Jesus Versus Caesar
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, February 28, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
There is always a power struggle going on between the rulers of this world and the Ruler of the universe. The earthly rulers think they can win, as we read in Psalm 2: "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. 'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters,'" meaning "Let us cut ourselves loose from the triune God. He can do nothing against us!"
But Psalm 2 also tells us that the Lord who is enthroned in heaven laughs at such people. The threats of earthly rulers can do nothing to God. In fact, Psalm 149:6-9 tells us that God uses his people to deal with earthly rulers who rise up against him. "May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints. Praise the Lord."
If we listen to the modern media, we may conclude that Jesus is losing and Caesar is winning in today's arena of secular ideas. The power structures of this world are shouting in great triumph: "Caesar, 47; Jesus, 0." But we must not pay any attention to the roar coming from the arena of the world. The truth is, Jesus has already won, and all who oppose him will be dealt with in his time.
In Acts 17 we read of the triumph of Jesus Christ over Caesar in the city of Thessalonica. In response to divine direction, Paul and Silas had traveled from Syrian Antioch to Europe, specifically to Philippi in Macedonia, to preach the gospel. After ministering in Philippi, they were arrested, beaten, and thrust into prison--all without a trial, even though they were Roman citizens. But God was with Paul and Silas, and he delivered them from the prison through miraculous means. Because of their ministry a thriving, rejoicing church was founded in Philippi.
Due to growing opposition from the religious and secular leaders, the apostles were asked to leave Philippi. Led by the Holy Spirit, they began to travel west along the Egnatian Way, the Roman road that stretched about five hundred miles long from Byzantium in the east to Dyrrhachium in the west. In ancient times a traveler could take this road from the Aegean Sea to the Adriatic Sea, cross the Adriatic Sea, and then go on the Appian Way all the way to Rome. Paul and Silas walked along the Egnatian Way, the Via Egnatia, until they came to the city of Thessalonica.
Although the apostles had just been severely beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, they were not intimidated or discouraged by the hardships they had suffered. They were encouraged and enabled by the Holy Spirit to continue to preach the gospel wherever the Holy Spirit led them. When they reached Thessalonica, they began once again to preach the gospel.
Hardship never deterred Paul from preaching the gospel because he recognized it was part of the normal Christian life. At the end of his life Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to encourage him because Timothy was somewhat ashamed and afraid. Paul wrote, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline," and then he said, "Endure hardship with us as a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:7, 2:3). And in his farewell speech to the elders of the church of Ephesus, Paul said, "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Acts 20:22-24).
My prayer is that we will be filled with the Spirit as Paul was so that we will not be ashamed, timid, and afraid of the shout that comes from the arena of the world. We must recognize that Jesus is not losing; in fact, he has won. God raised him from the dead, exalted him, seated him on the right hand of God the Father, and he is coming again as Lord to judge the living and the dead. All of this should fill us with great confidence.
Arrival in Thessalonica
Thessalonica, whose modern name is Thessaloniki, was located about one hundred miles west of Philippi. The largest and most populous city in Macedonia, it was founded by Cassander in 315 B.C. and named after his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great. Located on the Thermaic Gulf, it became a free Greek city in 42 B.C. About 200,000 people were living there at the time of Paul's visit. It was a flourishing commercial center which commanded trade by sea across the Aegean and by land because of the Via Egnatia.
There were Jews in Thessalonica, and, unlike Philippi, there was also a synagogue. As his custom was, when the Sabbath came Paul began to preach the gospel in the synagogue to the assembled Jews and God-fearing Gentiles.
Whenever Paul preached in the synagogues, generally only a few Jewish people would put their faith in Christ. However, the opposite was true of the God-fearing Gentiles. Large numbers of them would believe, because the gospel liberated them from the shackles Judaism tried to put on them. Judaism required that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe Mosaic law. But Paul would tell them, "Salvation is in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. You do not have to be circumcised and keep the rituals of the Mosaic law in order to be saved" and many Gentiles would gladly receive this message. This is what happened when Paul preached in the synagogue of Thessalonica. In verse 4 we read that some Jews believed as well as a large number of Gentiles and some prominent women.
In this study we want to examine the preaching of Paul in the Thessalonian synagogue. We want to examine, first, the gospel Paul preached; second, the power of the gospel and what it did in the lives of the listeners; and third, the persecution produced by Paul's preaching of the gospel.
