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Taken from the book Christ Vs Caesar by Connor Boyack.
The Roman occupation of Judea was just one of many conquests to which the children of Israel were subjected. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece each took their turn claiming political authority over the children of Israel. During the time of Christ, the Romans were the occupiers, and Caesar was the political authority. In modern times, Christians live in and are subject to a variety of governments and earthly rulers. And while Christ’s mortal ministry reveals some commentary about Caesar that we will later explore, these references surely apply not just to the single political leader at the time of His ministry, but to political leaders generally. God’s teachings before and after Christ’s earthly life build an even stronger case for Christians to choose Him over the current Caesar of the day. Whatever the form of government we might live under as our “Caesar,” there are bound to be a few common characteristics.
Caesar demands loyalty. Political leaders do not easily tolerate dissent. Early Christians struggling under the Roman occupation were targeted because their deity was seen as a rival monarch, a “king in direct conflict with the dictatorship of the emperor.”45 Caesar was deified and worshiped as the protector and provider of the empire. The idea of an invisible God assuming these titles obviously undermined the Roman leader’s claims of legitimacy and might. Those who refused to praise the monarch were perceived as disloyal.
The modern state, in contrast, does not demand our theological reverence; its demand for loyalty is religiously indifferent. One can believe whatever they wish about a higher power, but Caesar lays claim to earthly power. Caesar expects our financial tributes and personal compliance. And like a community that is expected (or happy) to support the local sports team merely because of where they live, Caesar expects those within his jurisdiction to bow the knee and confess his superiority because he is master of that geographical domain. All who live there are expected to be loyal and comply accordingly.
Caesar asserts divinity or divine support. Mortal men proclaiming themselves as god is nothing new. Political rulers have long asserted a claim to divine approbation and appointment. Egyptian pharaohs, Japanese emperors, Roman rulers, English kings, and modern-day rulers have all either claimed to be deity or claimed to have deity’s support for their actions. Political rulers tend to appeal to and appear to appease the god or gods of the masses, leveraging people’s religious feelings in support of Caesar’s desired policies. By portraying himself a servant of God, Caesar can discourage dissent by encouraging the faithful to support his policies, since he allegedly shares their faith.
Caesar desires worship. Caesar is Christ’s counterfeit; he replicates the worship of God to instead support the state. To be praised and given loyalty, an alternative quasi-religious system is built for worshiping Caesar. Political temples and monuments (the Capitol, statues, Washington Monument, and so on) are erected for visitation and veneration. Rituals are created (voting, swearing into office) to encourage a shared political faith. Seminaries of learning (public schools and universities) ensure the rising generation learns what Caesar approves. Common prayers and hymns (the Pledge of Allegiance, the national anthem) cultivate fidelity and reverence. Sacred symbols and texts (the flag, the Constitution) are propagated to remind citizens of Caesar’s greatness and presence—a shared identity for the masses who are affiliated with the state and its might.
Like all great counterfeits, many people perceive these substitutions as legitimate and worthy of their devotion and support. “Abraham Lincoln used to say,” remarked Rudy Giuliani, “that the test of your Americanism was . . . how much you believed in America. Because we’re like a religion, really. A secular religion.” American Christians often cling to their flag as much as their Bible. “The name of the nation [has become] as holy as the name of God. The presidency is turning into a priesthood.” Caesar most desires worship because reverent subjects do not revolt; they see their subjugation as a worthy sacrifice.
Caesar refuses to answer to a higher power. As Christ’s counterfeit, Caesar sees himself as the highest power in the earthly domain; he is the supposed sovereign, able to do as he pleases. And while superficially Caesar may claim to answer to or represent God, in reality Caesar asserts that he is a law unto himself. The state sanctions and excuses evil conduct that, if committed by a citizen, would be subject to swift punishment. Caesar plunders, controls, and kills people with impunity, confident that he can get away with it. Doctrines such as executive privilege and immunity (“the king can do no wrong”) are invented to justify Caesar’s actions and exempt him from accountability. They are evidence that he thinks himself a god.
Caesar seeks the praise of the world. With pomp and circumstance, and public relations campaigns, Caesar widely proclaims his virtues and points to the grandeur of his projects. Whether building roads and public works, vanquishing a foe, or providing food or services to the masses, Caesar is egocentric and proud of his accomplishments—and he wants the world to know it. He is vain and competitive, seeking to aggrandize himself relative to other challengers.
As we evaluate how Christians should act in relation to Caesar, these characteristics are important to remember. While Christians often study and ponder the attributes of Christ, they typically fail to contemplate Caesar’s. This is akin to going to battle without doing any homework about one’s enemy. This enemy comes in many forms, which might cause Christians confusion, for if Jesus was referring to the Roman empire, how do his words relate to a modern republic?
Do we apply his rebukes to North Korea, but not North Dakota? And since the empires of past millennia are vastly different from the modern nation state—including participatory democracies where “we the people” are supposedly in charge—does what Christ counseled even remain relevant? Yes, there exists a wide range of forms of government under which God’s people have been ruled throughout history. From dictatorships to constitutional republics, Caesars come and go. But we can eliminate the confusion and consistently apply Christ’s counsel by understanding the influence that manifests itself in each Caesar.
The following was taken from the book Christ Vs Caesar by Connor Boyack currently on sale at cedarfort.com