Jerusalem to Rome

Jesus and Jerusalem

The Jewish Court had decided that Jesus would have to be dispensed with in order to preserve the nation and Temple. However, by the time of Jesus both Temple and nation (as a whole) were not fulfilling the purposes of heaven. Even the Temple was no longer a house of prayer for the nations, hence its future could only be where ‘not one stone would remain upon another’. If the Temple no longer served a redemptive purpose there was no hope for the city nor for the nation. Nation and Temple could not be saved, yet a living ‘temple’ and a ‘holy nation’ for the nations could find salvation. Salvation from the coming destruction and salvation for the nations. Jesus came at the fullness of times, born human and specifically as a Jew. His focus took the message of John the Baptist to a new level. Religion, and in particular compromised religion would never fulfil the political task of being a light to the nations.

The task in Jerusalem indeed brought to a finish the work that the Father gave Jesus to do; yet it also marked an important pause in what he came to do. It was both the finish and also simply the beginning of what he did and taught. Given that framework to the book of Acts that Luke says right at the outset, the work of Jesus is not finished, but continues through the book of Acts with the apostolic work and context. No longer a focus on Jerusalem but on the Imperial world of Rome. If we thought that Jesus’ message was religious with no political implication we soon have to reframe his message. It was deeply spiritual, deeply concerned about our response to who God is as that core shapes and directs the whole political approach to the nations.

The end of Luke and beginning of Acts gives us the biblical focus that Jesus gave to the Jewish disciples. That focus was through Scriptural understanding concerning himself, the suffering he was to endure and the nature of the kingdom of God.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Lk. 24: 27).
This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms (Lk. 24: 47).
After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God (Acts 1: 3).

All of that had a focus on Jerusalem. From the wilderness with John came a movement that arrowed in on Jerusalem. But by the end of Acts the focus is not Jerusalem but Rome. Paul has completed his task but the apostolic task remains unfinished. We have no idea if he left the prison situation in Rome and continued on his way. We don’t even know (from Acts) if he died in Rome. Seems to me significant. It is unimportant if he got beyond Rome, and his death is not vital for us. It is important that in understanding the message deposited in Rome that we get to all places beyond ‘Rome’ and that we find where we are to live out the Gospel.

By the end of Acts Rome is the focus

Luke states that Acts is a record of what Jesus is continuing to do and to teach. His work from birth to ascension was the beginning of his work. That took him to Jerusalem. Paul takes it to Rome. If Jesus’ work was unfinished, so then is Paul’s and what he represented – the work of the apostolic Gospel to the nations.

There is such a significant turning point in Paul’s journey and such a focus on where the message of the Gospel is to travel to in Acts 25:

Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:10-12).

It was the Jewish court for Jesus, but not for Paul. Jesus was focused to get to Jerusalem but Paul wanted to get to Rome, the political centre, so that he could get to Spain – the ends of the earth (Rom. 15: 28). His journey to the ends of the earth would take place through the centre of earthly power. His desire to come to Rome was to proclaim to them (the believers) the Gospel. He is not looking to hold an evangelistic crusade, but to align the believers there with the Gospel. At the end of Acts we read:

They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus (Acts 28: 23).

The same work as Jesus did in Jerusalem so Paul did in Rome. Scriptures, and kingdom of God. The Gospel that had implications for Jerusalem now had implications for Rome.

The world of the New Testament

The one time we have had an-all but one world government was the world of the New Testament. Rome’s rule extended beyond anything that had gone before. It is for this reason that I see no reason to posit a future one-world government, nor a global antiChrist. We have had that, and in true Babylonian fashion it was never absolute for Babel will be forever unfinished. I do not look for that future reality, but through the book of Revelation consider we can have our eyes open to the reality of it around us now. There is a one-world government, there are antiChrists, the call of Jesus has implications economically for there will always be restrictions on the extent to which we can buy and sell.

The Roman world was the empire of its day. For the Jews the big ‘monster’ was Babylon and Babylon continued to represent the enemy of Israel symbolically. Likewise Rome. The empire of the day and the ongoing symbol for that one-world opposition to the kingdom of God.

The Pax Romana

In true Imperial fashion Rome conquered and offered a way of life beyond anything that had gone before. The Pax Romana was across the world – a peace that came through the power of the sword. Comply and be blessed; resist and be eliminated! (And Paul’s words about the powers being appointed by God and can wield the sword is so tongue in cheek given Nero’s claim that he did not need to raise the sword. What a man of peace Nero was… NOT!)

Peace in the imperial world was considered such an achievement that the one who brought that was seen to be operating with divine power. It further pointed toward the divine nature of the emperor.

Peace was not the absence of war but was the result of war. Peace meant being in submission to Rome. Peace was imposed on the subjugated by means of force. Peace was brought about by taking lives and creating inequality. The Pax Romana!

As is often the case the reality is there to be seen if we are willing to look. The altar of peace stood on Mars Hill, the hill dedicated to the the god of war! Peace was brought about by war to the Romans.

The contrast to the message of Jesus where he established peace through sacrifice, not through killing his enemies. It was love for the enemy that was exhibited at the cross, thus all powers were stripped bear and exposed. The lie exposed.

