When Jesus confronted Pilate, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 19:36). Reader’s of the Gospel of John would know what Jesus meant because John tells us that Satan rules this world’s kingdom. Jesus calls him “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30; 16:11; John 12:31–33). And the devil’s kingdom is characterized by deceit since its ruler has been a liar from the very beginning (John 8:44).
Christ’s kingdom, however, bears witness to the truth (John 19:37). In this sense, telling the truth or rather telling of the Truth (John 14:6) characterizes the kingdom of Christ. One kingdom is full of lies; the other is Truth itself.
One kingdom, represented by Pilate, uses military power and political machinations. The other confronts this world that is full of lies and exploitation. Knowing the power and nature of these two kingdoms provides us with a political theology that can guide how we view and participate in politics.
Our struggle is cosmic
Simply stated, our struggle is not against flesh and blood. As Paul explains, it is against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).
Hence, our struggle has a political purpose. Yet we battle a cosmic government through spiritual means (Eph 6:13–20). Peter confirms this when he writes, “Your adversary [is] the devil” (1 Pet 5:8). Significantly, he says this in a book that exhorts Christians to live wisely among this world’s systems of authority.
In short, a Christian political theology centres on our battle with spiritual powers, especially the devil himself. Our weapons of warfare are spiritual in nature.
Our perspective is heavenly
Late in life, John wrote a letter to seven churches to encourage them to remain faithful despite various challenges. The Book of Revelation then encourages these churches by using apocalyptic imagery to portray the heavenly realities that correspond to their earthly struggles. In a sense, the book reveals what happens in the heavens when we struggle against rulers and authorities.
While the Book of Revelation carries with it a nearly infinite set of interpretations, I would like to offer what I think is a fairly sane, literal reading of the book. In short, the whole book relates to the seven churches that John addresses in chapters 2 and 3. The symbolic language functions to name the church’s persecutors without naming them—that is, the beast and harlot speak about Rome (and perhaps Jerusalem).
Yet not just Rome. They refer to the Spiritual powers backing the imperial power on earth. Here, I follow Peter Leithart in asserting that the beast represents the military might of Rome (or Jerusalem( while the harlot speaks of the exploitative economic forces at play.
By using such symbolism, John avoids coming under direct political fire for his work, though to his audience, the referents would have been obvious.
Granting that this is true, Revelation as well as the Gospel according to John provides Christians with a political theology. We are truth tellers; the world is a lie. We battle the cosmic powers—who control the empires of the world.
Our political theology has implications
A number of implications follow:
First, Christians should realize that worldly powers may have a dark power behind them—even in our own countries.
Certainly, God appoints magistrates, some of whom are Christians themselves. Hence, political power in this age mixes both good and ill.
Yet we must never forget that the military and economic might of the world participate in the kingdom of the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world as Jesus calls him—the devil.
Second, the kingdom of God has broken into this world, delivering a mortal blow against the devil at the cross.
Still, this dethroned prince rages on through his spiritual agents. Hence, we have wars and rumours of wars. We have exploitation and great evils in the world. But hope also remains.
Third, supporting just rulers through prayer and other virtuous means can certainly battle spiritual powers that lie behind these earthly powers.
Hence, political escapism should be avoided. We should as good citizens participate in politics according to our conscience to be the salt and light of the world.
Lastly, placing our hope or weight into any one political power can (but not necessarily) mean placing our support behind dark spiritual powers—it would mean playing on the enemy’s team.
Much better to focus on the central means of the brining about the kingdom of God into this dark world: truth–telling.
Speaking the truth by proclaiming the Truth confronts evil in place as well as changing the hearts of those who hear in faith. It means both defining and defending the weak against the unjust and preaching the Gospel that justifies the ungodly.
Through the Truth, we confront evil, and the Gospel transforms evil people into holy people. In this sense, our spiritual battle is political—just not in the way we might expect. We proclaim a new kingdom—one of truth and love. We proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ and his just demands for the world.
The kingdom is coming. As ambassadors of the true king and kingdom, we should have a very loose hand on the politics of this world. We are “longing for a better country–a heavenly one” (Heb 11:6).
We should long for the unshakeable mount zion that is above—not the one here below, characterized by deceit, the demonic, and the devil.