No Government Shut Down – Acts 17:1-9

Statue of Augustus Caesar

Have you ever heard a parent say to a child, “Who taught you to say that?” God the Father surely says that to his children when we speak vainly of him or damagingly to others. It is wise and good that we carefully use language that glorifies and honors our Creator. This is especially true when we are directly speaking about him and the Kingdom of his Son that he is building by his Spirit.

Out of fear and reverence of God, therefore, we speak honorably of God.  But is speech that is reverent toward God equivalent to religious speech? Can we only use religious language when speaking about Jesus Christ and his Kingdom? Acts 17:1-9 clarifies that we can and should speak of God in terms of the world we live in. In Dr. Ben Witherington’s commentary on Acts, he writes that in Thessalonica there was a growing “imperial theology and eschatology” and “the essence of this theology was that the emperor was the universal savior whose benefactions and aid should be proclaimed as good news throughout the region.” Note how Paul’s Thessalonian contemporaries understood his gospel claims to be political in nature when they accused him of “acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7). In terms of theology, Jesus, and not Caesar, is the true Son of God, Lord, King, and Savior. Paul uses these titles in contrast with the Emperors of Rome who also laid claim to these titles. In terms of eschatology (i.e., how the story ends), Jesus is the one who will bring ultimate regional peace and security to his people from God’s bountiful store in the Capitol City of God. In this way, Paul contrasts the Capitol City of God (i.e., heaven) with the Roman Empire, which also claimed to be able to bring “peace and security” from its capitol city, Rome.  Witherington notes that, “the politically charged language in 1 Thessalonians is evident and becomes even more apparent in 2 Thess. 1:5-2:12, where the discussion is again couched in the language of the coming King and the coming kingdom.”

Clearly Paul uses more than religious language for the Kingdom of God and we should too. As we do so, we ought to remember that whenever Jesus enters the picture, he ought to transform it. Just as Jesus is like Caesar, he is also much different from Caesar. Jesus’ friendly act of laying down his life and God’s faithful act of raising his Son by the Spirit for the sake of sinners must color all language devised to communicate Christ.

Allow yourself to consider the Kingdom of God in terms other than the traditional. Consider Jesus from the perspective of our world. Seek to imagine him in terms fitting to today’s world and let him transform and broaden your and others’ horizons. He is coming to bring his government to earth, and it will never be shut down.


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