as you probably are aware. Personally, I don’t think Jesus is coming back to literally slaughter millions of people (the “sword” in His mouth is the Word of God”, not a literal sword). That would be dramatically inconsistent and create massive cognitive dissonance about His nature, His teachings, and earthly ministry. Although, I do think that evil people will kill each other that way. Revelation is very violent, but we must discern where the violence is coming from (keeping in mind the highly figurative nature of the prophecy). Again, it’s very difficult to have a dogmatic position either way. I’m certainly not dogmatic about what I think I see there.

          • Citizen Tom says:

            I don’t understand Revelation. I doubt I would have understood the Old Testament prophecies until after Jesus rose from the dead (and then only reluctantly). Still, given that Satan is real, I think I know what is going to happen to him.

  5. “Jesus Christ, who came to free us from this world, was totally subversive to the world construct in which He lived, and the one we live in today. If we’re to follow Him, we should follow His teachings and understand what we’ve been freed from.”
    Absolutely, Mel. Anger is easy; gossip is easy; turning our backs instead of reaching out a hand is easy. Love, grace and mercy are difficult, but it’s exactly how we demonstrate His teachings, exactly how we show we are His followers and exactly how we illustrate our freedom from the bonds of hatred, of an “us and them,” self-focused mentality.

    • Mel Wild says:

      That’s exactly right, Susan. Taking up our cross is not trying to behave more than other people and looking righteous on the outside. It’s walking in other-centered love instead of fear and self-interest. That’s a lot harder! In fact, it requires yielding and abiding in Christ, letting the Spirit to work in and through us.

  6. Cindy Powell says:

    There you go stirring things up again 😉 I think this one line about sums it up: “You simply cannot love someone and slaughter them.” Mic drop!

  7. Pingback: Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom – Part One | In My Father's House

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