One of the strangest doctrines of the so-called “new left” movement of recent decades was the idea that the early Christians were actually revolutionaries. The so-called hippies used to point out the similarity of their long hair, their “Jesus shoes,” their nomadic life style, their persecution by the “establishment,” and other such things, to analogous aspects in the life of Christ. They maintained that they, like Christ, were opposed to the society of their day and wanted to usher in a better social order.
Actually, this idea (like all the other ideas of the “new” left) was not new at all. Socialists and Communists have been claiming for more than a hundred years that Jesus was a true socialist and that the early church was really a communistic society. Much stranger and more disturbing than the claim itself, which has been refuted many times over the past century, is that it is now being echoed by many supposed Christians in their rather wistful desire to be “relevant” in this supposedly revolutionary age.
Even evangelical churches and youth organizations in many cases have adopted this technique, thinking somehow that calling Jesus a revolutionary will entice modern young people to accept Him! They forget that “preaching another Jesus, whom we have not preached” (2 Corinthians 11:4) is not really preaching Christ at all, but rather a self-manufactured pseudo-Christ, in whom there is no true salvation.
The image of Jesus as a revolutionary is not at all the picture given in the New Testament Scriptures. In the first place, His clothing and physical appearance were no different from those of the other people of His time. He and His disciples did not try to set themselves apart from the rest of society in this respect, as do many of today’s radicals. The length of His hair is completely unknown to us (despite the supposed portraits of Him painted during the Middle Ages which picture Him with long hair), but it was certainly short enough to distinguish Him clearly as a man, rather than a woman. The Bible says, “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 22:5). Furthermore, it says: “If a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him” (1 Corinthians 11:14). The Lord Jesus came “not to destroy God’s law but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17).
It is true that He was persecuted by the religious and political leaders, but this was hardly because He was a radical or rebel! As a matter of fact, the Jewish leaders themselves were anxious to throw off the Roman rule and were thus the real revolutionists of the day. The history of the time indicates a complex network of plots and abortive revolutions, but Christ and His followers had no part in any of this.
On the contrary, He continually urged His listeners to be good citizens, submitting to the government and obeying the law. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” He said (Matthew 22:21).
Rather than demanding their “rights,” He instructed His followers: “Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.… But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again” (Luke 6:30, 35). He lived in a time and place where slavery itself was a significant social institution, but He never spoke against it. Later many of the early Christians were from the slave population, and, rather than counseling agitation and rebellion, the Apostle Paul said: “Let us many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor” (1 Timothy 6:1). Slavery eventually was abolished through the moral influence of Christianity, not by means of civil disobedience and revolution stirred up by the Christians.
Though Jesus was surely concerned with man’s physical needs as well as his spiritual needs, He knew that the latter were infinitely more important and that in this present world, controlled as it is by sinful man and by Satan himself, neither poverty nor war could ever be eliminated. He counseled the rich young ruler, for example, to “sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21), but He also cautioned that “the poor ye always have with you” (John 12:8). Thus, while Christian charity to the deserving needy (note 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“… if any would not work, neither should he eat”) is commanded, yet He recognized that state-enforced welfare projects would always be futile.
Similarly, though He warned “all they that take the sword (that is, in aggression, either in warfare or for personal gain) shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52), He also said: “When ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be” (Mark 13:7).
Thus, although the Lord Jesus Christ did not at all approve or condone the evils of this present world, not once did He ever suggest either violent or non-violent rebellion against it! He said rather, at the very time when this world-system was actually condemning Him to death: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight” (John 18:36).
He came, in fact, “not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). He came not to provide “bread and circuses” for the world’s peoples, but rather salvation from sin and hell. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
And ultimately, because He died and rose again, the world itself shall be transformed! When the Lord Jesus, now in heaven, comes back again, then “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Christ came, not to stir up rebellion and revolution, but to bring salvation and regeneration to all who put their trust in Him!