Having discussed the incarnation of Christ and contrasting His political philosophy against that of Caesar and Herod in separate blogs, and after exploring the meaning of baptism in the previous part of this blog series, it may be prudent to begin speaking on the life of Christ, as it relates to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.
After having publicly declared His exclusive allegiance to God the Father through ritual immersion by John the Baptizer, Jesus the Christ retreated into the Judean Desert to fast for forty days and nights in a test of His mettle to be a living example to the would-be servant-ministers of His Kingdom. It is there where Christ bested, without compromise, temptations of Satan by maintaining His blood-right to kingly authority in maintaining His integrity of character. A surface-level lesson inferred by this series of events includes the idea that: After making a public declaration of belonging to God’s jurisdiction and seeking His Kingdom exclusively, one can expect to be put to the test where one’s actions are given an opportunity to comport with one’s assertions, and one’s fruit must be consistent with one’s profession of faith. Looking much deeper than that lesson, however, reveals that the specific trials of Jesus are also unique and, in a sense, retroactively prescient. They represent parallel trials faced by Israelites as they wandered in their own desert, after having been recently freed from the civil bondage of Egypt, and having declared their belonging to God’s jurisdiction and seeking His Kingdom exclusively, even after their own ritual washing. This will be explained shortly.
Satan suggests introducing hierarchy into Christ’s government:
“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:3-4)
Concerning the first temptation of Christ, many commentaries will reduce this exchange to be about hedonism, or satisfying the senses. In this case, physical hunger. While the baseline is true that the desires of the flesh ought not dictate our actions, there is a lot more symbolic imagery densely packed within these few sentences. As it relates to the free Israelites wandering in the desert, one of their trials was also characterized by hunger. Whereas they had previously, in their hungry pragmatism, relied on the providence of the false gods of Egypt to turn “stones” into welfare bread in order to survive a great famine, they had to learn in the desert to rely on the miraculous providence of the one true God, who did not feed them by unnaturally manipulating “stones“, but rather multiplied daily bread directly from Heaven: “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) While the promises of human rulers are deceptive and empty, requiring the mutual slavery of socialism to fulfill, the promises that proceed from God’s mouth can be relied upon. They can be lived by. It is better to wait on God’s promises than it is to chase your bellies and throw yourself into the fleshpots of Pharaoh and eat to your contentment at your neighbor’s expense. Because he surely will do the same at yours.
The extended metaphor concerning “stones” in scripture is one of the most repeated and least understood. In a pagan, collectivist society under false gods, literal stones were hewn together to build literal altars and bureaucratic temples where sacrifices were offered in taxation in order to provide for the covetous needs of your fellow citizens, or provide for the institutional infrastructure, characterized by these literal altars and temples. Likewise, the people are also hewn together in a bureaucratic infrastructure, cut from their intended, natural relationships, and regulated through civil law and heavy legal burdens, forced to “go up by steps” in a social hierarchy where each level preys upon the members of the level below it through contracts, entitlements, and taxation, turning them into bread for their own bellies in a parasitic social order. God explicitly commanded against this: “And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.” (Exodus 20:25-26) Unhewn stones, however, are living stones, characterized by natural relationships, not regulated, bound, and disfigured by civil authority, but existing as God made them, free and unmolested. These, of course, are men in a free society: Specifically here the ministers of God, who are not frustrated or hardened into a bureaucratic hierarchy, becoming bread for each other, but are whole and free men, coming together in an adhocracy, where they do not rule over each other but serve each other voluntarily after the pattern of Christ and His kingdom. The altars and temples of God’s Kingdom are not literal because free people do not need institutions to maintain their society. They do not need bureaucracy to sustain them or to outsource the weightier matters. They, themselves, are temples and altars, living sacrifices that love their neighbors as themselves and take care of them directly: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5)
When the Tempter suggests that Jesus turn His stones into bread, he is giving him an opportunity to re-order His government into a hierarchy that exercises authority, and thereby become lords over each other, exploiting each other, compelling them to become provision for one another. In other words, the Adversary desired that Christ’s Kingdom look identical to every single man-made government of the “world” that has ever existed, and even like the institutional churches that exist today. But the ministers of God’s government were always meant to be servants and bondservants, outranking each other only in their desire to outdo one another in humility and service.
