Two levels of government
Let’s just think about about Jesus a little and the government in Jesus’ day. There were two levels of government then in Israel:
– there was a local government led by the Jewish authority under the Sanhedrin
– and there was a Roman government
The Romans left quite a bit of the everyday running of society to the Jewish community, but they had the last word – the upper hand – in the time of Jesus.
There’s a question which comes out quite a bit in the Gospels as to whether the Roman rule in Judea was legitimate. And whether God wanted Jews to submit or resist to that rule.
We see that Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees on this issue. They asked Him:
Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? And he said: show me the tax money – Matthew chapter 22 verse 19
This was a trick question, they were trying to catch Jesus out. Jesus said ‘pay the taxes’. Then in the eyes of the people who were listening to Him, He would have been damned as being a collaborator with Rome and, of course, people in Judea didn’t like paying their taxes and they didn’t think that the Romans had the right to be there.
Therefore, answer ‘yes, pay the taxes‘ and you’re in trouble; if He answers ‘no, don’t pay the taxes‘, then He could be reported to the Roman authorities and as a troublemaker stirring up the people against Rome and against Caesar.
I once had someone give a sermon on this subject who said that the Romans had no right to be in Judea, they were foreign therefore, Jesus’s answer ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’ meant according to that preacher that ‘the Romans had no right to be there, so don’t give them anything, kick them out.’
A revolutionary approach, which would appeal to the Zealots of the time, but that, I think, if you look at what Jesus says, in fact gives some legal right over taxation to the Roman government.
He does say, basically, ‘render the things that are Caesar’s to Caesar’, which means giving to Caesar your taxes and Paul says that in Romans chapter 13.
So, Jesus is not justifying any kind of rebellion against Rome. Yet, it’s interesting that when it comes to the trial before Pilate, the Pharisees do accuse Jesus of leading a rebellion against Rome.
Luke 23 verses 1-2 says,
That was one of the accusations brought by the opponents of Jesus before Pilate and one of reasons to put Him to death by crucifixion.
Jesus denied this and in John chapter 18, when Jesus appears before Pilate (verses 33-38) it says,
It is an interesting dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate.
What He’s saying here is that He’s not coming to bring a physical Kingdom in rebellion against Rome, He’s bringing in a new Kingdom, the Kingdom of truth in which people will be born again into as they receive Jesus as saviour.
Those who become Christians will become citizens of this Kingdom, the Kingdom of Truth, which is the eternal Kingdom of God and, ultimately, those people who come into this Kingdom are going to be freed from the rule of the governments of this world, either in the resurrection of Jesus at the resurrection of the dead or, at the Second Coming of Jesus.
Nevertheless, while we’re in this body and living in this world, we’re also citizens of the society we’re living in, and remain under its government. Therefore, those who are born again are children of God, born into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Truth, justice, peace and, also, citizens of the countries and the society they live in. And, until we die, that’s going to be our condition.
We’re citizens of this country, we have laws which we live by in this country, but we’re also children of God, now under a higher law, the Law of God.
Conflict about the rules
There is a tension when these two come into conflict. So, when it comes to the government, we are to submit to the legitimate laws as outlined in Romans chapter 13.
When the rules of government conflict with the Law of God, we are to submit to the ordinance of God and, if necessary, to resist the government.
If you look at the development of Christianity in the Roman Empire, we see that there was a tension between the church and the state which led to the persecution of Christians.
One of the major issues was the refusal of Christians to sacrifice to pagan Gods, to offer sacrifices to the emperor as a semi-divine monarch. Something which the Romans considered to be treason and against their laws.
Here’s a description of or commentary on the subject. It says,
One of the issues (Polycarp was one of the famous martyrs of the early church) is that he was told to say, ‘Caesar is Lord’ and burn incense to him.
What’s the problem about saying ‘Caesar is Lord’?
Well, the problem is that Jesus is Lord and He doesn’t share His glory with another.
If you’re a Christian, you can’t say, ‘Caesar is Lord’ and burn incense to someone who is not God when you believe in Someone who is Lord.
