The politics of Paul and the way of Jesus, part 1 [Peaceable Romans #6]

Ted Grimsrud—February 18, 2022

Christians have tended to hold Jesus and Paul in tension. On the one side, Christians of a more liberal persuasion have tended to take their cues from Jesus and see Paul as a supporter of the status quo. Others wouldn’t so much say there is a tension as assume (often without realizing it) that Jesus is not particularly relevant for their social ethics. His message is often seen to focus on personal ethics and the ideals of our future in heaven. For such conservatives, Paul teaches us more relevant political principles, especially about obeying the governing authorities and respecting the state’s police function.

Reasons not to dismiss Paul’s politics

Now, I definitely am on the Jesus-as-central side. Some years ago, I read a wide variety of Christian thinkers who reject pacifism. I was struck with how every single one of them—from evangelicals to Catholics to theological liberals—cited Romans 13 as a key biblical text that supported their anti-pacifist stance. In face of that consensus, I can understand why a more peace-oriented Christian might want to be done with Paul.

However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to take the easy way out with Paul. First of all, I believe that the pro-war reading of Romans 13 is a bad interpretation. If we read those verses carefully, I believe we will realize that they do not support the standard account—even if that standard account is long-lived and widely affirmed. Just on the grounds of accuracy, then, Paul should not be seen as the advocate par excellence of Christian submission to the state.

Second, the message of the Bible’s story as a whole contradicts the assumption that Christians should issue the state a moral blank check and simply “submit to the state.” Christians generally have practiced that kind of submission going back to Augustine. But such an embrace was highly ironic (and tragic) given the strong biblical emphasis in opposition to empires going back to the story of the exodus. Especially striking is how Augustine give the Roman Empire the moral authority to discern when to involve Christians in war. This flies in the face of the New Testament: That same Roman Empire executed Jesus and that same Roman Empire was linked with Satan in the book of Revelation. So, it is strange that a short, cryptic passage from Paul’s writing would take precedence over the negative overall biblical message about the state.

Third, when we simply grant validity to the Paul-as-pro-submission-to-the-state position without argument we lose the main avenue for possibly persuading Christians not to grant such a blank check. This avenue is to ground one’s counterargument in the Bible. If we don’t question that interpretation of Romans 13, then the by far most important biblical basis for Christian acceptance of warism will remain in place—and it becomes difficult to imagine an effective way to persuade Christians not to support for the warring state.

So, I think there are good reasons to examine Paul’s writings more closely, with an openness that he might actually turn out to be much closer to Jesus in thought than has normally been recognized. I believe that, together, Jesus and Paul do provide a political perspective that is relevant in our world. Not only relevant, but I would argue that together Jesus and Paul give us essential guidance for creative and transformative political engagement.

In this blog post and one to follow I intend to summarize the argument in favor of reading Jesus and Paul as complementary. First, I will briefly suggest some of the key parts of Jesus’s message about politics and then mention several ways Paul complements Jesus. In the next post I will focus directly on Romans and conclude with a Jesus-friendly analysis of Romans 13.

Jesus’s way

I will focus on Luke here, for efficiency’s sake. We may start with the words of Mary that present the life of her child as socially transformative. He will lift up the vulnerable and throw down the powerful. Jesus grew up in an environment that chafed against the domination of the outside great empire, Rome, that shared many characteristics with earlier empires that oppressed Israel. Those Jesus grew up around hoped for big changes. They wanted Roman domination ended and looked for a great leader to arise to lead the change.

Growing up in this environment, Jesus hoped for social renewal among his people. However, while he embraced the peoples’ hopes for transformation and came to see himself as being, in fact, the hoped-for great leader, Jesus revised the vision in crucial ways. He remained committed to political change but within a vision for a different kind of politics. He announced the “gospel” of God, the presence of God’s “kingdom.” These terms are both political terms. He envisioned an alternative to the Empire’s “gospel” and “kingdom,” based, as they were, on domination and exploitation.

Jesus affirmed two central parts of people’s hopes. First, the time is now for a new work of the Spirit (“today this scripture is fulfilled,” 4:21) and second, this new work will result in social transformation (this is now “the year of the Lord’s favor,” 4:19—that is, the time of Jubilee in line with the promises of Torah). He announced the present reality of a social movement that would bring wholeness into their broken world. As would be expected, based on the experiences of other prophets, Jesus faced sharp opposition from the start. He combined that verbal message with a social group that actually embodied what were recognized as messianic ethics effecting genuine change. This gained the attention of the guardians of the present order.