Satan tempts Christ to take up institutional authority over Judea:
“Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” (Matthew 4:5-7)
Not without some merit, most commentaries will reduce the second temptation of Christ to be about egoism, or pride. No doubt it is shameful to push the limits of one’s own ability, power, or confidence in their relationship to God, but the content of Christ’s circumstance is much more full. Another trial of the Israelites in their desert wandering included an instance of feigned doubt in God’s will or ability to provide for them. (Exodus 17:1-7) Having stopped at a place where there was no water to drink, they became contentious with Moses, and with God, complaining and even challenging God to provide them with water. Despite warning them about their haughty impetuity, God provided for them water anyway. As a result, God called the place “Massah,” which means “testing,” and “Meribah,” which means “quarreling,” because Israel tested God and argued with Him by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” He replies to such inquiry with, “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) There is a parallel here with Christ’s temptation directly hinging on the prospect of God’s provision, putting faith in that provision, and deliberately, unnecessarily, and haughtily testing the occasion for that provision. Where the Israelites walked by sight and desired for God to prove Himself by providing water, the Tempter wanted Jesus to prove that God was with Him in a gambit of freefall, rather than walk by faith.
But there is another element to this temptation that is very much related to the political implications of the first temptation. The haughty, authoritative lordship represented by the “pinnacle of the temple” atop the ziggurat at Babel is Satan’s nearly eternal ambition where he looks out with his all-seeing eye over all of the kingdoms of the “world” which belong to him as “the god of this age.” This is a much fuller description of pride, as that Tower reflects man’s ambition to conquer God and replace Him with institution. This is partly why it is forbidden to “go up by steps” in God’s kingdom as a hierarchy. “Ziggurat means ‘pinnacle’ or ‘mountaintop’ and is the name of the elevated platform on which a temple sits. Mesopotamians thought their gods would come down from the heavens and reveal themselves there.” (Culture and Values. Lawrence S. Cunningham. 2018.) Surely, this is Christ’s birthright, having the pedigree, prophecy, and divinity to inherit command of the temple in regal authority, coming down from Heaven to reveal himself to the people. Surely this position was so rightfully His that he could fall from the high position (or throw himself down from it) and the Father would send angels to keep Him from harm or disgrace and reinstall Him atop the temple. But this is more in line with the gospels of false christs, patterned after Satan, whose claims of divine right allow them to become the capstones of their metaphorical temples where they rule over the people below them with civil authority, personal lordship, and institutional force.
In a stark contrast, this is not the place for Christ, for he is the cornerstone, the foundation as a servant of bondservants, where the government of God rests on his shoulders in an inverted pyramid, bearing the weight of a free society in order to keep it free. “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16) Jesus, as the stone that the builders of institutional societies reject, becomes the cornerstone for a free society. And no society can ever be free without Him as the foundation. But there is still yet another element to this temptation revealed in the line “lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” This is a sarcastic critique against the purpose of Christ, for He is not the one to dash a foot against a stone, because He himself is the stone by which those who would sit comfortably on the pinnacle of the temple with their civil legalism dash their feet against: “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 9:31-33) All authoritarians, mirroring the Pharisees, destroy themselves in rejecting Christ’s gospel. Their thirst for power, or desire to cling on to the power they already have, will be their undoing, completely preventing them from seeing the truth that only service and liberty and charity can sustain a society from generation to generation, and that polluting and twisting this reality will lead to social and economic collapse, not to mention personal damnation.
