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AN IMAGINED JESUS


From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11:12)

This is something of an enigmatic statement, coming as it does on the heels of:

  1. John, from Herod’s prison, sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if he were the one to come or if they should look for another Messiah.
  2. Jesus sent them back to tell John what they saw and heard, adding ‘Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
  3. Jesus then commended John to the multitude, saying none born of woman is greater than he, but that the least in the kingdom is greater than John.

The Messiah said this to people who expected a military deliverance through the Messiah, but Jesus did not conform to their image of what the Messiah should be. Because of this, many turned away from him, actually turning on him to the point of killing him.

Many in Israel wanted to establish God’s kingdom with violence. In John 6, the people Jesus fed with the loaves and fish wanted to make him king by force. The zealots dragged Judah into a war with Rome that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem a mere 40 years later. To the end, they believed God would intervene and the war would bring in the kingdom promised by the prophets. Even Saul of Tarsus was zealous for the traditions of the fathers as a Pharisee, a sect dedicated to establishing purity so the kingdom would come – but they did it by violently intimidating those whom they believed were less than pure. Witness how Saul expressed his zeal by persecuting the church as ‘blasphemers.’

Even today there is a strong current of thought among many Christians that is willing to estabish kingdom morality or social programs by the power of secular government.

Attitudes such as these cause the kingdom of God to suffer, for these are not the tactics of Jesus. He preached and practiced the way of suffering love that led through Gethsemane to Golgotha; he invites us to take up our cross to follow him. When violence is used to try to establish the kingdom, the loving nature of the King, and thus of the kingdom, cannot be seen. Rather, men come to glorify him as they see the good works of his people, works that result from deep faith in and love for the Savior and love for the world he loves.

Others use violence to suppress truth and righteousness, a tactic of Satan that has more often than not backfired against his efforts to thwart the progress of the kingdom.

Still others within the kingdom try to take it over with the force of intimidation. These end up making God’s kingdom into the kingdom of the Satan. Satan tempted Jesus to win his crown by means other than the cross. Had he yielded to this temptation, he would have had a kingdom, but it would’ve been Satan’s kingdom, not God’s.

By accepting the cross as the will of God, Jesus chose to show that ‘greater love’ by laying down his life for his friends. In his resurrection, he demonstrated greater power than the combined power of all the armies and kingdoms of this world. Their power is based on their ability to kill and destroy, but that is not the way God chooses to establish his kingdom.

God’s kingdom cannot be established by violence. Love for God and for neighbor must be its driving force. The moment we forget this, we join those who want to establish God’s kingdom by violence.

Those who do this remake Jesus into an image of him constructed in their own imagination, whether by proclaiming a ‘health and wealth’ gospel, a gospel of Americanism, or some other imagined gospel. The Jesus of scripture is offensive to them. Instead of taking him as he is, they form him into an idol of their own construction. This is as bad as the Pagans who bowed down before wood and gold images they or some craftsman devised for them.

They preach another Jesus, the very thing Paul warned the Corinthians against in 2 Corinthins 11:4.

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 

They delude themselves that they are following God when they are merely following their own – or someone else’s – imagination.

Does this describe me?

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