I can’t imagine what it might be like to live through a civil war, where brothers tear each other apart for power. “Civil war” is a euphemism: there’s nothing civil about war.
That’s why Christians must be so careful how we play out the biggest conflict of all time, the battle for who runs the planet. We have a gospel that proclaims the restoration of God’s reign (Ephesians 1:3-14), with God’s anointed on the throne (1:15-23). For the people who’ve been oppressed under evil, that’s liberating news (2:1-10), the end of conflict, the establishment of global peace in God’s Christ (2:11-22).
But what about those who don’t recognize the reign of God’s anointed? What about those who claim to be in power? When Ephesians was written, this was Rome — the Empire that crucified Jesus, the power that imprisoned Paul (3:1, 6:20) and executed Peter. Did this make Caesar the enemy of Christ?
No, says Paul. Thinking of Caesar as the enemy of Christ is attributing him way too much power. He’s not the world ruler; that title belongs to Christ. Caesar is just a puppet, a marionette being played by darker powers. Think of him as a fellow human. Yes, he harms God’s people, but that’s because he’s enslaved in the service of evil:
Ephesians 6 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV)
That’s why Paul spent zero effort fighting Rome: wrong enemy. It’s why Jesus spent zero effort fighting Rome: the power he came to dislodge wasn’t Rome, but the power behind Rome.
Remember, we discussed why the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery. King Jesus has not called us to condemn the evils in his world, but to proclaim his kingship. As his kingship spreads, the evils disappear. Condemning systemic evils is flogging a dead horse.
Our judgementalism only bring the cause of Christ into disrepute. Conservatives and radicals, we all need to stop condemning and proclaim the good news:
- The gospel is not a social message that denounces evil rulers in this world.
- The gospel is not a personal message that denounces sinners to prepare them for another world.
- The gospel is the history-making proclamation that God’s chosen leader (the Christ) is reigning over the world (our Lord).
We need to dismantle the benches we’ve erected to make ourselves judges. Let’s build communities that embody what Jesus expects of his kingdom. His is the only power that changes the world.
What others are saying
Matthew W. Bates, Gospel Allegiance (Baker, 2019), 33:
The gospel is a political statement with social implications.
2 thoughts on “Why doesn’t the Bible condemn bad rulers? (Ephesians 6:12)”
Very good. Thanks for describing so well what I knew but couldn’t put into words.
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Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.