The Bible as a Political Text

The world has many celebrated political texts which illuminate various political perspectives. George Orwell’s Animal Farm is a political treatise in story form. His “1984” is similarly charged with political messages. Hitler had his Mein Kampf. Marx relied on Darwin’s Origin of Species. Mao had his Little Red Book. Political texts come from the Greeks and Romans, along with many writings from before and since.

The Political Bible

But have you ever considered the Bible as a Political Text? I had never given the matter any thought until recently. I had unconsciously ascribed the Bible to the “Religion” Category. Many people who oppose the Bible are keen to promote it as nothing more than a book of religious sentiment. Sadly, unthinking Christians (and I include myself in this category) have allowed unbelievers to tell us how we can use the book God gave us.

Consider the Evidence

The Bible is the book from which a whole nation was governed for thousands of years. Did you get that word ‘governed’? The Bible supervised the Jewish nation through the stages of personal sovereignty, communal governance, prophetic leadership, judges, kings, priests and messianic ministry.

The Bible prescribes personal responsibility, communal accountability, leadership jurisdiction, limitations of power, prescribed punishments for crimes, payments of levies, interplay of priest and civic leaders, court procedures and so on.

And not only are these things discussed in practice and theory, they are demonstrated in the accounts of people’s lives.

Living in a Political World

Daniel and his three friends lived under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar and successfully confronted that king’s authority, relying on the principles given in the Bible.

Moses confronted the political power of Pharaoh, doing most of his business with that world ruler in Pharaoh’s own court.

Abraham dealt directly with the Abimelech (Canaanite leader) of his day, and so too did Isaac.

Jesus Christ was tried and crucified in the Roman courts and the Apostle Paul made many appearances before Roman appointed rulers.

The people of the Bible interacted with political powers and relied on the teachings of the Bible to empower them and to determine how they stood before those kings.

Some Amazing Political Statements

Consider this quick pick of hot political statements straight from the pages of the Bible.

“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.” Jesus Christ, Mark 12:17

“Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above: therefore he that delivered me to you has the greater sin.” Jesus Christ, John 19:11

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29

“Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” 1Peter 2:17

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18
Have Another Look

I trust that these few examples are enough to fire up your interest in the Bible as a Political Text. You just might be amazed at the political wisdom and the personal authority you can operate by, once you see what the Bible is really saying.

The Call of God

Being called by God is a journey. It is not a destination. And the call is progressive as it takes us deeper into the purposes of God.

Peter’s experience exemplifies this so let’s review the historical record of Peter’s encounter with Jesus to see what you can expect as you respond to the call of God.

Peter’s Encounter with Jesus

Peter met Jesus at the time of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, at the Jordan River. While we are not told that Peter was a disciple of John the Baptist, it is evident that he and his friends were impressed and touched by John’s ministry.

That is why they had journeyed from Galilee, where they left their fishing boats idle while they went to get right with God. We can be pretty sure that Peter had been baptised by John, possibly not long before Jesus was, maybe even on the same day.

A Second Encounter with Jesus

After that initial encounter Peter, James and John had to return to their fishing boats and their livelihood. They had heard John’s prophecy about Jesus and had been introduced to Jesus as the “lamb of God”. They were among the very first people to encounter Jesus as He began His ministry. Now, however, they were many miles away from the Jordan River, back on the shores of Lake Galilee.

Jesus came to them and called them to “Follow Me”. Jesus promised to make the “fishers of men”. Peter, James and John all left their boats and their fishing nets to follow Jesus. They had come under the call of God and responded to it.

The Call of God

There are many things that could be said about the call of God. We know that when God calls us the very call itself brings with it the power for its fulfilment.

“Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.” 1Thessalonians 5:24

We also know that when God calls us He does not change His mind, nor abandon that call, even if we make a mess of it. The Biblical statement to that effect is that the “gifts and callings of God are without repentance”, which means God does not change His mind about it.

