Did Jesus Have Revolutionary Political Aims?
The political criticism against the ruling class and the movement started by Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago was no doubt revolutionary in character. According to the Bible Jesus realized that his activity would lead him and his followers to the death penalty. The question is, was Jesus put to death by the ruling class because he taught that you just pray and believe in God and one day you’ll go off to heaven with him above the literal clouds? Would this doctrine be good news to the people? Under the oppressive hand of the Roman empire this teaching have been probably forgotten in an hour. Did he teach to not worry about the wealth of the earth (as the elite steal it) or did he teach you to not worry about feeding your babies? What was this revolution that lead to his death? What exactly was the threat and whom perceived the threat? Would leaders of society really crucify a teacher who just told pleasant stories to enforce religious dogma?
As we will investigate we find the answer to be no. To the elite, that type of doctrine would have been sweet music to the ears. Reading between the lines of Jesus we see embedded in his encounters with the ruling classes an awareness of the unequal distribution of the earth’s wealth. One of his primary political aims was to redistribute the earth’s raw materials so all could have access to the necessities of life. God created earth for all man. He did not create it for just the 1% and Jesus of Nazareth was not just concerned with polite morality. If Jesus was he would have gained the support of and ate off the table of the ruling class. He will destroy them. Selah.
It is important to address Jesus and his activities historically and take these extra steps so the bible is not a bunch of hocus-pocus. We must understand how and why it deals with the redemptive struggle of humanity. All believers must comprehend the deceitfulness of the present day social situation to know what to be doing going forward. Jesus’ day was similar to any time really. There were the haves and the have-nots. The oppressed and the oppressor. The poor and the rich. The aristocracy and the commoner etc. Like all of civilized history it was a time of class struggle.
Every where Jesus went he had the aristocracy and their retainers in his face. He dealt with these upper classes of people all the time! He went to the root of the problem and often drew great crowds who came out to behold him. His fame in Israel was mighty. This pheasant prophet spoke often to the Pharisees, who were far more than just religious folk concerned with the legality of Moses. They were a class of people who wanted to be in the back pocket of the ruling elite to receive their favor and wealth (of the temple).
The Pharisees were, in Anthony J. Saldarini’s view (professor of theology at Boston College),
essentially a political interest group that comprises not members of the ruling class but members of the retainers class who depend on the patronage of the powerful to promote their political agenda. They can gain power only through the agency of the powerful patrons.
Richard Horsley (Professor of Liberal Arts and the Study of Religion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston) also observed that
The Pharisees and other scribes/sages served a mediating political, economic, religious function in the Judean temple state.
Here both researchers are signifying that the Pharisees and scribes were apart of political interest groups.
In a book by Readers Digest called Jesus And His Times we read,
This princely way of life united the wealthy of Palestine. Jew and Gentile alike with the upper classes with the rest of the roman empire even as it separated them from the roots among the people. Herod’s boundaries encompassed several very different regions. His more than two million subjects included Jews, Arabs, Syrians, Phoenicians, Greeks and various mixtures of each. Only some 4% or 5% percent of this varied population might have touted themselves aristocrats. And only a small percentage of these controlled nearly all the nations wealth. Many owned large agricultural estates, others held lucrative positions in government and some derived vast incomes from the temple.
The aristocracy are none other than the upper class echelon of society, the nobles, the ones with the money. They include the retainers (of the status quo). The retainers are not necessarily the ruling class but they get favor from them. And they work to keep the said ruling class in power; for as long as types of rewards are returned in exchange. All these tangibles are apart of an aristocracy. The Pharisee sect were retainers for the Roman elite. They operated out of the temple which served also as Judea’s political and economic center. It was not just a place of religious ritual. Exploitation was inherit and in more ways than one can imagine the wealthy united there against the poor (unless of course they competed to gain profit one over another in the spirit of mammon/capital).
It’s interesting that the oppressor’s unity is found in the spirit of exploitation and greed and not one time concerned with race. Racism is a tool of the oppressor to foster a strong focus on ignorance. Humanity’s universal similarity and common enemy in the capitalist class is plenty for unity. Nevertheless, nothing has changed. In Jesus day it was the same thing: a small minority owned all the wealth. Weather you were Jew, Gentile, Syrian, Phoenician, Greek… If you were rich, you were all together. And to have all the earth’s wealth the majority had to be compelled into bondage under the ruling class. They had to be deprived the necessities of life. The poor suffered and yet, the upper classes blame them for their plight. Did Jesus have this same doctrine?