Satan offers Christ command of the Roman Empire:
“Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” (Matthew 4:8-11)
This last temptation is most often reduced to materialism or covetousness in commentaries and sermons. There is a truth to that claim, even if it is grossly myopic. Desiring wealth and power, and obtaining them, often would require that we compromise our scruples in order to get them within our grasp. “…the old but ever new temptation to do evil that good may come; to justify the illegitimacy of the means by the greatness of the end.” (Barrett, George, Slatyer. The Temptation of Christ. 1883) The trial of the Israelites in the desert that this temptation seems to reflect actually occurred before the other two, but maybe its significance is important enough to save it for last. It does not relate to physical comforts like bread or water, but rather to their impermanent loyalty to God as their sole magistrate and their lack of faith in Him by pragmatically forsaking His model for society so soon after being redeemed from civil bondage. No doubt this temptation relates directly to the very first commandment of the ten laws given through Moses at Sinai, and in direct conflict with their creation of a federal reserve by melting down their wealth to create the golden calf. “Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6:12-15) We have expressed elsewhere that scripture says human magistrates, judges and rulers are “gods” and that serving them in civil society and “going after” them in citizenship or accepting their socialist benefits is idolatry that leads to bondage.
It is often that mountains in scripture refer to a mass of people who are piled together and their man-made organizations, much like the metaphor of the hewn stones bound together by social contracts. The motif of these “mountains” (or “pinnacles”) reflect the towering ziggurat of Babel reaching up to conquer Heaven through the socialist efforts of the people, as if binding all people together in a collective display of force and opinion could usurp God’s authority and delegitimize His will by declaring that, not only is sanity statistical, but that it could vote to impeach God with the power of empire, or at least protect themselves from God’s wrath. Empires, like all pagan societies, are inherently characterized by what scripture calls unrighteous mammon or “entrusted wealth” in “one purse“. When the members of a community or society pool their wealth and resources into one socialist economy, receiving fiat tokens of exchange in the transaction, they are forming a golden calf, and binding each other through contracts and mutual surety for collective debt. This is how empires are formed and raised, institutionalizing the redistribution of wealth which gives society an illusion of strength, opulence, and success, all built on the taxes, labor, and economic, social, and political interdependence of the people, borrowed on credit against the future as long as they keep selling their children as collateral into civil bondage through birth registration, and the promises of social security benefits. Empire cannot be divorced from unrighteous mammon. This is the pattern that the Israelites had learned in Egypt. This is what God and Moses had redeemed them from. This is what they were returning to at the creation of the golden calf like a dog returns to its vomit. There is a way that seems right unto a man in combining your wealth with that of your community, merging yourselves together into one, mountainous flesh. It is much easier to do this than it is to be responsible for your own wealth, survival and success, and to rely on an invisible God to secure your fate in blessing your efforts. But in the end, it leads to death through moral and fiscal bankruptcy, social collapse, and being destroyed from the face of the earth in damnation. To contrast against the metaphor of socialists coming together to make themselves a mountain, Scripture also uses an inverted description of a valley, where the people are formed together, not by hierarchy and caste competition, but by service, charity, and mutual love. God condemns the former and blesses the latter: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:4-5) And elsewhere: “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
The particularly “exceeding high mountain”, a metaphorical definition for ziggurat, that Satan places at Christ’s feet, where He can examine all of the kingdoms under its shadow is likely to be the Roman Empire which had conquered the earth in a way that was inclusive for all of its acquired territories to retain a semblance of sovereignty so long as they remained an amalgam of nations under the Pax Romana, and ultimately deferred their authority to Rome. This temptation for kingdoms to take part in Rome’s one world government was made sweet by the policies of its New World Order. It offered a freedom of religion, preservation of local customs, protection through a global, standing army, and a participation in its social and economic melting pot of trade, civil infrastructure, and all of the other temporary benefits of empire. If Christ came to redeem the people of the “world” and put them under God’s jurisdiction, then accepting bureaucratic authority over an existing order and government that spanned the greater part of the known earth would be a fast-track to achieving those ends. The ability to have civil authority or even to be a king-maker through electoral campaigns and by the power of democracy entices all men, but it is impossible to serve both God and Mammon. The Israelites discovered that truth at the destruction of their golden, institutional idol in the desert. Here, at the temptation of Christ, it is explained why it is true. Civil, bureaucratic, and institutional authority in collectivist societies belong to Satan. Top-down, “worldly” kingdoms are his to offer. They are his to enjoy. They are his baubles by which to tempt, tease, and entice mankind. And in order to receive them, one must bow down to him in worship. One must serve him. One must make him their ultimate authority. One must reject the Gospel of God which makes every man a king in his own home, and accept the gospel of Satan which sacrifices the dominion of the Imago Dei and places it on the altars of human civil government.
