Formation: The Execution of a Non-Violent Revolutionary
The Old Testament does not always present a uniform and linear understanding of God. For example, God is sometimes described as a violent tribal warrior deity, yet at other times, God is presented as the universal Spirit of all life who is filled with loving kindness. And for some of Israel’s leaders, God demands that purity is paramount – whether it be moral or ethnic. But for others, inclusion and justice take priority over purity.
But Christianity suggests that Jesus uniquely shows us something of what we might say about God and ultimate reality. Jesus is a profound and transformative answer to the question, what is God really like? And Jesus confronts notions of divine redemptive violence and resists the vision of a God who endorses violence and the power of empire.
He lives in a world in which power and violence are often attached to options of divinity. For the Romans, the peace of Rome came through violent conquest, and the Emperor was to have allegiance, even worship. Caesar was Lord and Saviour, the son of God. For the Jewish people, God was believed to be on the side of Jewish religious power, and their hope was that God would send them a Messiah who would raise up a liberating army to overpower the Romans and restore Israel’s place in the world.
But Jesus doesn't bend to either of these visions. He doesn't endorse the Roman system; in fact the claim that Jesus is Lord and Saviour is a confrontation to that system. But his refusal to play the Roman game did not mean that he embraced the violent response that the Jewish religious powers were looking for. He exposes both visions as ultimately being the same story, and that their differences were largely over whose side the divine was on.
Jesus refuses to see God as a tribal warrior deity; he doesn’t bend to the vision of God offered by the violent political and religious powers. He offers a revolution, but one that says: perfection is to love your enemies and turn the other cheek. He tells Peter to put away his sword and to refuse the way of violence. Divine forgiveness is offered to people without religious control; disrupting religious systems that hold things in place. A different kind of kingdom is unfolding that interrupts and reframes the Jewish religious frame, and disturbs the Roman systems of status, violence and control.
So the result of this is, in many respects, quite inevitable. Jesus becomes the enemy of the powerful. Even very early on, Herod sees the problem. And then the Jewish leaders see the problem. And then the Romans see the problem.
Jesus is the problem. The enemy. The one who needs to be dealt with. So he is executed. The religious powers demand it. And the Roman system has perfected the art of executing revolutionaries.
But even at the cross Jesus refused to capitulate. In our previous post we looked at the words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” but the gospels also record him saying “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” At the centre of Christianity is a nonviolent revolutionary executed by the State. His revolution is to continue to love, even as they carry out their violent ends against him.
But the resurrection symbolises vindication. Everybody thinks they're doing God’s work in killing Jesus. But the symbol of resurrection says that God is found in the one they executed. Jesus image of God is the one which prevails in the end.