Have you ever noticed that every artistic depiction of Jesus looks basically the same? Jesus is western European, many times even with blue eyes. He has long, flowing hair and a beard with a strong jaw underneath. Oh, and He’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 6 feet tall. That’s the classic image of Jesus.
Except that’s probably not what Jesus looked like.
The Church has a long history of portraying Jesus according to the current cultural assumptions and standards of attractiveness. And we don’t just do it with our artistic renderings. If we aren’t careful, we may be guilty of trying to form God in our own image across the board.
Perhaps one of the biggest ways that we seek to form Jesus into our own image is in our political ideologies.
We assume that Jesus’ assessment of the political landscape is completely congruent with our own. After all, we are in the right. And the perfect Creator of everything would never be in the wrong. And surely there isn’t the faintest possibility that I’m in the wrong.
The people in Jesus’ day were guilty of the same blindspot.
Each political group had preconceived notions of what the coming Messiah would look like—what He would come to do. And each of them had great elements of truth.
But each also fell tragically short of the vision Jesus came to make reality when He announced that the Kingdom of God was here.
A look at their situation helps us better understand our own.
The Political Landscape of Jesus’ Day
Jesus came onto the scene at a time when the political landscape was very complex. Israel was under the authority of the Roman Empire. And various groups within the Jewish community responded to the challenges of the day in diverse ways.
Jesus stood in agreement with each of these groups on some important matters. But He also had serious disagreements with each of them.
These were the four major groups.
The Pharisees. The Pharisees were ardent keepers of moral virtue. They had strong family and community values. They memorized massive amounts of Scripture. They were widely respected among many of the people for their piety.
But their zeal for moral righteousness also made them unkind, legalistic, and hypocritical. They tried to litigate God’s love, and they pushed people that did not fit their mold into the margins.
The Sadducees. The Sadducees were influential in the keeping of the Temple in Jerusalem. And Jesus had a great passion for the sanctity of the Temple. He Himself was the presence of God among humanity. That’s what the Temple represented.
However, the Sadducees abused their influence to turn a profit from Temple worship. This led Jesus to cleanse the Temple by using a whip to drive out the salespeople on the Temple mount. The Sadducees also discounted large portions of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Zealots. The Zealots had a passion for seeing God’s sovereign reign become a reality in Israel. This is what Jesus came preaching—the Kingdom of God is here!
However, the Zealots saw their freedom from Rome as an end unto itself, and their tactics were those of violent nationalist subversives. They were known for coordinating assassinations and stirring rebellions that resulted in the deaths of many.
The Essenes. The Essenes were incredibly devoted to personal piety. They spent a great deal of time in solitude, meditating and praying. Jesus did the same. He once fasted and prayed for forty straight days.
However, Jesus never used His commitment to personal piety as an excuse to withdraw from His calling to minister to others. The Essenes withdrew from society completely and were passively awaiting the end of the age.
Jesus seemed to break all the categories. He had deep congruence on certain matters with each of these groups. But He could never be among the card carrying ranks of any of them.
And that’s because Jesus has no interest in human political ideologies. His focus is on the ministry of the gospel and the advancement of His eternal Kingdom.
Too Liberal to be a Conservative, Too Conservative to be a Liberal
Enter American Jesus. Or rather American Jesuses (are you allowed to pluralize our Savior’s name?). Depending on who you talk to in America, the depiction of Jesus varies vastly. But in every case, He seems to strongly resemble the political and ideological convictions of the person describing Him.
To some, Jesus is a gun-owning supporter of defunding Planned Parenthood. To others, Jesus is a social justice warrior and lover of universal healthcare.
We tend to assume that Jesus would vote for whomever we would vote for. We may even argue that point on Facebook. In all caps.
But what if that’s not what Jesus actually looks like?
I think Jesus would have trouble giving His unilateral support to either of the major political parties in America.
I was raised in evangelical churches to believe that Jesus was a good Republican. But I don’t see much biblical support for that. And that isn’t to say that He’s a Democrat either. That’s my point.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus can’t be squeezed into our human ideologies. Regardless of how hard we try to cram Him into our frameworks, we will always do so at the cost of ignoring major facets of who He is.
If we never find any friction between our knowledge of God and the views of our given political party, then we’re probably ignoring large portions of the Bible.
As citizens of this nation, we are duty bound to vote our convictions for the candidates and policies we believe will do the most amount of good. But we can hardly say that any political party or candidate is God’s anointed or inspired political leader.
JESUS is God’s anointed leader. That’s what the word Messiah (or Christ) literally means.
So don’t put Jesus in a box that He does not approve of being in.
The fact of the matter is that Jesus can’t be squeezed into our human ideologies. Regardless of how hard we try to cram Him into our frameworks, we will always do so at the cost of ignoring major facets of who He is. Click To Tweet
More Political, Less Partisan
So does that mean that we should be less political? Not at all.
I don’t think our problem lies in being too political, but in being too partisan. If we determine not to be political, we must determine also not to be biblical. Topics like abortion, end-of-life care, racial harmony, social justice, immigration, and sexual identity are deeply biblical conversations.
They’re also inherently political.
But if we take the bible seriously, we may very quickly become politically vague, at least in terms of being able to wholeheartedly align with one of the major American political parties. Sometimes, we do great harm to the gospel by thoughtlessly toeing the party line. Regardless of whether you’re on the left or on the right.
And that’s because neither political ideology can account for a biblical vision on all of these issues.
And that’s okay. If Jesus broke all the categories, maybe we can too.
Maybe the answer in this current political climate of outrage and gridlock is to be more like Jesus. To disagree passionately. To love relentlessly. And to sacrifice a great deal to see God’s will be done.