“…Every true man is a cause, a country, and an age; requires infinite spaces and numbers and time fully to accomplish his design; and posterity seem to follow his steps as a train of clients. A man Caesar is born, and for ages after we have a Roman Empire. Christ is born, and millions of minds so grow and cleave to his genius, that he is confounded with virtue and the possible of man. An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson. Scipio, Milton called ‘the height of Rome’; and all history resolves itself very easily into the biography of a few stout and earnest persons.” (Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson)
If an institution is the “lengthened shadow of one man”, then all civil institutions are the lengthened shadow of Satan. They conform to his character in making mankind bestial and merchandise, through tempting offers of socialist benefits and mutual oppression in exchange for civil influence and political allegiance to the kingdoms of the world. What should be mentioned in contrast is the fact that Christ’s failure to give in to these temptations not only reflects the fruition of Biblical prophecies surrounding the installation of an everlasting, righteous servant-king over the Kingdom of Heaven who is allegiant only to the one, true God, it is also display of political integrity in doing what the counterfeit “kingdom of God” claimed by “God’s chosen people” failed to do.
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” (Matthew 21:42-45)
Since the moment of having raised up kings to rule over them, the Israelites were accustomed to turning stones into bread and feeding off of each other’s livelihood through force and taxation. The Pharisees themselves were no stranger to exploiting the people and to live at their expense.
“It had only been a century before, during the reign of Salome-Alexandra (about 78 BC), that the Pharisaical party, being then in power, had carried an enactment by which the Temple tribute was to be enforced at law. It need scarcely be said that for this there was not the slightest Scriptural warrant.” (The Temple and Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ by Alfred Edersheim)
God has no incentive to miraculously send manna from heaven or to miraculously multiply freewill offerings of bread when the people, through committing themselves to the mammon of unrighteousness, compel bread from each other through covetousness and taxation.
When it comes to tempting God, the Israelites had no qualms against doing so, and most often did so in their disobedience, provoking God’s judgment and wrath as they found themselves in bondage over and over again. The Pharisees, too, committed to testing God’s patience in their legislative, judicial, and executive positions over the people of Judea, in the face of God who is meant to be their one lawgiver and judge. This persistent testing of God is best expressed through a direct encounter they had with Christ:
“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowring. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.” (Matthew 16:1-4)
When a free people decide to tempt God, the sign of His presence might include providing for them water in the desert. But when people in bondage ask for a sign of God’s will, that sign will invariably be a warning against the coming judgment and destruction in economic and social collapse.
The greatest sins ever committed by Israel were always related to the times they tried to be like the kingdoms of the world by adopting their gods and political order. Even after being redeemed from the bondage that those things bring, the Israelites went right back to the temptation of socialism by creating the golden calf, serving Satan in serving themselves and rejecting God’s more holistic order for society. The Pharisees also gave in to this temptation in an especially destructive way. It was during the Hasmonean civil war that Judea was needing a peaceful solution between the brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus who were competing for monarchical authority. Both sides decided to appeal to Roman Imperialism to settle the score.