Therefore, you have this tension. And that’s the point in which you don’t obey the government.
And this led of course to martyrdom of Christians, including this man Polycarp.
It didn’t happen all the time during the Roman empire by the way, it wasn’t consistent. But there were times when that happened.
And we can look at modern times where Christians come up against a government which is obviously evil and which they can’t submit to.
Nazi Germany being one of the prime examples in recent times bringing in racial laws, making the Aryans (the so-called German race) superior, leading to the enslavement of non-Aryans, and the annihilation attempt on the Jewish people.
As Hitler led the German people into the war, to devastation, and the worst crimes against humanity ever recorded in the Holocaust, the believing Christians were faced with the question:
Do we submit to the Nazi state, to Nazi laws or do we resist it?
Action and consequences
And if you resist a totalitarian state like Nazi Germany, this may mean going to prison or to your death, or you are pushed to join the underground resistance to fight against the government.
If you choose to fight against a government like the Nazi state, then, I will say, you’re blessed by God, even to the point of trying to kill Nazi leaders like Bonhoeffer did with Hitler, as a Christian.
There was a battle between the Christians and the true Christians. False Christians went along with it, and Hitler used the apostate church to come to power, and there were many who just went along with the Nazis and agreed with them. And there was a minority who came against them and resisted.
Communism also brought in laws which were anti-Christian. In the Soviet Union, you had laws on religion that forbade the free association of churches, made registration to the atheist state compulsory, forbade evangelism outside the church and banned Christian teachings to children under 18.
And in China today, communism also forbids children in the official churches; those things are still in place. Children are not allowed to attend.
I saw a case where widows and elderly people were told they would lose their pension rights if they participated in Christian activities. Churches are told to put the images of Mao and Xi Jinping up in their churches and to put them alongside images of Jesus.
So, you shouldn’t have images of Jesus but, you have images of the false leaders in its place.
In those cases, Christians must resist it such influence.
We are told in the Bible also that, in the end times, there’ll be the rise of one called the Antichrist or the Beast. And the government that will come through the person of the Beast or Antichrist will lead to the time of the Great Tribulation and bring about the events leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus.
In such cases, Christians are to resist.
What about in the case of our current situation with Covid. It’s not quite so straightforward. When you come to Nazi Germany or communism, it’s pretty clear that, if you’re a believing Christian, you can’t go along with laws which are totally anti-Christian. And presently, we do have a division between Christians:
- Those who say that it’s all legitimate, that governments are working for our good, working to prevent the spread of a disease and that, therefore, we should submit to their rules.
There is of course an element in which, yes, we are to work to stop the spread of the disease and do what we can to prevent infection, and to help in this battle against Covid.
- On another level however, there are those who are saying that governments are going beyond what is necessary and that there’s another agenda which is aiming at changing our society, bringing in a globalist model which will foster a dictatorial government.
You can see many worrying signs taking place in our society, and much more so in other places such as continental Europe, which advance the erosion of a free democratic society and lead towards a growing tyranny.
What are we to do then?
We should cooperate with reasonable demands to stop the spread of the disease, but we should also resist attempts to change society into a new form of tyranny.
There are powers working in that direction. I’ve written about it in the next Light for the Last Days magazine. And as I re-read through it, through what I’ve written, I thought to myself: ‘I might get into trouble with the government for saying some of these things.’
There is a place in which we are potentially putting ourselves in danger if we resist it. I’m also detecting that there seems to be a ‘government behind the government’ which is more powerful than the government itself, which is working not just in our country but working right throughout the world.
You’re seeing the same things happening in France and Germany, and Australia and the United States, in China, and you’re seeing these things happening that are pushing the world into a new form which is potentially extremely tyrannical.
That, we must definitely resist.
So, we have some difficult questions to answer. But, ultimately, we have to stand for the right to meet in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be free to worship, to pray, to teach the Word of God, and to propagate the Gospel, and we should pray that we can continue to have that freedom for as long as possible.