Paul Preaches the Gospel
In Acts 17:2 we read that Paul preached in the synagogue for three Sabbath days, and in the Greek it says "he reasoned with them from the Scriptures." The Greek word for "reasoned" is dialegomai, from which we have the words "dialectic" and "dialogue."
Reasoning means discourse--the giving of an orderly, intellectually stimulating presentation. Preaching should be reasoning, not coercion or emotional manipulation, because Christianity is a reasonable faith. For example, the gospel declares that the infinite personal God created the universe and everything in it, which is much more reasonable than saying that man came out of nothing. If man came out of nothing, then God would also have to come out of nothing, because if there is nothing before man, God becomes a creation of the man who came out of nothing. The gospel is more reasonable than this type of anti-theistic philosophy! To assert that an infinite personal triune God saves sinners through the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ is reasonable and intellectually satisfying. To preach that the Son of God died on the cross in behalf of us is reasonable preaching. So Paul reasoned with the Thessalonians as he preached in the synagogue.
Preaching is intelligent discourse, not entertainment. We must never come to church to be entertained; rather, we come to exercise our minds through the gospel of God--a gospel that stretches our minds because it speaks about God, who is infinitely greater than our minds.
In 1 Corinthians 13:12 Paul wrote, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." The apostle Paul was a genius and he had seen the resurrected Christ, but he acknowledged the paucity of his knowledge of God. In Romans 11:33-36 he wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."
The study of creation is interesting and challenging, but knowing God is the greatest challenge and delight our minds can ever have. As we come to church, let us come prepared to stretch our minds as we strive to know God.
Preaching Opens the Scriptures
Not only did Paul reason as he preached in the synagogue of Thessalonica, but he also opened the Scriptures to his listeners. Preaching involves explaining the meaning of the Scriptures to those listening. The Greek word used here is diagnoigí´.
In Luke 24 we read that Jesus Christ, the preacher par excellence, opened the Scriptures to the disciples on their way to Emmaus so that they could understand what the Scriptures said concerning him. And in Luke 4 we read that in the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2, sat down and said, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing," meaning the scripture he had just read about the coming Messiah was fulfilled in him. "I am the meaning of the Scriptures," Jesus was saying. "I am the Messiah anointed by God's Spirit to bring salvation to you."
To open the Scriptures is to reveal Jesus Christ because Jesus Christ is the meaning of the Scriptures. To understand the Scriptures is to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet many theologians, seminarians and preachers, despite their "knowledge" of the Scriptures, do not know Jesus Christ in this way. Such people are the blind leading the blind.
Saul of Tarsus himself had great knowledge of the Bible, but he was blind until the risen Christ opened his eyes to behold his glory on the road to Damascus. Before this enlightenment, Saul was a violent persecutor of the church, but after this experience he began to preach Christ. We read in Acts 9:22 that this former prosecutor baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving to them that Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of history, is the Christ promised in the Old Testament.
The Preaching of Paul
Paul's apologetic was the same as that of Jesus, and it was also the same as that of Peter and Philip. All of these subscribed to the ultimate and final authority of the Scriptures, and they all opened the Scriptures to reveal Christ to their listeners. They all explained that the Old Testament scriptures spoke of a Messiah who would die and be raised from the dead. Then they declared that since Jesus of history died and rose from the dead, he was the Messiah. So in Acts 17:3 we read that Paul told the Thessalonians, "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."
The promise of Christ is clear throughout the Old Testament. The entire sacrificial system, with animals being killed in behalf of those offering them, pointed to Jesus Christ and his death on our behalf. Salvation does not come through the shedding of the blood of goats and lambs, but through the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
In Numbers 21 we read that Moses was commanded to make a brazen serpent and lift it up on a pole so that all those who were bitten by snakes might look and be saved. Again, this speaks of Jesus Christ, as Jesus explained in John 3:14: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up," meaning he would be crucified, "that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." This and other passages, including Isaiah 52 and 53, and Psalm 22, speak of Jesus Christ as the Messiah who died on the cross on our behalf.
Not only is Christ's death promised in the Old Testament, but his resurrection is also promised, as we read in Psalm 16 and other places. In his famous summary of the gospel as found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul wrote, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. . . . According to the Scriptures! So many promises in the Old Testament said a Messiah would come, die and be raised from the dead. Jesus Christ alone fulfilled these promises, and they were witnessed by many people, even five hundred people at one time, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15.
The conclusion is that the Messiah of the Old Testament is Jesus of history who, therefore, is the Savior and the only Savior. There is no other name by which we may be saved.