Jesus’s social philosophy had as its core two key elements: imitating God’s love even for God’s enemies (6:35-36) and practicing a style of life utterly different from the “natural law” behavior of people in the world (6:32-34)—going beyond simply loving those who love you and doing good to those who do good to you.

Jesus’s ministry of social transformation led directly to his death. His teaching and practice posed a powerful threat to the status quo. He called for social transformation where compassion replaces domination, restorative justice replaces retribution, and inclusion of vulnerable people replaces their exploitation. When God raised Jesus from the dead, the story did not end—nor did its political relevance. Jesus’s political message would work on the ground, in the context of Rome and all the other nation states of the world to create space to be human in all settings. His followers would be salt and light, leaven in the bread of all societies.

Paul did not turn things in a different direction. He was a faithful and accurate interpreter of Jesus’s message. Jesus and Paul are not stage one and stage two of a development that leads inevitably to the Christian embrace of empire. Rather, what was central to Jesus’s message should be understood as also central for Paul. Let’s look at some of the points Paul makes in his writings. I will mention four themes that show that Paul’s message reinforces the way of Jesus. First is simply the call to imitate Jesus, to follow his path, to look to him as the decisive guide for Christian practice. Second is to see salvation as a social reality, an emphasis on inter-human reconciliation. Third is the analysis and critique of the social structures of domination. Finally, is the call to exercise power that actually breaks the spiral of violence. In all these areas, if we read the New Testament with care, we will see that Paul reinforces the message of Jesus.

Paul on imitating Jesus

Jesus stated it succinctly: “take up your cross and follow me.” By that, he means imitate the elements of his life that caused trouble with the powers-that-be. Show care to the vulnerable, those often outside the circle of establishment approval. Welcome outsiders. Oppose domination and exploitation. Question authority. Challenge tyrannical leaders. “Take up your cross” means live in a way that could easily put your life in danger.

Paul also emphasizes self-sacrificial love, forgiveness in face of hostility, embracing the way of the servant as what it means to live like Jesus. I will cite just a few typical examples. “The person we once were has been crucified with Christ…. We shall also come to life with him…. In dying as he died, he died to sin … and in living has he lives, he lives to God. In the same way you must regard yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God, in union with Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:6-11). “I have been crucified with Christ: the life I now live is not my life, but the life Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “Surely you must show yourselves equally lavish in this generous service…. For you know how generous our Lord Jesus Christ has been; he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, that through his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:7-9). “Rivalry and personal vanity should have no place among you, but you should humbly reckon others better than yourselves…. Let your bearing toward one another rise out of your life in Christ. For the divine nature was his from the first; yet he … made himself nothing, assuming the nature of a slave” (Phil 2:3-14). “Be generous to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

Salvation and inter-personal reconciliation

In Christian tradition, the words and deeds of Jesus ended up on the margins of theological development supposedly due to Paul narrowing down the core of the gospel to justification by faith alone. Paul, in this reading, opposed focusing on ethical behavior in ways that turn toward human good works rather than toward God’s free gift. Even though Jesus himself taught and practiced countercultural social ethics, for Paul what matters most is correct belief and an acceptance of salvation as a free gift apart from “works righteousness.”

Is this an accurate reading of the story told in the New Testament of Paul’s actual teaching? No. In fact for Paul, “justification” itself has at its heart social concerns. His central concerns were with the social character of Jesus’s community. Would it be one community miraculously including as equals both Jews and Gentiles? Or would it be a loose association of distinct Jewish and Gentile sects? Or would it be only those who took on the ritualistic practices of Judaism? Paul’s emphatic answer was the first of these options—the new community was to be a place of reconciliation among humans, a place where former enemies practice mutual love.

The root of the word translated “justification” is dik, the Greek word for “justice.” In the Bible, “justice” has a strong social meaning—reconciliation, restoring relationships, creating whole communities. “Justification” itself has a social emphasis. Likewise with the word often translated “righteousness.” That word may be translated as “justice” to make clear that at the heart its meaning is social healing—humanity reconciled with God and with other human beings. Communities, not only individuals, made whole.

