In the current political climate, there have arisen some discussion of what Jesus would have approved of and even what he looked like. Thinking they are unveiling deep theological insight, they remind us that neither Jesus nor any of the disciples were not white. I have said as much, though not in a political context in my post My King is a brown, Middle Eastern Jew. There is a tendency toward the idea that Jesus looked and acted like me, not you. Cultures across the world have depicted Jesus in ways that reflect their cultural context.
Anglo-Americans are as guilty of this as any other culture. But the problem that I have is not with a Jesus with a lighter pigmentation; it is with the hypocrisy of those with anti-semitic leanings who believe in Christianity. The lighter depictions of Jesus are not troubling because Jews often have lighter pigmentation. The Talmud portrays Jews as having olive skin. An olive skinned person could hail from several different regions, including the Middle East, Africa, or even Italy. Therefore, a light depiction of Jesus does not bother me just as a dark depiction of Jesus does not bother me. The Bible says very little about Jesus’s appearance.
An issue of greater concern is retrojecting the views and values of the present onto Jesus. If you tell me that he would vote in an election for your preferred candidate, you do not have the slightest inkling about his mission or what he believed.
Jesus’s view of government
It can be easy to read our culture into ancient texts and even easier to read your values into religious texts. To the socialist, Jesus is a socialist. To the Republican, Jesus was a Republican. In truth, Jesus’s view of politics was radically different from any modern system. Jesus was a theonomist: he believed that the Torah was given by God to Moses and to follow the Law was to follow the Father. In Luke 16:17, he said, “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” His radical claims about himself amplified this point.
John 8:58-59 records Jesus having a dramatic and tense discussion with the Pharisees. After telling them that those who followed him will never die, the Pharisees rebutted that even Abraham died. To this, Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him.” While this might seem confusing to you and I, the Pharisees knew exactly what he meant. He was calling their attention back to the Burning Bush of Exodus 3, claiming to be YHWH himself (later leading to his execution). Jesus is the one who gave the Torah to Moses. He wrote and established the Law.
At this trial the High Priest asked him plainly if he was the Son of the Blessed One. Jesus replied, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” He was claiming to be not only the King of Israel but also the Son of God who would come with the power of heaven. The apostle Paul later expanded on this, writing in Philippians 2:10-11, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus’s view of government does not resemble your political system. On earth, he believed in a Law that he created wherein he was the rightful ruler. In the eschaton, he speaks of coming back as the King of Israel and that all nations will bow to him.
A righteous rebellion?
It might be tempting to liken the struggles of the modern man with those that Jesus addressed. But he was not addressing a problem with the Law; he was addressing a misappropriation of the Law. There was a rabbinical tradition of “building a fence” around the Torah and Jesus was addressing it [Viljoen, Francois P. “Jesus’ Halakhic Argumentation on the True Intention of the Law in Matthew 5:21-48.” Verbum Et Ecclesia 34, no. 1 (2013): 1-12]. He said plainly in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” When Jesus condemned the Pharisees use of the Torah, he was condemning additional mandates that were traditionally interpreted as part of specific laws. I expanded on this point in my post Something greater than the crucifixion is here: How Jesus shocked the Pharisees.
The reason that Jesus was a threat to the power of the Pharisees were in his claims about himself, his credible challenge to the authority of the Pharisee’s scriptural interpretation and the fact that people followed him. He did flip tables, but that was because he was preserving the Law, not overthrowing it.
In fact, it is common wisdom that the disciples expected Jesus to lead them in a rebellion to take Israel back from the Romans and install himself as an earthly King. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter seems to be under the impression that the time had come for the rebellion to begin. So he assaulted the Temple Guard, cutting off his ear and providing Jesus a clear opportunity to escape. But instead Jesus issued a firm rebuke, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Instead of seeing the rebellion through, he allowed himself to be captured and executed. His mission was not earthly; it was in place from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). His mission was nothing like mine or yours.
Why Jesus looked and acted like me, not you
He did not act like either of us. He was a Middle Eastern Jew who lived 2000 years ago and he claimed to be God himself, the very deity of ancient Scripture. He exposed sin and urged people to follow God and obey the Law. He was not a socialist. He was not a republican. He was not an independent. He would not vote for any candidate and he did not believe in democracy. He was a theonomist who claimed to be God and King. Then he allowed himself to be captured by the government and gruesomely executed for the sins of mankind.
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.