As Election Day draws near, the temptation of Jesus has a lot to tell us about how we should view affairs of state and the current status of American politics.
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” (Luke 4:5-8)
Jesus saw right through this scam of Satan’s. But in spite of Jesus’ adamant refusal to fall for Satan’s con, the disciples struggled for years to make Jesus’ kingdom an earthly, political, temporal reality, even well after his death (see Acts 1:6). Whenever Jesus sought to explain his immediate agenda of death and resurrection as a precursor to the coming Kingdom, the disciples were like peevish children who stick their fingers in their ears and shriek: “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”
In much the same way, the political earnestness of Jesus’ followers in 2016 exposes our own counter-agenda. While Jesus says, “The meek shall inherit the earth,” we may counter with, “No, the one who sits in the Oval Office rules.” When Jesus declares “My kingdom is not of this world or else my followers would fight,” modern evangelicals clear their throat and intone, “Um…ahem…actually what Jesus meant was that we should loudly argue for our preferred candidate…and publicly denigrate the candidate we don’t like.”
If the temptation to establish an earthly kingdom in Jesus’ name was too much to resist for the first disciples, why would we expect it to be any easier for disciples 2,000 years later?
What is it about the kingdom of God that proves so elusive to those who want to follow Jesus? And what can we surmise about Satan’s agenda during periods of elections, political crises, and governmental transition?
Frankly, I doubt Jesus’ adversary cares very much who sits in the Oval Office. No matter how superior or inferior one candidate might be to another, neither one will usher in the Kingdom of God since that is the task left to the Church. I think Satan is far more interested in getting us embroiled in politics than he is in joining the fray himself. After all, if the work of the Kingdom is put in the hands of Jesus’ followers and not Donald or Hillary, what could be a more effective strategy in spiritual warfare than to get Jesus’ army distracted by…Donald and Hillary?
Spiritual warfare involves two parties warring against each other: Satan and his minions battling against Jesus’ Kingdom agents on earth, the Church. The enemy of Jesus would like us to think that we are doing the work of the Kingdom of God when we immerse ourselves in earthly politics. While involvement in politics might be a worthy venture for a believer, we must never forget that Satan’s kingdom is overt, physical, and relies on cunning, might and lies – and that is the world of politics. On the other hand, Jesus’ kingdom is hidden, mysterious, quiet, gentle, and operates by counter-intuitive principles – a veritable demonstration of the life of Jesus.
When Daniel declared that “it is God who changes the times and the epochs; it is He who removes kings and establishes kings” (Daniel 2:21), he was not merely spouting a cool theological principle. After all, every day that Daniel crawled out of bed and went to his office to ply his trade, he did so with an awareness that he was living under a corrupt pagan named Nebuchadnezzar who governed the Babylonian empire. He was, by the way, one of those kings that God had “established.”
Our paraphrase of Daniel 2:20 might read, “It is the American voters who elect presidents.” But Daniel puts us on notice that, though our democracy with its political activism is wonderful, legal, and won with the lives of American soldiers, we must not confuse it with the glorious eternal Kingdom of Jesus that is coming regardless of what happens in the voting booth on November 8, 2016.
God is still actively engaged in his world, raising up and ousting kings, rulers and presidents. He acts according to his agenda and is driven by the eventual realization of Revelation 11:11 when “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah. And he will reign forever and ever.” Whatever our voting decisions may be, we must remember that the election of either Donald or Hillary is simply God at work to facilitate the coming of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom. And so we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done!”
(The final installment of theodicy and spiritual warfare will be posted in early December.)