Another King named Jesus

“We have a high priest who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.”  Hebrews 8:1

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Caesar Augustus wearing the veil of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). Museo Nazionale Romano, Rome.

What are the limits of patriotism for followers of Jesus? Caesar Augustus (whose given name was Octavian) ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC to AD 14. He was such an extraordinary general and administrator that people across the ancient world worshipped him.
Subsequent emperors of the New Testament era, including Caligula and Nero, reveled in their supposed divinity. Christians rejected this arrogance as blasphemy. Part of Christian protest was to ascribe to Jesus titles that Caesar claimed, including High PriestSon of God, and Savior of the world.
At Rome today you can still see an ancient statue of Caesar Augustus wearing the veil of Pontifex Maximus (High Priest). The sculpture dates from about the time Jesus was born. A denarius silver coin struck at Rome in 17 BC features Augustus. The reverse portrays Julius Caesar, ruler of Rome assassinated in 44 BC (right). Julius named Octavian in his will as son and heir, opening the way for Octavian to become emperor.
Caesar coin

A denarius coin minted at Rome in 17 BC. Caesar Augustus (left) and Julius Caesar (right). Image courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group (www.cngcoins.com).

Soon after public cremation of Julius in 44 BC, a comet appeared in the sky—depicted on this coin above the head of Julius. Poets said the comet was the soul of Julius in the heavens, and the Roman Senate declared him “deified.” This allowed Caesar Augustus to take the title “son of god.”

The inscription DIVI F[ilius] beside Augustus on the coin stands for “Son of the Divine One.” It is important to note that millions of people across the Roman Empire voluntarily promoted such honors for Augustus. They were grateful for the stability and prosperity he brought to the Mediterranean world.

Some governments or rulers in every generation claim divine mandate. Others champion an ideal—such as capitalism, socialism, democracy, or a caliphate—that supposedly merits absolute allegiance. Pressure to act in patriotic ways may come from government or from friends and neighbors.

Christians living in societies that expect or elicit patriotic acts contrary to the gospel might consider the relationship Paul and Silas had with the Roman Empire. Opponents said they had been “turning the world upside down . . . acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

Christian discipleship is holy subversion: loving enemies, caring for the vulnerable, washing feet, and otherwise giving allegiance to the Christ we worship as savior and king.

© 2014 J. Nelson Kraybill *******************************************

_EPI9254.tifFor info on upcoming tours, click on these links:
From Nazareth to Rome: Holy Land, Empire and Global Mission, with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 3-15, 2014

Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015

One thought on “Another King named Jesus

  1. Dr. Kraybill, I was interested in seeing this today, for I am making reference to you in my blog posting tomorrow and in my sermon at Rainbow Mennonite Church on Sunday. The reference is to the pledge to Jesus you and June Yoder wrote back in 2004.

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