In Galatians, Paul challenged the movement within the Galatian community to limit Gentile Christian access to the community based on what was to him a sinfully exclusionary reading of the gospel. Paul himself had violently persecuted followers of Jesus in the name of strict and exclusionary boundary markers that would keep Gentile Christians out (Gal 2:13-14). Paul’s theology of justification of faith in Galatians and Romans emerges directly from his own experience as the perpetrator of social injustice—and speaks to how important he now saw it to be that the churches embody the new social reality Jesus inaugurated. The reconciliation of former human enemies reflects the reconciliation that is most central for Paul. He was not nearly so much concerned with the end of “hostility” between God and human beings (as a good Jew, he always understood God to be merciful) as with the end of Jew vs. Gentile hostility.

In Paul’s theology, this reconciled community is then to be the locus for God’s work in the world to bless all the families of the earth. That is, the peace and restorative justice expressed in the faith community becomes the model and empowering initiative to spread peace and restorative justice in other human communities.

Paul’s social analysis: The powers that be

Paul actually speaks to the challenge of responding creatively to the perennial problem of unjust social structures. A handful of theological thinkers including Hendrikus Berkhof, William Stringfellow, Jacques Ellul, and John Howard Yoder developed what has been called a “Powers analysis,” that was then analyzed in much more detail by Walter Wink. This analysis helps us understand how Paul can be read as a social critic.

If we trace a few key terms in Paul’s writings—especially “powers,” “principalities,” “authorities,” “elemental spirits” and a few others—we can see how Paul understood human life to occur in an environment of social structures that impact us greatly. The language of “the Powers” provides a way to speak of the structures of human life, realities beyond simply our individual persons or even beyond simply the sum of separate individuals—our institutions, traditions, social practices, belief systems, organizations, languages, and so on. The Powers language speaks metaphorically about the discrete “personalities” and even “wills” that these structures have and helps us see how these Powers shape our social lives.

These Powers, the structures of human society, are simply part of how human life is ordered. As such, we could say, they are part of the good creation, they exist according to God’s will. They include such necessary elements of life as language, traditions, and ways of ordering community life (see Col 1:15-17). At the same time, the Powers are so closely linked with humanity that when human beings turn from God, so, too, do the Powers. It is as if when human beings turn against God, the Powers turn against human beings. The fallen Powers seek to take God’s place as the center of human devotion, often becoming idols. They thus try to “separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:38) and seek to hold us in servitude to their rules (Col 2:20). We may thus understand dynamics such as nationalism, militarism, racism, and consumerism.

However, human beings still require the “regularity, system, and order” that only the Powers provide. Consequently, the Powers are both a huge part of the problem human beings face in our fallen world and a necessary part of whatever solutions might be found. Thus, the Powers must be transformed (they cannot be abolished or ignored). People need to have their own awareness of and attitude toward the Powers transformed. Ultimately, the Powers have only the power that we give them by our allegiance and acceptance of their distorted portrayal of reality. We must continue to understand ourselves as subject to the Powers even as we resist their tendency to become idols. The Powers must be put in their place.

Jesus modeled a life of freedom from the Powers in his commitment to serve human wellbeing. The Powers responded with hostility and the first century domination system sought to end Jesus’s life—the empire, the Temple, and the leaders of the implementation of Torah. In this response to Jesus, though, the Powers actually facilitated their own defeat. Jesus remained free from their allure and brought to light their true character (see Col 2:15).

The Powers that killed Jesus are rebels against God, not God’s servants. The religious and political leaders serve death, not God. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:8, “none of the rulers of this age,” who let themselves be worshiped as divinities, understood God’s wisdom, “for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” In Jesus, God ventured into the Powers’ territory, remained true to God’s loving character, and defeated them (when they defeat themselves by crucifying Jesus). The Powers’ main weapon—deluding people to give the Powers loyalty—was taken from them. They were disarmed by Jesus’s faithfulness. Such a disillusioning revelation frees all who walk with Jesus to embrace life and wholeness.

The power of the powerless

Jesus called his followers to seek social healing, resist domination, and live free from the Powers. Nonviolence and love of enemies were indispensable parts of the healing work. Jesus calls for resistance that breaks the spiral of violence and does not repay evil with evil but rather overcomes evil with good (see Rom 12).

This freedom in Christ must be lived in a broken world. Paul wrote about subordination in interpersonal relationships as part of his application of Jesus’s ethic. In doing so, Paul seemed simply to reenforce traditional understandings of submission to authority. However, when read carefully, the teaching about subordination takes on a different sensibility. Paul’s exhortations about subordination call upon followers of Jesus to walk with him in our responses to our social situations. They are not regulations that simply endorse status quo power and require those in the “lower” positions to give all their power to their “superiors.”