“For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” Romans 11:29

Peter’s Journey

For about three and a half years Peter and the other disciples journeyed with Him, learned from Him, saw His miracles and were activated into the supernatural, being empowered to do miracles themselves. It must have been a heady time for them all, but most especially for Peter, James and John who were given privileged treatment. They alone saw the transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter.

When Jesus was betrayed, however, they were just like the other disciples. They all fled. Peter, to his shame, also denied Jesus three times over that dreadful night of His betrayal and trial. This must have been a deeply challenging reality in Peter’s experience, since it was fulfilment of a prophecy from Jesus which Peter had denied would happen.

A New Encounter

Following Jesus’ resurrection Peter saw the empty tomb and met the resurrected Jesus. Then came an encounter back on the shores of Galilee. There Peter experienced his second calling to follow Jesus, possibly very close to where he was called the first time, years before.

Peter and some of the disciples had gone fishing in Peter’s boat. They caught nothing until a lone man on the shore called to them and instructed them to drop net on the other side of the boat. They did so and caught a huge catch. At that point someone realised that the man on the shore was none other than Jesus, Himself. Peter swam ashore and met His lord once again.

Jesus Deals with Peter

Jesus then interrogated Peter about Peter’s love for Jesus. Three times Jesus asked, “Do you love me?” Jesus was ploughing deep into Peter’s soul and reducing him to a desperate cry, that Jesus knew him intimately and could tell that he was admitting the truth when he said “Yes”.

Since that first call to follow Jesus, Peter had experienced the heights of walking with Jesus. But he also experienced the depths of personal failure. He now knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus. He now knew that God’s call on his life was not based on what Peter brought to Jesus but on what Jesus brought to Peter.

Peter had failed Jesus. All of his arrogant self-assurance was decimated by his humiliating and bitter denial of Jesus. Yet the call of God on Peter’s life was without repentance. God had not given up on Peter nor revoked the call on his life.

Follow Me

Jesus repeated to Peter what He had said over three years before. “Follow Me!” Here we see that the call of God comes again to our life, once we have failed and faltered in our fulfilment of that call. The call comes the second time to call us to follow, not in the confidence of our ability, but in humble submission as stumbling saints. The call comes again to show us that God is not basing the call on our ability to succeed but on His choice to call us. The whole process is sovereign, on His part, not energised by what we bring to God.

Peter Gets Distracted

Peter was then told something about his own future. His impulsive response was to ask Jesus about one of the others near him. Jesus reply was a gentle rebuke that what God had in store for anyone else was not Peter’s business. By this Jesus was revealing that our part in serving Him has nothing to do with what others are doing or what others will be led into. We must do what we are called to do, irrespective of those who succeed or fail around us, and irrespective of how our journey differs from others.

Here we see that the call of God is personal. It is not something that is subject to analysis based on how ours compares with others. Instead it is something that is to be lived and pursued to the full whether we must journey alone or with a great throng. It must be pursued whether our path is unique or a carbon copy of what others are doing.

And Again, “Follow Me”

Following Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, Jesus repeats one more time the call to “Follow Me”. Here Jesus set the seal on the call on Peter’s life.

It is as if Jesus had said to him in the sequence of these different calls, “Peter, Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men.” Then when Peter had experienced both success and failure Jesus came to him again to say, “Peter, you are to Follow Me, not because of who or what you are, but because I have called you. My call is what is important, not who and what you are.” Then it is as if Jesus added, “Peter, your call is unique, so don’t look at those around you. Just go and fulfil what I have called you to do.”

God’s Call on Your Life

So that’s what the call of God is all about in your life. May God give you grace to hear His call and to respond to it in faith and faithfulness, despite your own limitations, and irrespective of those around you who have a different deal or who shame Christ or outshine you along the way. Just be what God has called you to be, with all the power and grace He gives you to fulfil that call.

The account of Jesus final calls on Peter to “Follow Me” are found in John 21.