Luke chapter 12 records a run in with this particularly oppressive class of people. Jesus of Nazareth is voicing to multitudes about a particular kind of injustice; and just as a master teacher does, he used every opportunity to teach the people. He brings accusations and begins addressing two ailments plaguing society: the political interest group of the Pharisee-retainers and the ruling class themselves. And with the crowds there gathered, listening, he began to address the cost associated in doing so.
1 In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2 For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known…
11 And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: 12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.
Since the same spirit of hypocrisy is ruling the world today, pay careful attention as to why the ruling class would be dragging Christians into political courts of the empire and into the synagogues where the elders and judges of Judea dwelt. It was none other that they were the vanguard band for the kingdom of God. Freedom fighters who sought to break the rod of oppression and their leader was a freedom fighter himself- a blue collar carpenter who instructed them. Jesus knew their activity would lead them into the prisons, courts and even to death. He told his followers to weigh the costs because they would regularly be interrupting the cash flow of the temple by the nature of the God they served. The revolutionary activity threatened the Judean/Roman power. It’s output would start to displace the ruling class monopoly on the earth. These revolutionaries were guided by the spirit of truth, their mental disposition urged by the holy spirit to speak rightfully before their accusers. Clearly, they were doing more than just teaching religious stories.
With the very large crowd still listening, Jesus began to address a great disparity in society in that the wicked take all to themselves by robbery, theft and social murder. In this parable there is a wealth of understanding to be had :
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
Historically this certain rich man would have been a great agricultural land owner and probably a Roman senator. He was apart of the 4 or 5% of the ruling class who controlled nearly all of the nations wealth. He did not think about disturbing the wealth properly, and is one who has taken it by robbery. In order to live that princely life that too many covet he held it all to himself. It was the Pharisee class that the rich did favors for who retained that position for him. And yet the powers of heaven were against him. Why was the God of heaven against him? What does it mean to be rich toward God? Is a little feeling in your heart you get?
While Jesus was teaching this parable in Luke 12 he was not just not talking to the 12 disciples. He was talking to a whole lot of pheasant farmers who were exploited harshly buy this certain rich man. These were the poor and oppressed people who toiled on his estate.
Where did Jesus get these teachings to instruct the people and to point out the core problems? In part, in the so-called old testament. Genesis to Maliki. These set of books made up Jesus’s bible. He placed great value in the old testament (knowing that it was not “done away with”). He said if you don’t believe Moses and the prophets you will not believe him. We can learn more about what Jesus was teaching the great multitude in Job chapter 27. Let’s understand why this certain rich man of the ruling class is a fool. Note the correlation of being rich is to be wicked:
Job chapter 27
8 For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul? 13 This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty.
14 If his children be multiplied, it is for the sword: and his offspring shall not be satisfied with bread. 15 Those that remain of him shall be buried in death: and his widows shall not weep.16 Though he heap up silver as the dust, and prepare raiment as the clay; 17 He may prepare it, but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver.
Remember Jesus Christ first called out both classes. The retaining class of the Pharisees and in the certain rich man, the ruling class. Jesus in essence drew from this book (Job) already knowing that the hope of these hypocrites was little. What hope is there for the man that has gained so violently? How does gaining in such a way profit when your soul is taken? These Pharisees he confronted in Luke 12 were the same gaining favors from that certain rich man of the ruling class. They were all siphoning money from the temple which came from the people. They were all together, whipping on the heads of the poor.
If the people ever have enough of it and acted the ruling class would call on another set of retainers in that of the military to protect them and to throw the poor into their prisons. But if the military and police were smart and rethought things they would stand for the God of Israel and rebel against the ones who write their checks. Just because the government says your job is just in this capitalist empire does not mean it’s just with the God of heaven. We better find out what true justice is or we might find ourselves fighting against the hosts of heaven and have a real big problem when it’s time to pay up. All those who have authority in this society would do well to take caution. And if we follow our family or anybody down the same path of wickedness our fate shall be the same. It will be the just that make way for the kingdom of heaven. It will fill this earth wholly.
Continuing in Job chapter 27 about the wicked:
18 He buildeth his house as a moth, and as a booth that the keeper maketh. 19 The rich man shall lie down, but he shall not be gathered: he openeth his eyes, and he is not.
What does it mean to build his house as a moth? This is one of the keys to understanding what Jesus of Nazareth is teaching in Luke 12. How does a moth build his house? He does it off the material that he got from somebody else. The moth eats the humans garment/property which don’t belong to him and makes his own house. It’s off the expense of the individual who really owned it. The rich steal what you got to build a place for themselves. They steal and plunder what the people have. This is what Job means. When the courts of heaven come the rich shall lie down and not be gathered. When judgment comes the poor in spirit and the meek shall inherit the earth. The wicked shall heap coals upon themselves and as the wealth shall be justly distributed. This is why God calls them all fools. By their acts they deprive the people and by that same measure are not rich toward God.