Paul’s teaching, when addressed to the one without power, treats these addressees as responsible moral agents who have full (and equal) worth as human beings with others. These addressees have indeed been liberated in Christ and welcomed into full membership in Christ’s assembly. However, they likely are not in positions to claim that liberation fully while at the same time remaining (as they must) wholly committed to Jesus’s path of loving their neighbors. The tension is to live in light of their freedom, but not to turn toward violence in doing so.

Paul echoes Jesus in holding up two equally crucial convictions. We are free in Christ, and we are called to love even our enemies. Paul’s teachings about subordination are part of his thinking on negotiating this tension. Paul challenges expectations in the broader culture where submission is a one-way street. In the newness of the messianic community, Paul calls on husbands, masters, and parents also to practice mutuality, even subordinating themselves to those “below” them (see Eph 5:21). A key term, hyptoassesthai, is best translated “subordinate yourself,” better than flatly “submit to.” It does not connote slavish obedience but means to be like Jesus. According to Phil 2, Jesus, being free, subordinated himself for our sake and gave himself for us. Followers should “let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s readers appropriately respond to the gospel with a desire to embody the freedom of the gospel in all of life. Their sense of the world has radically changed; part of their new calling as followers of Jesus is to resist domination and to seek healing. However, they also realize that the means to bring about change must be consistent with the ends of healing (for everyone). Thus, the call to live at peace with everyone—which is simultaneous with the call to obey God and not human beings. Subordinate yourselves to others while also seeking to transform society.

Paul advocates revolution against the Rome’s hegemony. However, the revolutionary means he advocates are consistent with the healing mercy of God. The certainty Paul has—and all followers of Jesus should have—in the world-transforming efficacy of God’s healing mercy undergirds lives of patient love, extended even (as with God Godself) toward enemies. In important ways, Paul’s thought about the power of the powerless foreshadows the insights of thinkers and activists such as Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. (note several recent works that address these themes: Vaclav Havel, “The Power of the Powerless;” Elizabeth Janeway, Powers of the Weak; and James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak). Seek social transformation and do so in a way that stays on the path of love, not of violence.

In the post to follow, I will focus at more length on Paul’s letter to the Romans in reflecting on the politics of Paul and the way of Jesus. Drawing on some of the points I have mentioned in this post, I will conclude by providing a way of reading the infamous passage Romans 13:1-7 in a way that shows it actually to be consistent with the way of Jesus.

More blog posts on Peaceable Romans

11 thoughts on “The politics of Paul and the way of Jesus, part 1 [Peaceable Romans #6]

  1. The identity of “empire” seems to be a bit off. Israel came out of “Egypt” but was this a literal, physical migration of millions of people through the wilderness for 40 years? It appears that this account should be understood politically and typologically, as in 1 Cor 10.

    But Israel was to return to “Egypt” as the culmination of the curses for disobedience, Deut. 28:68
    And the Lord will bring you back in ships to Egypt, a journey that I promised that you should never make again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer. Again, is this literal and physical, no.

    Israel came from “empire” spiritually and politically, but she ended up becoming and representing “empire.” The city where the Lord was crucified, i.e. Jerusalem, becomes “Egypt” Rev. 11:8. Israel became Hagar, the Egyptian woman. “Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” (Gal. 4:24-25).

    It follows that you are wrong to misidentify Rome as the representation and incarnation of “empire” as the antithesis of the Kingdom of God. The persecuting power is not Rome, but Israel, which has become Egypt.

    It is Israel, not Rome, that is the Fourth Kingdom of Dan. 2 and the Fourth Beast of Dan. 7, which is judged and destroyed when the Kingdom of God comes in power. Note the context in Dan. 11:29-35. Antiochus Epiphanes comes and sets up the Abomination of Desolation in the Second Temple, however, he is resisted by Israel, and departs. The Second Temple is not, then, destroyed, rather it is restored to its rightful state (Dan. 8:9-14). This leaves two groups within Israel: “the wise among the people [of Israel]” and the rest who do not support them and, as a consequence, the wise do not prosper, rather they suffer persecution and indifference. Dan. 11:33-35 explains that this long period after Antiochus Epiphanes is what will refine and purify the wise “until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.”

