With the Easter message fresh on my mind, I am again reminded of what the Jewish leaders said to Pilate when they tried to coerce him to crucify Jesus. They said, “We have no king but Caesar.” Remember, these were the Jewish Pharisees, scribes, elders, priests, and high priests. They prided themselves in being scholars of the Torah. They believed themselves to be the sole interpreters of the Mosaic Law. Yet, the very First Commandment of the Decalogue handed down to Moses is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” But in order to stay in the good graces of the Roman government, they emphatically proclaimed that they recognized no king but Caesar.
Remember, Caesar insisted that everyone recognize him to be, not only king, but God. To be loyal to Rome, one had to acknowledge the deity of Caesar. One could worship any other god that one wanted to, as long as Caesar was acknowledged as Sovereign. Historians famously say that there were as many gods in Rome as people. Rome prided itself in being religiously pluralistic and tolerant. First Century Christians were not persecuted because they worshipped Jesus; they were persecuted because they refused to worship Caesar; they refused to acknowledge the sovereignty of Caesar. It was for this reason that early Christians were fed to lions and made sport of in the amphitheaters.
In their desire to use the Roman government to advance their own agenda (crucifying Christ and later His disciples and apostles), the Jewish leaders were quite willing to acknowledge the deity and sovereignty of Caesar–even though doing so was a blatant violation of the First Commandment given by Jehovah to Moses. Is it a little more than interesting that after conducting a secret, illegal trial of Jesus and blaspheming God in declaring Caesar king that they immediately afterward sat down to observe the Passover? No wonder Jesus called them “Hypocrites.”
“What does all of this have to do with modern America?” you ask. Everything!
Anytime a pastor or church uses Romans 13 to teach that Christians should submit to government “no matter what,” they are joining the First Century Jewish leaders in saying, “We have no king but Caesar.” Wittingly or unwittingly, they have made a god out of government. And by doing so, they have violated the First Commandment and blasphemed the God they claim to serve. They are like the Jewish leaders who declared unlimited submission to Caesar then sat down to observe the Passover. These modern pastors and church leaders do the same thing: they declare unlimited submission to government and then go through the exercise of conducting a Christian worship service, complete with songs of praise, recitations of scripture, and collecting tithes and offerings. Are they not as guilty of blasphemy and hypocrisy as were the First Century Jewish leaders?
Another statement that leaped out at me as I rehearsed the Easter story last Sunday was spoken by the Lord Jesus.