In the book As The Romans Did 2nd Edition by Joann Shelton (pg. 156 section 189), take note. We begin to understand this rich man and how his barn was filled so abundantly:
The life of both share croppers and tenant farmers was very harsh. Despite endless toil they lived at subsistence level, if illness or injury occurred or if the crops were damaged by bad weather the family faced starvation. Often the land owner was unaware of or unconcerned of their plight.
In section 190 (pg. 157)
The life of the pheasant farmer and of his wife and children was filled with endless back breaking toil, clearing, plowing, planting, hoeing , pruning, weeding, irrigating and harvesting grains, grapes, almonds, vegetables, fruits, feeding, cleaning, breeding, raising, shearing, milking, slaughtering goats, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and dress animals, building barns, fences, and sheep folds, cutting fire wood, making and repairing tools…exhausting toil and grinding poverty were the lot of the farmer.
This is what the poor had to do to in order to bring forth for this rich man who, for years to come, had wealth packed in his barns. This is the style of the oppressor today. The capitalist wants to work you until your dead. Endlessly toiling, a hard life, just so they can live comfortably. Retirement is being pushed back well into a persons 60’s. Our labor power is being stolen whole. Most never get to enjoy the work of their hands. People are disconnected from the creation. Families are defunct. Life is backwards. And all this is a result from capitalists building their house like a moth. Don’t dare let a business or corporation run into a position where they won’t make profits and don’t dare get sick on the job because you are likely to starve and suffer. Many are working in sweat shops and unsafe working conditions while the capitalist is unconcerned. He is concerned only as in so far the workers make a profit for him.
God will never approve of all the wealth that the rich have and it is his anointed Jesus that conveyed to the poor that they have rights. Jesus’s revolutionary political aims were in part that the wealth of the earth would be equally distributed among the people. In Luke and in Job we learned that the rich will lose ALL of their wealth. How is this going to happen? Remember this 4 or 5% of the ruling class is condemned already. They took what others had and built their own.
Let’s move to Luke chapter 18 for another example of Jesus of Nazareth’s political stance. He is dealing now with a ruler and by doing so he is dealing indirectly with the government he represents:
18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? 19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God. 20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.
21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.
22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. 23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.
24 And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!
Rich people do not want to hear this! When he said ‘a certain ruler’ he is talking about the ruling classes. He is specifically talking about the 1% today. Jesus having said all this, what do you think his political aims are? Are they to overturn the ruling class? Yes and first he was trying to get them to do it willfully. They did not want to hear it. Not then nor do they today want to hear the master. In America, how many are running around toting the bible while there are people sleeping in dirt and toiling in the hells of south America to fill our stores with commodities? They are living in their nice houses thinking they are going to make the transition from their goodness now to the goodness of the kingdom of God. Living ‘glory’ to ‘glory’ they think. Is that so? They have received the reward already. Jesus would say the same thing to the Western empire that he told that rich man with the barns: that you must redistribute the wealth so all can have life abundantly. This was primarily his revolutionary political aim. Jesus is telling the rich to take all their riches and distribute. All of it.
In the book Gospel of the Hebrews by Edward B. Nicholson (pg.50) fragment 16: consider the following parallel. It’s a gold mine of understanding:
Master what good thing shall I do and live? he said unto him, man perform the law and prophets. He answered him, I have performed them. He said unto him, go sell all that thou have and divide it to the poor and come follow me. The rich began to starch his head and it pleased him not. And the Lord said unto him, how sayest that thou perform the law and the profits seeing that it is written in the law that thou shall love thy neighbor as thy self and behold many of your brethren, sons of Abraham, are clad with dung dying for hunger and thy house is full of much good and goest out there from not at all to them
The rich today hear about wealth redistribution and dodge the issue. How can they say they follow the divine teaching of the prophets? This rich man here, though he keep the law, was still lacking something. He did not understand.
When confronted with the injustice of their activity the capitalist may hand out some pay raises and what not and throw a few more nasty dollars at you. Jesus is talking about the means of production, the real wealth of the earth. If you don’t do justice by redistributing all the raw resources and relive the people it will be condemnation to all the rich who want to scratch their head at this issue. Many even claim to go to church as well! How can the rich say they are Christians and follow the bible? They are hypocrites! Jesus of Nazareth is saying how can this be so. They are just like the moth. Leaving everything a mess when they are finished plundering. So much that the earth cannot bring forth strong crops in many areas, and they have created dead zones in the ocean waters where there isn’t any fish anymore. The rich will be crushed.