    At the end, at the appointed time, long after Antiochus Epiphanes, there is “the king [who] shall do as he wills” in Dan. 11:36f, which is not the king of the North or the king of the South, he is simply the last days king arising from within Israel itself. He rises as a rebel and does his antics until he is destroyed, along with Israel, when “the power of the holy people has been completely shattered” (Dan. 12:7). He is the second little horn, arising from within the Fourth Beast in Dan. 7 who is a rebel who overthrows the prior kings of the Fourth Beast, and leads the Fourth Beast to its destruction when the Kingdom of God comes in power, when the Son of Man comes on the clouds. This is when the tribes of the land of Israel mourn because Israel and the Second Temple are then destroyed, Mat. 24:30; Rev. 1:7. It is this figure that precipitates the Great Tribulation of Dan. 12:1, when there is a rebellion of the wicked to be condemned Dan. 12:2-3, when the wise rise up, this time to dominance in the Kingdom of God, as the power of the holy people is completely shattered, Dan. 12:7. It is Israel that is judged and Jerusalem that is destroyed and the Second Temple that is destroyed when the rebel figure comes to precipitate the war to the end in Dan. 9:24-27.

    It is Israel that is the ancient serpent that is the dragon that is destroyed at the end in Is. 27:1, with YHWH’s terrible sword. It is the men of Israel who are slain by the sword at the end in Is. 2-4, see Is. 3:25, which the Lord quoted in reference to the fall of the Second Temple in Luke 21:24. It is Israel that is destined for the sword of YHWH in Is. 65:12 and 66:16 at the end, and it is this sword of YHWH that puts Israel to death in Is. 65:13-15 when Israel misses out on the wedding feast of Is. 24:6-8, as the Lord explained in Mat. 8:10-12 and in his parable of the wedding feast in Mat. 22:1-14.

    So, when we see the sword of God’s wrath against the persecutors and rebels in Rom. 13:2, we should see that this is talking about this same sword that strikes and destroys Israel. This is in fulfillment of the Song of Moses, Deut. 32, which Paul quotes in Rom. 12:19. The context is that it is 57 A.D. and Rome had not persecuted Christians. Thus, it is Israel, not Rome, who are the bad guys, the evildoers, the rebels, the persecutors in this context. In this context, the Song of Moses was to be fulfilled, God would repay Israel, as per the Song of Moses, Deut. 32, in her final utterly corrupt generation, “to atone for his land and his people” by shedding the blood of those who shed the blood of his servants, i.e. Israel, not Rome, Mat. 23:29-38, at the fall of the Second Temple. In this context, it is from Israel that the rebels come, Is. 66:24. It is from within Israel that the man of sin arises to sit in the temple as a rebel to be destroyed, 2. Thes. 2. It is Rome, then, that is the Agent of Wrath, to execute judgement upon the evildoers in Rom. 13:1-4. Israel rebels against Rome — and against God — and God, via Rome, judges and destroys the old Israel as the ancient serpent, as the dragon, as the beast, as the Fourth Beast.

    Paul has not switched Israel for Rome as the embodiment of “empire” in Romans or elsewhere in his writings. The traditional and biblical eschatological narrative has Israel being destroyed in her last days, not Rome, because Israel had become “Egypt” and “gog and magog” and “Sodom” and “Babylon” etc. Rome is merely the instrument of God’s last days judgement against his own people, as he destroys the old world of Israel and vindicates his true children, the true people of God, the true Israel, the New Jerusalem.

    1. You have an interpretation here that sounds a lot like Josephus, writing around 90 AD, blaming his own people, and at least being right about the futility of the rebel faction among them taking on such incredible military might.

      1. The idea of “blaming his own people” is somewhat disingenuous, in that “his own people” were not a single group with the same involvement in, agenda for and perspective on their national hope and destiny and strategy. The message from the Old Testament is Israel’s division:

        the son treats the father with contempt,
        the daughter rises up against her mother,
        the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
        a man’s enemies are the men of his own house (Micah 7:6)


        “At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time. (Dan. 11:29-35)

        The interpretation of these Old Testament texts is that after Israel resists Antiochus Epiphanes, Israel is divided into two (or more) factions, wherein the wise do not have dominance or ascendancy, and rather, they are persecuted by the other faction(s). Thus, we should see that in the time of the end, at the appointed time, this conflict and differing visions would flare up into rebellion and war. In that rebellion and war, the rebel faction would be deceived and would be the deceivers, that their rebellion and war would be successful and would bring in the kingdom of God as their rebel government and its kingdom. The wise would only ascend and rule after the Great Tribulation comes upon Israel and Rebellion of the unjust arises and the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, Dan. 12:1-7.