The Pattern of Preaching
This type of preaching was used by Jesus Christ himself when he spoke to his disciples after his resurrection. In Luke 24:44-46 we read, "He said to them, 'This is what I told you when I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.' Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, 'This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.'"
Jesus was declaring that what is spoken in the Old Testament is about him--his life, his death, and his resurrection. What was the purpose of it all? So that repentance and forgiveness of sins might be declared to all people in his name.
Peter followed the same procedure, as we read in Acts 3:15, 18: "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. . . . But this is what God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer."
The same procedure was used by Philip in Acts 8. There was a man from Ethiopia, a high government official, who was reading the Old Testament prophecy of Isaiah, the fifty-third chapter. God directed Philip to join the man in his chariot and, beginning from that text, Philip preached Jesus Christ to the Ethiopian official. We find Paul doing the same thing in Acts 13 on his first missionary journey.
In the synagogue of Thessalonica Paul told the Jews that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, must suffer. In the Greek the word for must is dei. In other words, the suffering of Jesus Christ was of divine ordination, eternal plan, and divine design. Yes, wicked men crucified him, but it was all according to the determinate counsel of God and his foreknowledge. Christ must suffer. The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent.
Not only did Paul say Christ must suffer but he also said he must rise from the dead. What he was telling the Thessalonians is that the death of Jesus of history was not a tragic fluke but a necessary saving act of God. Christ's suffering and death was necessary for their salvation as well as ours. God so loved the world that he gave up his only begotten Son, as we read in John 3:16. It was divine necessity, which Paul interprets for us in Romans 4:25, "He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised for our justification."
In this way Paul preached and reasoned with the people at the Thessalonian synagogue. He opened the Scriptures and set forth proofs that what the Old Testament promised was now fulfilled in Jesus Christ because no one else in the history of the world died and rose from the dead as Jesus had.
The Power of the Gospel
The second point we want to examine is the power of the gospel. As Paul preached in the synagogue of Thessalonica, something happened to those listening to him. In Romans 1:16 Paul writes that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. The gospel of Jesus Christ has power to raise the dead and change lives. The gospel has the power to make a thief into a saint, to make an adulterer one who lives in purity, and to make a rebel like Saul of Tarsus into a battle-scarred veteran of the cross. This is the power of the gospel!
We see this power at work in the people gathered to hear Paul in Thessalonica. As Paul preached, Acts 17:4 tells us "some of the Jews were persuaded." What does that mean? It means the Holy Spirit worked in them so that they were regenerated, given repentance and the gift of faith, and began to believe in Jesus Christ.
Faith in Christ is not a leap in the dark. It is based on the condition of the mind, but only a mind renewed by the power of the gospel and the Spirit of the living God. Christian faith is not irrationalism. It is based on the reasonableness of the gospel.
Not only were some Jews persuaded but also a large number of God-fearing Greeks. As I said before, when Paul preached the gospel, Gentiles especially became very happy because now they did not have to submit to the rituals of the Mosaic law and be circumcised to be saved. Paul preached a gospel of great liberation: salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
As Paul preached, some socialite women believed in the gospel as well. All these people--Jews, Gentiles and women--joined Paul and Silas, as we are told in verse 4, where we find an interesting word, prosklíªroí´, in the Greek. This word can be translated that God gave these people as a gift or inheritance to Paul. The power of the gospel changes human beings so that they are now looked upon as an inheritance--God's inheritance.
The Thessalonian believers were God's inheritance, but God gave them to Paul to take care of. Paul rejoiced in this charge, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy." The people of God are given to God's preachers for safekeeping and proper shepherding.
The Power of the Gospel at Thessalonica
Because God's word is so effectual, we must continue to preach the gospel. In Isaiah 55:11 God tells us that just as the rain and snow effectively do his will, "so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Whether the gospel is the fragrance of life or the smell of death, it is always effectual. The gospel will save as well as judge.
The gospel was effectual in the lives of the Thessalonians, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2, which we must study along with Acts 17:1-9 if we want to get the whole picture of this church at Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 Paul wrote, "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
How did the gospel come to the Thessalonians? First, Paul says it came with words. Rather than chanting a mantra and expecting the Thessalonians to have some subjective salvation experience, Paul expressed the truth of the gospel in propositions and appealed to their minds. (PGM) He preached that Christ died according to the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised according to the Scriptures on the third day; that he ascended into the heavens; and that he is coming again as Judge. Many theologians today do not believe truth can come in words, but Paul said it did so that the Thessalonians could hear it and understand it.
