Jesus, Kingdoms, and the Spirit
Genesis 3, Luke 4
In my daily reading today, I found myself reflecting on the previous 3 chapters of Luke’s Gospel as I read the fourth chapter of Luke’s Gospel. As I did, I remembered a significant feature that begins each chapter. It goes something like this.
In chapter 1 (excluding for my purposes Luke’s prologue in verses 1-4), we read this: “In the time of Herod, king of Judea…” Sounds innocent enough, I suppose.
Then chapter 2 begins this way, “In those days Caesar Augustus issue a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” OK. The ‘entire Roman world’ was fairly large, I suppose; larger anyhow than Judea.
Then chapter 3, also begins this way, “In the fifteen year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galille, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitus, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas…” OK. The reigns of kings is spreading out to cover, or double-cover, any area that might have been missed by Caesar who ruled the only ‘entire world’ that mattered at the time, ‘the entire Roman world.’ These kings are proliferating, expanding, conquering, dominating.
Then chapter 4 begins. There I am struck by something I haven’t seen yet in Luke’s Gospel: “Jesus.”
The other chapters began with the rule of men; kings of the earth; kingdoms of power, wealth, intrigue and ambition. But chapter 4 is different: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, let the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” Then, this tidbit: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’”
Wait a bloomin’ minute! I thought that Herod, Caesar, Pilate, Philip, Annas and Caiaphas and others ruled the entire Roman world?! Well, it sort of begs the question, doesn’t it?: Who gave the devil these kingdoms with all their glory and splendor? And, what did these ones Luke mentions in chapters 1-3 do to acquire the kingdoms that the devil states he owns and has a right to share? At best we see here that these rulers mentioned in chapters 1-3 are in collusion with the devil, at worst they are puppets manipulated to serve only his ends. Did they have to bow down and worship him? Is that how the kings of the earth gain their power; do they too have to worship the devil in exchange for the power they possess?
So along comes Jesus and he, strange sort of kingdom builder he is, rejects the devil’s offer. And, in fact, Jesus starts going around ‘in the Spirit’ (4:1, 4:14, 4:18) and begins undoing all the work that the devil had perpetrated in the kingdom he owned. Jesus goes to his hometown and is rejected because he dared preach the Scripture and hinted that Gentiles might just be as important as Jews. Then he goes to one of their ‘church’ services and drives the devil out of its midst. Then he goes and starts releasing people from all sorts of bondage to physical ailments and diseases. It is easy to get the impression that Jesus, who goes around ‘proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God…’ is invading enemy territory, will not use the same tactics that the enemy uses to raise his kingdom, and is setting people free from his slavery. Jesus is binding the Strongman and raiding his house. I think he still is!
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Jesus is, well, strange. He refuses to manipulate people through their stomachs (4:4; he’d rather they followed him hungry than to be fed); he refuses to rule people through an alliance with evil (4:8; he’d rather not have them than to acquire them this way); and he refuses to guard his rule, and thus exalt himself, through a corruption of God’s promises (4:12; he’d rather fall to his death than to manipulate God for his own ends). But this isn’t how to get things done in this world. In this world it is the Herods, Caesars, Pilates, and Caiaphas’ who get things done—regardless of what it takes to see that happen. (See, The Jesus Way, by Eugene Peterson)
Jesus was going to rule another way. Jesus was going to conquer another way.
“And he kept on preaching the synagogues of Judea” (v 44). Strange. What sort of Kingdom is this? It is probably not ironic, then, that as Jesus begins to undo the devil’s work, the devil’s kingdom, he doesn’t start in the imperial courts of Caesar or the castle of Herod or the palace of Pilate. No. Luke four tells us that when Jesus began to undo the devil’s kingdom, he started in the synagogue (4:15, 16, 20, 28, 33, 38, & 44).