        This is what the Lord addresses in Mat. 10:34-36

        “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

        The sword of war comes to the land of Israel as a result of Israel’s division.

        The deception is discussed in more detail by the Lord in Mat 24
        For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. … For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. … And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. … For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand.

        These warnings and predictions are for lawlessness and rebellion and deception and false christs and false prophets to come to the land of Israel, and they would be successful to deceive the people — not all of the people, but many of them. They would lead a rebellion that would be successful initially, but would fail later.

        The same deception is discussed by Paul in 2 Thes 2
        The coming of the lawless one [i.e. the rebel leader or government that takes over the Temple] is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

        This same deception is discussed by John in Revelation 13, where some initial troubles of the rebel government is referred to, that does not result in the downfall of the rebel government, but instead it comes back in strength. This is taken as a sign of ultimate victory and permanence of the rebel government, but is is not, it is a false sign, to deceive those who are perishing:

        And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

        And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

        If anyone is to be taken captive,
        to captivity he goes;
        if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
        with the sword must he be slain.

        Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

        This text takes some explanation.

        The beast that arises from the sea is the same as the beast that arises from the abyss in Rev 11 and that works in Jerusalem for 42 months and kills the “two witnesses.” These are linked by the same 42 month period of the reign of the beast over the kingdom of the dragon. This beast is also what arises from the abyss in Rev. 9:1-11 as military forces on the land of Israel, with the name Abaddon or Apollyon, meaning destruction. The forces that arises from the Abyss and take over the land of Israel will destroy it (the blame for the destruction is on the rebels, not the Roman armies who come later to destroy the rebels and Israel with them.)

        The beast that arises from the abyss to take over the throne of the dragon, works in Jerusalem and in “the land” (i.e. the land of Israel), but it is given authority even over the gentiles. I.e. the Romans who previously ruled over the land of Israel are, by means of the rebellion and the uprising of the beast, subjugated to the beast, and this is of course what gives “the people of the land” (i.e. the deceived Israelites) the false hope that they and their rebel leaders have been successful and will prevail permanently.

        The dragon is the kingdom with the throne that Herod the Great sat upon when he tried to kill the newborn Christ, as told in the backstory in Rev. 12. This kingdom is Israel, not Rome, and is the dragon snake of Is. 27:1, which, again, in that context, is Israel, not Rome. The throne that Herod the Great sat upon, is taken over by the beast that arises from the abyss in Rev. 11 to rule Jerusalem, and the beast that the dragon gives the throne to in Rev. 13.

        The overcoming of the initially and apparently fatal set back of the rebel government is what causes “the people of the land” i.e. the Israelites, to have faith and hope in it and its power and government and kingdom:
        Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. (Rev. 13:11-15)

        This is a subsequent leader in the rebel government who rises from its ranks and continues the rebel government of the dragon’s kingdom, after its apparently mortal wound was suffered. He commands absolute loyalty and kills anyone who doesn’t give it (including those of competing factions within the rebel government or movement). The succession of rulers within the beast government is detailed more vividly (perhaps symbolically?) in Rev. 17:10-13.

        The beast government then comes under relentless attacks as the bowls of wrath are poured out on it. The “great city” i.e. Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8) is then split into three factions, Rev. 16:19, as detailed by Josephus (Wars 5:1.1).

        The woman, rides the beast, but the beast turns on her and kills her:
        And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” (Rev. 17:15-18)

        The “great city” is Jerusalem, as identified in Rev. 11:8. Jerusalem has dominion over the “kings of the land” i.e. the rulers of the land of Israel, as the capital city of the land of Israel. These “kings of the land” support the rebel government of the beast, they give their royal power to the beast, and the ten horns are the rulers in the rebel government of the beast. The fate of the woman, then, is in the hands of her rulers, who are supporting the rebel government. But these same rulers destroy their own country and their capital city, Jerusalem. These rulers themselves become ravenous beasts destroying the city and the people, as Josephus said:
        “Now as to the attack the zealots made upon the people, and which I esteem the beginning of the city’s destruction, it hath been already explained after an accurate manner; as also whence it arose, and to how great a mischief it was increased. But for the present sedition, one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which, for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh.”