Second, Paul says, the gospel came to the Thessalonians in power. The gospel comes to us with the power of the Holy Spirit that can raise the dead and change a sinner into a saint. Then Paul wrote that the gospel came with the Holy Spirit. As the gospel is preached, the Spirit of the living God works in the preacher as well as in those who are listening. And, finally, Paul said the gospel came with deep conviction--deep conviction on the part of the preacher and deep conviction on the part of those who heard it. Acts 17 tells us they were persuaded.
What else does Paul say about the effect of the gospel in the lives of the Thessalonians? In verse 6 he says, "You became imitators of us. . . ." The Thessalonian pagans, these sinful people, became imitators of the apostle and imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. Additionally, Paul says, "in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." That is a demonstration of the power of the gospel.
In verse 7 Paul says that these Thessalonian believers became a model for others, and in verse 8 he says they even became evangelists: "The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere." The Thessalonians were set aflame by the gospel and became the light of the world.
In verse 9 Paul writes more about the effect of the gospel in the lives of these pagans: "for they themselves [believers in Macedonia and Achaia] report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God, and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead. . . ." This shows real radical change in the lives of the Thessalonians in their minds and behavior. That is the power of the gospel.
The gospel is always effectual, and part of that effect is to cause divisions among people. You can hear the shout from the arena of the world: "Jesus is losing!" That is what the majority of people will say, as Jesus himself told us. But there is always a small minority who will walk in the narrow way. When the gospel is preached, such people will believe and become Christ's disciples, and, like the Thessalonians, they will turn from idols and delight to serve the living God because they not only heard the gospel but experienced its power. Such people will be eternally saved.
Persecution for the Gospel
The third point we want to examine from this passage is the issue of being persecuted for the gospel. If we are going to share the gospel, we must understand that we will necessarily experience persecution. We cannot be witnesses to Jesus Christ and expect no persecution. Jesus himself promised it, and Paul told the churches of Galatia, "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22).
Why do you think most Christians do not bear witness to Jesus Christ? Because the gospel produces persecution. If we do not like to be persecuted, mocked, rejected, demoted, fired, kicked out, or even killed, we will not share the gospel.
Even though Paul's preaching produced results in the lives of the Thessalonians, there was also persecution. The unbelieving Jewish people initiated persecution against Paul in Thessalonica as they had also done in Jerusalem.
Reasons for Persecution
What caused the Jews to persecute the apostles? First, they were jealous of the apostles' success in converting the Thessalonians. That is nothing new. In Acts 5:17 we read, "Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy." In Acts 13:45 we read that when the Jews of Pisidian Antioch "saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying."
Why were the Jews so jealous? Because Paul's ministry was so successful. As we said before, Paul's missionary strategy was to go first to the synagogue whenever he entered a new city. He did so because there he could preach to Jewish people who were well-versed in the Old Testament as well as God-fearing Gentiles who were interested in knowing the God of the Old Testament.
Paul knew that in the synagogues he would find audiences eager to hear from a great rabbi like himself. He also knew that in synagogues visiting rabbis were given opportunities to share, and Paul wanted to use such opportunities to preach the gospel. In each synagogue Paul would discuss how the Old Testament clearly promised a Messiah--the Anointed One, the Savior--who would die and rise from the dead. Then Paul would declare that all Messianic prophecies were fulfilled only in Jesus of Nazareth. He would boldly declare that Jesus is, therefore, the promised Messiah, and that all who believe in him will be saved.This gospel was attractive to many Jews in the synagogues where Paul preached.
In Thessalonica, as in other places, a large number of Greeks also believed in the gospel as preached by Paul. Why? Paul preached that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone plus nothing. The Gentiles loved this gospel, because it meant they didn't have to go through circumcision and uphold the rituals of the Old Testament ceremonial law in order to serve God. Additionally, Paul preached that anyone who believed in Jesus Christ became a first-class member of the kingdom of God--not a second or third-class citizen, as the Jews liked to classify their Gentile converts. According to Paul's gospel, Gentile and Jewish believers alike are all first-class members of God's kingdom. They are members of the same household, children of God, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. There is no discrimination within the body of Christ, and this truth appealed to the Gentile God-fearers.
