By Asher Intrater
There is much religious and political conflict in the world. There always has been. The conflict is intense and will likely become even more so.
The Bible has much to say on this highly complex issue. There were the battles between Israel and the nations; between Judah and Israel; between priests and prophets; between prophets of Baal and prophets of YHVH; between Israelites and Philistines; between different tribes within Israel.
Let’s look today at just one of many of those passages: the confrontation between Pilate and Yeshua in the gospel of John. We can see here five basic spiritual principles.
I. There is always religious and political conflict.
When Yeshua was brought before Pilate, Pilate immediately asked Him a question, “Are You the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) His point seemed to be, “Are you leading a religious-political rebellion against the Roman government? If so, that is a crime for which I can punish you.”
In the first century, this was the primary political conflict for Israel, and the background of the New Covenant gospels. For the entire Apostolic period, the Roman empire was ruling the world. The book of Acts starts in Jerusalem and ends up in Rome.
Pilate is asking Yeshua a question within this religious-political conflict. He is expecting Yeshua to take a side on the issue. The issue cannot be avoided.
II. There is a different spiritual perspective on the issues.
Yeshua sees the conflict on a different level. His perspective is spiritual and heavenly, not religious and political. The question that Pilate asked could be seen in that different perspective, if that was Pilate’s intention. So, which one of the TWO was it?
Yeshua responds, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” (John 18:34) Yeshua is clarifying whether Pilate is asking about Yeshua’s spiritual mission or about the religious-political conflict.
Pilate responds, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” (John 18:35) In other words, Pilate is not at this point interested in Yeshua’s spiritual message, but only in the religious-political conflict.
III. The message of the gospel is NOT primarily taking sides in the political conflict.
When Yeshua sees that Pilate is only dealing with the religious-political conflict, He says that is NOT His primary purpose. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
Yeshua does not deny His kingship or its ultimate prophetic impact on the political and religious empires. But He does refuse to enter into that level of the argument. He and His disciples are not “fighting” on this issue.
By doing so, Yeshua is not avoiding the issue, or being afraid to deal with it. He is presenting a THIRD perspective. In essence, saying, “You are trying to pull Me into this religious-political conflict. But both sides are wrong. Neither of the parties has an answer. Neither of you can bring a solution.
“However, I have a different way, a heavenly way. While My kingdom is not part of the present religious-political conflict, it will ultimately bring the solution to all the conflicts. I have a solution. Neither of you do. I’m not taking sides on your conflict. I am bringing a better and real solution.”
IV. The gospel points to the TRUE solution of the human crisis.
When Yeshua responds this way, it causes Pilate to ask about Yeshua’s perspective, even though Pilate was so deeply immersed in the empire conflict.
Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)
Yeshua is indeed a King. He was born to be that King. He was crucified as that King. (John 19:19-22) He was raised and ascended to receive heavenly authority. (Daniel 7:14, Psalm 110:1, Mark 14:62) He will return to establish that kingdom on this earth. (Matthew 6:10; 25:31) All the governments of this world will submit to His authority (Revelation 11:15)
Our priority is not taking sides in politics, but in presenting the true solution. Both sides are ultimately wrong, because all men are selfish and sinful. The gospel changes human hearts and thus brings true peace, social justice, environmental change, and economic welfare.
We seek His kingdom and His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33) All the rest will be “added” as the result of a right relationship with a loving and holy God.
V. There is ONE sovereign authority above all others.
Pilate tried to force Yeshua into the religious-political conflict, but Yeshua simply refused to respond. Pilate was frustrated at Yeshua’s silence and tried to enforce his authority over Him.
“Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have authority to crucify You, and authority to release You?” (John 19:10)
Amazingly enough, Yeshua did not deny Pilate’s political authority. Nor did He deny the authority of the priests in the Temple. In fact, He submitted to both the Roman empire and the Jewish priesthood. But then He added that there was a greater authority over them, to which they would have to give account for their decision.
Yeshua answered, “You could have no authority toward Me at all unless it had been given you from above…” (John 19:11)
We submit to authorities in this world because they are secondary. There is authority above them. There is only ONE sovereign ruler from above. It is God.
The kingdom message has primary authority, while religion and politics have secondary. The gospel calls all people to submit to Yeshua’s heavenly rulership. It says, “all have sinned and need to repent, for the kingdom of God and His judgment are at hand.”
I write this article in the light of the current conflicts in the Middle East. There are some different perspectives in dealing with issues in America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
We have agreement with the Orthodox Jews in Israel on conservative family values. However, the persecution of Messianics, racial prejudice, and religious coercion by the extremist elements among them, does not allow us to fit in. We have agreement with secular Israeli society on civil rights and freedom of expression. However, the breakdown of family and sexual morality issues, does not allow us to fit in with them either. For the Palestinians, we have deep compassion for their suffering; and we have precious unity with our Christian Arab friends. However, the influence of radical Islamic jihad, with its hatred of Israel, also leaves us on the outside.
While we do not have to fight or take sides in partisan religious-politics, we do indeed need to address with prophetic clarity all issues of morality and social justice. And we need to discern the difference between the two.
Our message should be bolder and more confrontative. It is not left or right, it is above. It is not for a political candidate, but for the King of kings who will rule over them.