  2. Perhaps it would be helpful to address your article in more specifics and more detail. You wrote that “the Powers must be transformed (they cannot be abolished or ignored.)” It is here that it seems necessary to distinguish between “the Powers” in a generic sense and “the Powers” in a specific sense of the last days Powers to be destroyed.

    At the resurrection “the Powers” were indeed to be destroyed: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor. 15:24-26

    So, there is a specific point in time called “the end” when power and authority — the power and authority of Christ’s enemies — is totally defeated and destroyed, when the Kingdom of God comes in power, and the rock destroys the Fourth Kingdom of Dan. 2 and the Fourth Beast of Dan. 7. This destruction of power is the total shattering of the power of the holy people, Dan. 12:7, when Jerusalem and the Second Temple are destroyed, Dan. 9:24-27.

    The background for this language of the end and the destruction of the power of Israel is from the Song of Moses in Deut. 32, when YHWH sees that Israel’s power is gone (Deut. 32:36) and he has compassion on his people — that is, his true people — when he sheds the blood of those who shed the blood of his servants. This people who has has compassion are not his people without discernment, when he “harvests” them with judgement (Is. 27:11) and destroys them as the ancient serpent, the dragon (Is. 27:1).

    The fall of the Jerusalem temple power system is described in Mat. 24:29 as the powers of the heavens being shaken and the stars falling from the sky. This is normal language of the destruction of political kingdoms in the biblical material, here applied to a specific political establishment to be destroyed in that generation. This shaking and removal of the powers is described in more detail in Heb. 12:18-29 when the shaking and removal refers to the old creation, made with hands, that is the old covenant system and the Second Temple, in contrast to the true temple, God’s people, under the New Covenant.

    The power that is broken in 1 Cor. 15:24-26 is the power of death. This is the power of sin, which is “the Law” i.e. the Old Covenant in 1 Cor. 15:56. This old system of death was to be removed, and was removed and destroyed, as the Lord and as Paul had predicted. When the Old Covenant is fulfilled, the New Covenant is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God has come in power. That is the power-change in context that is specific to two covenants, and where one is destroyed completely, and the other comes in power and fills up the world. One is the house made with hands, one is the house made without hands.

    The power of the Old Covenant and of the old Jerusalem and Second Temple system was to culminate in the coming of the lawless one, who would take over the Second Temple in power, 2 Thes. 2. That is the power of “Satan.” That power is totally shattered when the Lord Jesus will “bring [it] to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

    This power of “Satan” is the same as the “devil” which Christ took on flesh to destroy, Heb. 2:14-15, which is the power of “death.” This power of “Death and Hades” Christ has the keys to (Rev. 1:18). This “death” is what comes upon the “land” (i.e. the land of Israel), in Rev. 6:8, which kills “one quarter” of the people of the land [of Israel]. This “death” kills Israel when the blood of the martyrs is avenged on Israel at the fall of the Second Temple (Rev. 6:9-17 cf. Mat. 23:29-38). “Death and Hades” give up the dead that is in them for judgement, before death itself is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-14), which is equivalent to “Satan” being thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7-10). Who is this “Satan”? In Revelation, Satan is “those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9) and it is these who are judged and brought low in the book: “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Rev. 3:9). Satan in Revelation is “the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (Rev. 12:9) from Is. 27:1. This dragon in Is. 27 is Israel and the slaying of the dragon in Is. 27:1 is described later in the chapter as the judgement and destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple because:
    this is a people without discernment;
    therefore he who made them will not have compassion on them;
    he who formed them will show them no favor.

    In Rev. 13 we have the emergence of the beast, that takes over the throne of the dragon. Thus, the dragon is a political authority, a kingdom. The beast emerges from the abyss in Rev. 11:7 and does its terrible work in the city where the Lord was slain, i.e. Jerusalem, killing the prophets of God for a period of 42 months. in Rev. 12 the dragon goes crazy and persecuted the saints for 42 months. Rev. 13 explains that this 42 month crazy period of the dragon persecuting the saints happens because the dragon was taken over by the beast for 42 months. But, who is this dragon and what is its throne? Rev. 12 explains the back-story to the contemporary situation when the book of Revelation was published: previously, the dragon had sought to kill the newborn Christ, when Herod the Great was on the throne. Herod the Great was the King of Israel who sat on the throne of Israel. Therefore, the dragon in Revelation is Israel, just as it is Israel in Is. 27. The contemporary situation is that a beast, that is a government, an incumbent ruler, had arisen, and taken over the throne of the dragon, the throne of Israel. It was a rebel government that arose from the abyss (i.e. it arose from death or from nothingness). This is described in Rev. 9:1-11 as the opening up of the locked abyss, from which locusts came up as smoke and then descended to consume the land [of Israel]. This political force was destruction and would bring destruction to the land of Israel.