When Paul preached this gospel in Thessalonica, all who were appointed to eternal life believed--Jews as well as Gentiles, including some prominent women. After three weeks of watching people turn from Judaism to Christianity, the unbelieving Jews were fed up. They decided to expel Paul from the synagogue, but there was only one problem: most of the people in the synagogue wanted to follow Paul.
Imagine the anger of the unbelieving Jews! They had worked all their lives to teach Judaism to the pagans of Thessalonica, and some had just begun to show interest. Then Paul, a sheep-stealing rabbi, showed up and began to preach the gospel. Many people, Jews as well as Gentiles, began to follow Paul, and verse 5 tells us this caused the Jews of the synagogue to become filled with jealousy.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 we read, "For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus. You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved."
The unbelieving Jews did not want Paul to preach the glorious gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. They did not want him to declare that anyone, even a Gentile, who trusts in Jesus Christ becomes a first-class member of the kingdom of God. They prohibited Paul from preaching in the synagogue, so Paul and those who had begun to follow him went out from the synagogue to another place. Perhaps they moved to Jason's house, which then would become the place where the first church in Thessalonica was founded.
What is another reason the Jews sought to persecute the apostles? Like the Jews of Jerusalem, they rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Why did they reject him? Because a Messiah who was crucified on the cross was a stumbling block to them. They were expecting a triumphant, militaristic Messiah who would be capable of overcoming their Roman overlords. But Jesus Christ came riding on a donkey, not a warhorse. Additionally, he was crucified on a cross, which meant, according to the law in Deuteronomy, that he was cursed. Thus, the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah and the gospel Paul was preaching, which led to persecution of the apostles.
The Persecution Begins
How did the Jews persecute the apostles? First, they hired "bad characters" to help form a riot. In the Greek it is very clear that these people were simply hangers-on in the marketplace, people who had nothing to do. As a minority in Thessalonica, the Jewish people couldn't produce a big riot on their own, so they hired these bad characters to help. These people created such a disorder that the city fathers noticed it and rushed to Jason's house, meaning into the church in Thessalonica, looking for Paul and Silas. For some reason, they couldn't find them, so they dragged Jason and some other brothers to the city fathers.
In the Greek text the city fathers are called politarchíªs, which is an interesting word. For many years Bible scholars said Luke was mistaken in using this word because this particular word was found nowhere else in ancient literature. But toward the end of the nineteenth century, scholars found nineteen inscriptions using this word, five of which come from Thessalonica. In fact, as city officials knocked down an arch in modern Salonika they found this word written on it to refer to city officials. Luke was correct, therefore, in using the term politarch, which was a title used in Macedonia, particularly in Thessalonica.
Jason and other brothers were dragged before the politarchíªs of Thessalonica. What was the charge against them? "These people who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house." The Greek word oikoumeníªn means the whole Roman empire, which was a slight exaggeration. The Jews were saying, "These men are turning the whole Roman empire upside down," in other words. "They are troublers." That is also what Ahab said about Elijah in 1 Kings 18:17. As far as Ahab was concerned, the troubler of Israel was Elijah, the prophet of God. But Elijah was not the troubler of Israel and Paul and Silas were not the troublers of Thessalonica. The real troublers are sinners because it is sin which has turned the world upside down. What the apostles and Elijah--and, ultimately Jesus Christ--did was to turn the world right side up.
The Jews told the Thessalonian authorities, "These people are troubling the Roman empire, bringing disorder to it, and opposing the pax Romana by preaching an illegal religion. More than that, they ought to be charged with treason because they are talking about another king, one different from Caesar."
These charges were not new for the Christians. The Jews had leveled them against Jesus Christ when he was alive, as we read in Luke 23:1-2: "Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.'" They were insinuating that Jesus was opposing Caesar. And in John 19:15 the Jews told Pilate, "We have no king but Caesar," meaning they rejected Jesus Christ as King and accused him of subordinating Caesar's authority.
A Most Serious Charge
The charge that Paul was preaching about a different king was a most serious charge, and also one with merit. Jesus Christ is a different king, greater than any other king, although his kingdom is spiritual at this time.
Of course the New Testament is full of references to the lordship of Christ. In Acts 16 we read about the Philippian jailer who, in the middle of the night, was confronted by his sin and guilt by the Spirit of God. Remember how he cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" What was the answer? "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved and your house." In Acts 10:36 Peter said, "You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." And in Romans 10:9,10 Paul wrote, "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." The lordship of Christ is a serious issue. In 1 Corinthians 12:3 Paul wrote, "Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit."