Revelation of God

If you were raised in the fear of some idolatrous and despotic deity how would that affect your understanding of the true and Living God? If you only knew of gods as demanding, enslaving, capricious and cruel would you readily understand the God who is “love”?

I was recently blessed by the testimony of Meng, a lovely woman of God who helped me focus these thoughts. I asked her for her notes so I could share her thoughts with you and spring into some of my own observations as well.

She shared something of her testimony recently and drew attention to Jesus asking His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (See Matthew 16:13-19). The significance for her is that her own vision of God has had to be expanded, progressively over the years, to open her heart and understanding to the wonder of the God who is her Father. We all have a head knowledge of who God is and can recite some of His numerous titles. In response to the question of who Jesus is, we could all say, “Messiah”, “King of Kings”, “Saviour” and so on. Yet we could easily say those things out of head knowledge, like facts learned for a school exam, rather than truths that burn deep into us.

Peter had a revelation of who Jesus is. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. And Jesus commended Peter for receiving ‘revelation’, since such knowledge of Christ came from God, not from Peter’s own analysis or his discussions with others.

Now, in Meng’s case, having come from an Asian religious background, her understanding of God was tainted by her existing concepts of what a deity is. She described her situation quite poetically, in the allegory of serving the gods of Egypt in her former life of slavery to sin. I let you read it as she put it.

“Before I came into the Kingdom of God, I served under the gods of this world. I was in bondage in Egypt and I served under the god, Pharaoh. As his slave I had to work long and hard to please my master and when I didn’t work hard enough, Pharaoh, my taskmaster, would punish me. I was made to feel guilty and I was compared to others who outperformed me. My god was my taskmaster. I had to work for acceptance – and although I worked very hard for it I still didn’t get it. No matter how hard I worked, it was never enough – my only reward was to work harder. That was all I knew about god and gods.

When I was set free from Egypt, I brought the same concept of God out with me. I left the slavery of Egypt but I still have traces of Egypt in the way I live in the promise land.”

Meng testified to how she has lived under a performance syndrome, having to push herself to do her best, in the vain quest for acceptance. As a Christian she continued with the impetus to please God, as if He too demanded excessive striving before He would accept her.

What set Meng free from that former concept of God were the truth of God’s Word and an ever deepening revelation of God. Isaiah 55:1 blessed her as it reveals how God’s wonderful graces and abundant benefits don’t come because we can earn them. Christ in us makes us acceptable to God, not our own vain efforts.

The anointing of the Holy Spirit and the showering of God’s love in her heart (Romans 5:5) have been rich healing streams, releasing her to embrace the revelation of God as her ‘papa’ who she can snuggle close to, just as a child would to her daddy. Relationship is replacing performance. Being a child of God and a ‘friend’ of God (as Moses was) are transforming revelations. Being the bride to our heavenly bridegroom, Jesus, is also a strong relationship revelation. And in it all Meng is enjoying an ever deepening hunger to know God, to enjoy a powerful revelation of who He is and to go into richer and sweeter relationship with Him.

So, who do you say that Jesus is?

Notice that Peter’s heightened revelation of Christ resulted in him being given new destiny. Jesus blessed Peter and prophesied great authority for him. That’s what comes from an increasing revelation of God. We are transformed by every new insight we have into who God is.

The surest way for you to become like Christ and to be transformed from the inside out is to get a clearer and deeper revelation of God. Those old religious ideas may have become a strong-hold in your heart and mind. I have met people who can only think of God as a fearsome God of judgement. They cannot accept the truth of God’s love and grace.

Your past concepts of who and what God is may well be robbing you of your spiritual growth. And your ideas of what a father is, based on your childhood experiences, may also be blocking your acceptance of God as a loving Heavenly Father. The false teachings of various groups may have infected your thinking.

I recommend that you read the Bible with eyes to see the rich depth of God’s reality and the awesome grace and love which He possesses, along with His holiness, authority and power. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and relationship with God is the outcome of His salvation. I pray that you, like Meng, have an ever increasing longing for intimacy with the God of all eternity.