    Thus, if we take some care to correctly identify the specifics of the powers that were to be destroyed when the Kingdom of God came in power in the First Century, we can accept that it referred not to powers and authorities in general, but to the specific power and authority of Old Covenant Last Days Israel, which was to be taken over by rebel forces arising from within, and which would bring great persecution and tribulation to the land, and would destroy it and the power and throne of Israel, and the Second Temple.

    If you insist on only interpreting these texts in generic and timeless ways, and if you think of Rome rather than Israel as the incarnation and representation and culmination of enmity and evil power and authority and Satan, you miss what the texts are actually talking about: Israel as the Fourth Beast destroyed by the Son of Man coming on the clouds in the triumph of the Kingdom of God that the Lord proclaimed.

    All that said, however, there is merit in talking about the powers and authorities in a more generic and timeless sense. However, the language is not of transformation of those powers, rather the kingdom of God is the power structure which is to expand and erode and displace them. In Rev. 21-22 this is spoken of, after the destruction of the specific powers and authorities that the book was about, as the coming down of the New Jerusalem out of heaven and down to the land. Yet, there is still other people and institutions outside the city, and who continue to come into the city. Evangelists continue to go out, carrying the water of life and the fruit of the tree of life 12 months a year for the healing of the nations. The New Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God is therefore a sanctuary concept. The vile and lawless remain existing outside the sanctuary and they continue to suffer from their brokenness and lawlessness, and yet righteousness proceeds out of the sanctuary and the kings of the land bring their treasures into the city. This is the world that we have now: those old powers and authorities that killed the Lord and persecuted the prophets have been decisively defeated when “the king was angry and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Mat. 22:7), yet we continue to have our enduring city, and we continue to invite people into it, as the kingdom of God continues to expand forever.

  3. Reblogged this on Natural Spirituality – Loving Forum for Spiritual Harmony & Growth and commented:
    The explanations of the common principles and guidance of Jesus and the Apostle Paul in this recent post by Ted Grimsrud are very insightful and important. They are useful and valuable anytime, but especially so now, in a time when people are so divided and acrimonious in our country. Christians seem as much so as everyone else, failing to apply particularly nonviolence and love of enemies, as both Jesus and Paul taught, in different ways.

    If you are not Christian–of another religion or none–I urge you to read this article. It is applicable to anyone… not requiring belief in specifically Christian doctrines of any controversy.

    In Ted’s typical manner, he goes deeper (and sometimes a different direction) than what is typically heard in sermons or Christian books dealing with Paul’s teachings on issues like submission to government or to one another in social structures. I think you may be surprised with some of his conclusions, as well as encouraged!

  4. Ted, as you see above, I reblogged this article, knowing you’d not object.

    I then added one word in my intro, after what was sent here… “also” to the encouragement for non-Christians to read it (as well as Christians).

    It’s very well thought-through and important! Thanks for your continuing writing.

  5. Was a good read thanks…. * David McKellip *

    On Fri, Feb 18, 2022 at 11:53 AM Thinking Pacifism wrote:

    > Ted Grimsrud posted: “Ted Grimsrud—February 18, 2022 Christians have > tended to hold Jesus and Paul in tension. On the one side, Christians of a > more liberal persuasion have tended to take their cues from Jesus and see > Paul as a supporter of the status quo. Others wouldn’t so m” >

  6. “Paul did not turn things in a different direction. He was a faithful and accurate interpreter of Jesus’s message.” Whether or not that is true, how did it happen? Paul never met Jesus and is quite clear that he did not derive “my gospel” from the followers of Jesus. His emphases are different from those of the gospel writers. I’m still looking for an adequate explanation.

    1. This is a good question, Duane. I don’t know if you are interested in a conversation about it. If so, I will share some of my thoughts and respond to yours. Let me know.

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