Caesar was indeed ‘lord and saviour’ and ‘king of kings’

In secular Greek, the word ‘saviour’ was attributed to someone who had done something significant that safeguarded the people or preserved what was precious. That person ‘saved’ the city and as a result could earn a person the title of saviour. Not surprisingly the title of saviour was in common use for the Roman emperor, especially denoting his ability to maintain or restore peace in the empire.

Of Julius Caesar it was written:

In addition to these remarkable privileges they named him father of his country, stamped this title on the coinage, voted to celebrate his birthday by public sacrifice, ordered that he should have a statue in the cities and in all the temples of Rome, and they set up two also on the rostra, one representing him as the saviour of the citizens and the other as the deliverer of the city from siege, and wearing the crowns customary for such achievements (Dio 44.4.5).

Likewise in connection to Augustus:

Whereas the Providence which has guided our whole existence and which has shown such care and liberality, has brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving to us Augustus Caesar, whom it filled with virtue for the welfare of mankind, and who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a saviour, has put an end to war and has set all things in order. (Priene calendar inscription; 9 B.C.).

The emperor was often called ‘the saviour of the world’ or ‘the saviour of the inhabited earth’.

It is not surprising that on hearing the apostolic message it was heard politically and understood to be a rebellious one at that. These apostles were proclaiming a rival to Caesar.

The message was political. It might have been possible to miss the deeply spiritual element within it! Yet there is a deep spirituality, a radical relationship to heaven that was contained within it. From that commitment to the God of heaven (the ‘foreign’ God of the Jews) this message called for a political way of life and carried a political message for the nations.

If Caesar is not lord, but Jesus; if he is not the saviour of the world, but Jesus; if he is not king of kings, but Jesus. We have a clash. The Christian message could be ignored, sidelined, or controlled. But what Jesus began till the days of his Ascension, and Paul’s ministry symbolised by centring in on the centre, has and will continue ‘until he comes’. That being another imperial term…

Begins with the wilderness

From the wilderness there is a journey to Jerusalem

The word of God that came to John in the wilderness does not remain there. It does not begin as a ‘top down’ movement and does not proceed in that way, but for sure there is a challenge to the top. Jesus spent most of his time away from the centre. Although it was hard to stay hidden he did not pursue a journey that promoted his own visibility, but when the time comes he sets out with purpose to Jerusalem:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Lk. 9:51).

In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! (Lk. 13: 33).

Jerusalem is the centre for faith, but it is compromised. Compromised with political power. The High priestly family is one of the richest in Jerusalem. Religion and politics not mixing? So often they mix when there is a symbiotic relationship. Religion getting privileges from the political arena and politics getting the support of religion so as the status quo is maintained. In the midst of this compromised relationship the Jewish hierarchy are not only willing, but keen, to sacrifice Jesus so that the nation has a future and the Romans do not take away their Temple. The Jewish court was the place where it was declared:

If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 13: 48-50).

Jesus was ultimately judged by the Jewish court and handed over to the Romans, so that the Jewish system could continue! Together, religious and political power bonded together in economic transaction, crucified Jesus. Ironically it was the Romans a generation later that took away the Temple and nation. His death did indeed save them and the Temple, but not as they thought. He gave them a path of salvation so that they might not be as one of the nations, and the ‘true temple’, one not built by hands might emerge. In this context we can read

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

Peter and John are addressing the Jewish ‘rulers and elders’, quoting Scripture about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone (of the Temple), this is not a universal Scripture concerning salvation, but in its context a Scripture about the path of ‘salvation’ that comes through Jesus for the nation of Israel – and salvation from the coming troubles that Jesus prophesied would come within a generation. Salvation, amidst the destruction of Temple and dispersion of the nation, was promised through their Messiah, and the focus is not on salvation in the ‘beyond this life’ setting but salvation to be who they were meant to be in a ‘this life’ setting, the setting of the imperial and political world. All who are in Jesus will be saved. Saved from the Roman onslaught, saved from being focused on a building in Jerusalem, and saved from being a member of a nation that had so become one of the nations. Saved to be a living stone in temple not built with hands and saved to be part of a holy nation, a royal priesthood, aliens throughout the nations.

In hoping to find continued safety the religious powers to preserve their status were willing to sacrifice Jesus; conversely Jesus was willing to sacrifice himself to save the nation, but not as a compromised through wrong-political-alliance-nation. The Jewish elders were able to justify the ultimate exercise of power and control (taking life) to preserve themselves and who they were – the chosen people. Change if need be, for them, will come via that level of ultimate control. Jesus though takes the path of laying down his life to effect change. Change will come through death, not change through killing.

His travel to Jerusalem was to break the hold of compromised religion, for then there is real hope for transformation beyond. There is a process. The faith community must be set free from wrong political alliance and dependency. Religion is a parody of real faith so that has to be broken, and as Jerusalem was the centre for that, to Jerusalem Jesus travels. The first step is that the Prophet has to die in Jerusalem. In the same way as religion is a parody of true faith so the wider world of the Roman empire (as per all empires) was a parody of the rule of God among people. Not surprisingly the focus shifts from Jerusalem to Rome. The era of the prophets dying in Jerusalem is over. Rome is where they will live… and die.

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