The charges brought by the Jews were true. Jesus Christ is Lord and so he is another king. In fact, he is the Lord of lords and King of kings. He was the Lord of Caesar during Paul's time, and he is the Lord of all Caesars. God raised Jesus from the dead, exalted him, gave him the name that is above all names, and put everything under his feet. He alone demands absolute obedience and total worship from all people everywhere. That is why we must worship God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength whenever we come together.
No Caesar in the world can demand absolute obedience from any of us because Caesars are God's servants, delegated authorities appointed by God to rule for him. Only Jesus Christ must be worshiped and obeyed implicitly.
So the serious charges that the apostles were declaring that Jesus is another king were true. Jesus himself spoke frequently about his kingdom and the apostles spoke of him frequently as their King. Again and again they said if people confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, they would enter into his kingdom, which is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Preaching Produces Persecution
I recently visited another country where I noticed that ministers could not preach Jesus Christ as Lord or preach that Jesus Christ is coming again. If a man preached these things, he could no longer be a minister and preach publicly. Only liberal ministers can flourish in that country because they do not preach a Jesus who is God, King, and Lord and who is coming again.
As we study Paul's epistles to the people of Thessalonica, we notice that every chapter makes this tremendous declaration that Jesus is Lord and he is coming again to deal with every rebel, every Caesar, and every power structure in the world.
Such preaching will always produce persecution, just as it did for Paul. Throughout the world today, those who really believe in Jesus Christ as Lord are also persecuted. In this century alone there has been more persecution of Christians than during any other century.
In the face of sure persecution, should we refrain from preaching the gospel? No. Read 1 Thessalonians 1:6 again. In spite of severe suffering, the people of Thessalonica welcomed the message of the apostles, not as the word of men but as it truly is, the word of God. They imitated the apostles and the Lord and became models for all the other Christians at the time. Despite the suffering they experienced, the gospel rang out from the Thessalonian believers, going throughout all the Balkans, Achaia, Macedonia, and to the rest of the world.
How could these believers so boldly preach the gospel? Through the power of the Holy Spirit. Second Timothy 1:7 tells us God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but "of power, of love and of self-control." If we are Christians, we have not received a spirit of timidity but one of love and a sound mind that we may endure hardship and persecution like good soldiers.
What About You?
When the gospel is preached, each one must make up his own mind how to respond. You may want to join the Caesars of the world and say, "Let us cut ourselves off from this God. Let us become autonomous. Let us declare independence from God." But that will not change the fact that Jesus is Lord and his kingdom is forever. God exalted him to the highest heavens, seated him at his right hand, and put all things under his feet, including us. When he shook the world, the great kingdoms of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome disappeared, and when he shakes again, more kingdoms will disappear as well.
Not only that, we know that soon this Christ will come with power and great glory. As a stone, he will fall upon his enemies--the power structures of the world--and they shall be destroyed. We read in Isaiah 9:7, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end." His glory shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Are you for Caesar and against Jesus? Then you are being foolish, for Caesar is the servant of King Jesus, who is Lord of all. All Caesars must stand before the judgment seat of Jesus, and all who stand with Caesar must be judged by the Judge of all.
But if you have been persuaded to follow Jesus, I urge you to cry out, as the Philippian jailer did, "What must I do to be saved?" What was the answer? "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved." Turn from idols to the living God to serve him always in the newness of life, free from guilt and filled with joy.
May God help Us!
May God fill us with the Holy Spirit that we will not be intimidated by the Caesars of this world! May we always remember that the enemies of the gospel cannot kill us until God says it is time. May God pour out his Spirit upon us that we might declare with great boldness that Jesus Christ alone is Lord.
Yes, we worship this other King, Jesus, and yet Paul himself told us to submit to all authorities God has established, which we do. But we will not worship the Caesars of the world, nor abide by their decrees that tell us, "Don't speak about Jesus Christ." We believe in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit we shall confess and declare and proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord. We fully understand that we shall be persecuted for doing so, but we also understand that the Spirit of the living God will help us in our time of need.
May God fill us with the knowledge of the gospel, because the gospel is the good news, the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes--to the Jew first and to the Greeks. God loves both Jews and Greeks and desires that both be in his kingdom. Therefore, may God also help us to declare his word, which is always effectual. It will accomplish the purpose for which God sends it May we be enabled to declare the gospel with understanding and power of the Spirit of God. Amen.
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Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
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