Religion and Politics in the Time of Christ

From the Merriam Webster On-Line Dictionary we have the following offerings for definitions of “politics:”

3 a:political affairs or business; especially:  competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government) c:  political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices.

5 a:the total complex of relations between people living in society

At the time of Jesus’ birth the country of Judah was under the dominion of Rome.  So Joseph and Mary made the trip to Bethlehem to register for the census.  This numbering was then used for taxation purposes by the Roman government.

Several different groups (sects) made up the religious community of New Testament times.  First we note the aristocratic Sadducees.  They were primarily concerned with keeping their jobs as rulers of the religious activities of New Testament times.  They maintained this power primarily by dominating the Sanhedrin Court system.  They did not follow the traditional laws of the Jews.  They did not believe in the resurrection.  They were the ruling power in the Sanhedrin at the time of Christ.  They were actually the last to oppose Jesus.  They did this because of the political complications they faced at the end of Jesus’ ministry.  The Pharisees were the sect of the Jews that held very dear the oral traditions and teachings of the Jews.  They were very patriotic.  They opposed foreign influences, such as Rome.  They immediately opposed Jesus because from the beginning of His ministry He showed the difference between the traditions of the Jews and the teachings of the Scriptures.

The Scribes (often referred to as the Rabbis) had closer contact with the people in general.  They were primarily responsible to tell the people what the “traditions of the fathers” actually meant.  They used the “traditions” mentality to practically destroy the true spirit of the Jewish religion.  Other sects included the Essenes, the Herodians, and the Zealots.  Most of these groups were content to endure the existence of the other groups in public, but privately often disagreed and sometimes this disagreement was public!  The Roman government placed a sharp watch over the country of Judah.  Eventually Rome overran the country in 70 AD.  At that time the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed.

It was within this political climate that the Son of God grew from boyhood into manhood.  It was within this political atmosphere that Jesus contended against all the major sects in order to call back His people from their sinful ways.  He said,

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (Matt. 23:37-38).

Perhaps the saddest commentary on the political and religious condition of that day is Jesus’ statement that the people of Jerusalem (Judah) “would not” come back to Him!  Then the pronouncement that their “house is left unto you desolate” seals the doom of the Jewish nation!

There is, by definition and necessity, always a connection between the politics and the religion of a country.  Both the politics and the religion should be operated according to the principles of God.  Israel failed to maintain God in their religious and political activities.  She fell.

America is failing, pitifully, to maintain God’s Will in her politics and religion.  Can she stand?  Let us all pray that our country, once great because of her founding fathers’ determination to follow after righteousness according to God’s Law, will again turn in that direction!  Pray that she will turn before she falls as did Israel of old.

-Glenn B. Ramsey