In a book called by Power and Privilege by Gerard E. Linsky under the subtitle The Sate, The Ruler and Social Inequality we learn historically what these certain rich men had to do to aquire his wealth
One fact impresses itself on almost any observer on agrarian societies, especially on one who views them in a broadly comparative perspective, this is the fact of Marx’s social inequality. Without exception, one finds difference in power, privilege and honor associated with mature agrarian economy. One cannot read very far in the histories of these societies without discovering also that the very unequal distribution of power, privilege and honor in them arises largely by the functioning of their political systems. To put it more plainly, in these societies institutions of government are the primarily source of social inequality.
It is the government then that establishes inequality and keeps alive a system that chokes the poor of the earth. It was through the rich that Jesus spoke indirectly to and criticized the government. Their administrations have desensitized people to life and their rod of oppression has caused the people to turn on each other like starved lions in a cage. Hating each other, killing each other, competing against each other. Selling dope to each other, prostituting their daughters and generally in want of all things. They are robbed of true education and are made to scramble for the bare necessities of life. The capitalist/ruling class is living the good life though. Of course they are.
In the same book Power and Privilege we read a note on distributive Justice:
Before concluding this discussion of stratification in agrarian societies a few brief comments on the subject of distributive justice are in order. On the whole, agrarian societies give the impression of gross injustice in the distributive realm as we have seen a small number of individuals enjoy immense luxury consuming in a single day goods and services sufficient to support a large number of the common people for a year. At the same time a considerable portion of the population was denied the basic necessities of life and was marked out by the social system for a speedy demise.
That’s social murder. Isn’t society attempting to justify its lack of distributive justice through its indoctrination? To conceal themselves and to perpetuate their leisure the ruling class will teach our children a doctrine of devils that only the strong survive. They saturate the minds of the people who in turn learn to act like beasts. Because in this dog eat dog world only the strong live. We have to knock each other out by the laws of the jungle. Is this real life? Not in the kingdom of Abraham. The government handed to Moses will constitute God’s kingdom on earth.
In Luke chapter 19 we find the master teacher now addressing a new class in the tax collector. Those who collect debts for the political interest groups of the scribes and Pharisees. We see the depths of hell start to become apparent:
19 And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. 2 And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich. 3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature. 4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.
7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. 8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham.
Notice that this rich man Zacchaeus probably heard the revolutionary teachings of Jesus and understood his political aims before he came to meet him. Notice what he testified of before Jesus said another word to him: “Behold the half of my goods I give to the poor and I restore four-fold.” He correctly interrupted his teachings that the rich must redistribute the wealth. After he told him this and paid back all he defrauded salvation came. Why? Because he agreed joyfully to redistribute the wealth he had wrongly acquired. He was being rich toward God.
In the book As the Romans Did we read more about these tax collectors and can know more certainly that Jesus of Nazareth did not go around and teach about going to float off somewhere above the literal clouds:
Expansion of the empire benefited many Roman businessmen. Military conquest opened up new areas for real estate speculation, trade, banking and government contracts. Among the most lucrative of government contracts were those dealing the collection of public revenues (the publicans). These public revenues included not only harbor taxes and custom tariffs but more importantly indemnities. An Indemnity was a large sum of money paid by a conquered nation to Rome in order to compensate Rome for the expenses it incurred for fighting the war. A pole tax was an annual tax made to Rome to reimburse the cost of maintaining a governor and a military force in a province. The amount of the indemnity or pole tax was fixed by the senate but the collection of these public revenues was delegated thru bids and contracts to private corporations or more commonly, private individuals. These corporations made a profit and a substantial one. The provincials were often squeezed unmercifully by the publicans who might expect military assistance from the governors since one of his duties was to protect Roman citizens in the provinces.
When we read Zacchaeus was rich we now know why. He was rich of an injustice of the distribution of the wealth. He had heard Jesus’s revolutionary teachings and sought to find him! When the wealth was redistributed salvation came to him. When the wealth is not, God calls you a fool. Jesus said, “how hardly is it for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” One of his political aims is the redistribution of the land and its resources. This is equality and justice. The creator is a God of justice. All his ways are judgement. Jesus’s revolutionary movement is the same message today and time is running close. Wide and broad is the way of destruction and under the spell of capitalism a great many are being driven into the depths of hell. We must choose a side. The people now need housing, food and clothing. Let’s start participating in this work. We must continue this struggle and one of the main objectives is first to be educated. Let’s read between the lines of Jesus teachings and pick up the mantel going forward.
…because the vanguard called Christians goes on until the Kingdom of God YHWH fills the earth completely.