“However, the matter was made more complex by the appearance of a third embassy from Judea that essentially represented the Pharisees, but clearly not the people as a whole. It voiced opposition to either of the Hasmoneans serving as king. The Pharisees were convinced that many of Judea’s problems were a direct consequence of the unification of the high priesthood and the monarchy in the Hasmonean family. It was preferred, they insisted, that they not be ‘under kingly government, because the form of government they received from their forefathers was that of subjection to the priests of that God whom they worshipped.’ (Flavius Josephus, Complete Works, Antiquities) The evident implication of this argument was that they preferred Judea to be under Roman rule, but with religious and communal autonomy under the high priesthood.” (Between Rome and Jerusalem by Martin Sicker)
This political ambition of the Pharisees was proof enough that they did accept Satan’s offer of having their own kingdom even though it meant ultimately bowing down to Caesar and vicariously to Satan himself. It is common knowledge that they doubled down on this decision over and over again when confronted with Christ’s message concerning the Kingdom of God, even going as far as to explicitly declare “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15) This is because it was Caesar that authorized, supplemented, and protected their civil authority, justifying their political office over the people. They knew full well that both God, and His servant-king would not.
Giving in to these temptations is not exclusive to the Israelites or the Pharisees. These failures are common to all men and represent how all men fall short of God’s glory and exchange it for a lie in their covetousness, testing God by taking his name in vain while forswearing active faith in His promises and Law. To fill the vacuum created by rejecting God’s presence and kingdom, all men everywhere subject themselves to the kingdoms of the world for a little bit of power over their neighbor, whether it is through civil office, democracy, or just being eligible to receive a few benefits extracted from his livelihood through civil citizenship. It is because these temptations are common to all men that makes the need for Gospel of Jesus Christ all the more relevant and urgent, for only He has the power, but more importantly, the right to redeem man from the dominion of man:
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)
In conclusion, a point of implication should be acknowledged: If Jesus turned to political influence in order to advance His cause it is evident that, not only would the politically-minded Pharisees have joined His ranks, but also the Sadducees. And not just the Sadducees, but the Zealots too. And likely the Romans. All men, when driven by their flesh, desire political influence or, at the very least, political solutions to their personal ambitions and moral imperatives. If the actual Son of God comes to earth in political revolution, social change, and doctrinal reform, then any political party or social club professing to belong to “the Kingdom of God” would necessarily agree with Him, readily sloughing off any of their preconceived notions that do not comport with His message. Unless that revolution, change, and reform contradicts the notions, means, or ends of ruling over society in an authoritarian, institutional, bureaucratic and (therefore) “worldly” and wicked way. That is a pill too hard to swallow for mankind. It starves the disease upon which humanity has come to rely. It confronts, cold turkey, our self-destructive addiction. In reaction to the offensive Gospel of Jesus Christ that contradicts our desire for human authority, our only recourse is to stamp Him out of existence and go about our pretense. Or, at the very best, take His name in vain and supplicate that we just do not know any better.
The controversy does not end there. The lineage of Jesus the Christ actually gave Him the birthright as rightful King over Judea to rule in an authoritarian manner. More importantly, Biblical prophecy gave Him the divine right to be an authoritarian King over the whole earth. And yet, He gives up the temptation to exercise that birthright and that divine right in order to teach men to retain their own birthright in the dominion of the Imago Dei, and not just teach them how, but to sacrifice His very life in order to restore that right to them himself. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) If the Dominion Mandate is the birthright of Man, then it is sin to raise up men to have dominion over other men. Likewise, because God’s Law is written on the hearts and minds of His citizens, then it is contradictory to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to nullify that by looking to human lawgivers to codify legislative burdens over their fellow man. To be Christ-like is to give up those notions because His rule is antithetical to how men rule in manmade governments over idolatrous people. He rules and reigns by service, moral suasion, and by example, giving those in rebellion to His rule over to a reprobate mind, to be ruled by their false gods in their self-destructive damnation.
In order to continue to thoroughly analyze gospel-related material, the next article will endeavor to explore the significance of the Sermon on the Mount, and maybe touch on the implications of the feeding of the five-thousand, and to express how they relate to the literal Kingdom of God on earth.