The Political Implications of Christ's Lordship
In Acts 4:12, Peter declares: “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Certainly that verse is familiar to virtually every evangelical Christian. What may surprise you is that Peter was not only making a theological statement about Jesus as the only way to be saved from the wrath of God, but he was making a political statement as well. What, you may ask, does his statement have to do with politics? To the mind of most believers today, the answer is absolutely nothing. But to those believers living in the first century, it was overwhelming in its political implications. The statement was a bold declaration of war against the Roman Empire. Because at the time of Peter’s declaration, the Roman emperor was hailed as the “divine savior of the world.” Mark Antony said that the sole work of the Roman emperor was, “to save where anyone needed to be saved.” The inscriptions on the Roman coins proclaimed the concept of the emperor as a “divine savior”:
“The symbolic meaning is clear: a new day is dawning for the world. The divine savior-king, born in the historical order ordained by the state, has come to power on land and sea, and inaugurates the cosmic era of salvation. Salvation is to be found in no other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved. This is the climax of the Advent proclamation of the Roman empire.” [Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 52]
H. B. Swete in his Commentary on Revelation, wrote concerning the cry of the redeemed, “Salvation to our God . . . and unto the Lamb” (Rev.7:10), that it is “equivalent to attributing to both the title of Soter (Savior), so freely given by the loyal or pliant cities of Asia to the Emperors, but belonging in Christian eyes only to God and to His Christ.” Swete also points out that Christianity’s conflict with Rome originated from the fact that there were “two Empires, two great social organizations, designed to embrace the whole world” warring with one another.
In other words, the declaration of Jesus as Savior had tremendous implications in the political sphere. I do not mean by that the message of the gospel is merely, or even primarily, political. It is universal, addressing not only individuals but nations as well. The message of the Kingdom is not only for the salvation of our souls, but for the redemption of the created order. It challenges and threatens the humanistic political systems. This is what brought about the persecution of Christians within the Roman Empire. The charge leveled against them was, “They all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). In short, the reason Rome persecuted the Church was political, not religious. They were not killed because they merely worshipped Jesus, in the religious sense of that word. But because they disrupted the unity of the state, by refusing to make the confession that “Caesar is lord.” Instead, their confession was that “Jesus is Lord.” Undoubtedly, the Roman civil authorities understood, better than most Christians do today, the political implications of Christ’s Lordship. I might add that most totalitarian governments today are aware of it as well.
Francis Schaeffer, in his book How Should We Then Live? makes this comment: “No totalitarian authority nor authoritarian state can tolerate those who have an absolute by which to judge that state and its actions. The Christians had that absolute in God’s revelation. Because the Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge not only personal morals but the state, they were counted as enemies of totalitarian Rome and were thrown to the beasts.”
The Apostle Paul unequivocally declared that civil governmental authorities are “ministers of God” (Rom. 13:4), responsible before God to protect the righteous and to be “an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Elsewhere, Paul boldly proclaims that at Christ’s ascension He was installed as Supreme Lord above all earthly authorities (Ephes. 1:20-22). All men, and that includes civil authorities, are obligated to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship. Read Psalm 2:1-12. This psalm is specifically addressed to the civil governmental authorities – kings and judges (vs. 10). While the Bible does teach the separation of Church and State, it does not teach the separation of State and God. Civil authorities are just as responsible to God and His Word, as the elders of the church are responsible to God.
The theologian Carl F. Henry said: “If while evangelizing we abandon the sociopolitical realm to its own devices, we shall fortify the misimpression that the public order falls wholly outside the command and will of God, that Christianity deals with private concerns only; and we shall conceal the fact that government exists by God’s will as His servant for the sake of justice and order.”
Jesus Christ claimed that all authority in heaven and in the earth belonged to Him (Matt.28:18), and to affirm His lordship over the sphere of civil government is simply to acknowledge His dominion over a part of the whole. If our concept of Christ’s kingdom involves anything less than this, we are allotting to Him a very small kingdom indeed, and one with which any Roman emperor would have been happy to coexist.