“In the ancient world, to say Jesus is Lord is to say that Ceasar is not… make no mistake, this was a revolution. Exchanging the love of power for the power of Christ’s love,”
- N.T. Wright
Wright supplemts this with an additional question: who or what is Caesar.
In one sense Caesar is the idea of the Powers of Sin and Death, something the ancients saw to represent a very real agency of Evil that exists and rules in this world.
In another sense Caesar is the idea of Empire, giving the language of Evil a real historical presence in the oppression of others.
In another sense still Caesar is the system. These systems actualize the oppressive nature of Evil and Empire in our world as enslavement to these systemic realities.
In another sense yet Caesar is all of us. It is in this sense that the love of Christ then judges both the oppressed and the oppressor alike. It judges the oppressor, making the claim that we are either participating in the reality of Empire and demonstrating a love of power, or we are participating in the new reality of Christ’s reign by demonstrating Christ’s love. And it judges the oppressed, making the claim that the hope of Christ is the faithfulness of Christ to Gods promise to make what is wrong in this world right and, extending this with the call to free participation in the Kingdom of God’s love for the sick, the lowly, the marginalized, the widow, the orphan, and the sinner.
In both cases what binds us to Empire is the systems which enslave us to one reality or another. If the Gospel is simply this- christ has defeated the Powers that hold creation enslaved, ascended to the throne, and established His rule of love in the whole of creation thus making all things new- then what we have is the two sided nature of this judgment followed by the call to participate in the new reality Christ has brought about in and for the world. To hear this from the perspective of the oppressed is to hear that the Powers which oppress have been defeated. Thus to participate in the old reality is to store up the wrath poured out on Evil for ourselves. To hear this as the oppressed is to hear that the Powers which oppress have been defeated and we are free to participate in the new, liberated reality. Thus to participate in the new reality Christ’s work has established in and for the world is to experience the hope that Christ has in fact done what He said He did in and for the world.
But here is the kicker. If Ceasar is indeed all of us then what this means is that the truth of the Gospel always leads us to the call to participation. To be liberated (the Exodus) brings us to Sinai. Christ has liberated the whole of creation and brings us all to Golgotha. Thus the power of Christ’s love becomes our judgment. To be liberated from the Powers, from Empire, means to be freed to be a people in and for the world. To be image bearers of the true revealed name of God in Christ. In this way Christ’s message intersects with the totality of our lives as we see these two realities existing side by side, one that has been and is being defeated and one that has been and is being made new.
It is for this reason that the connecting point between us and the Empire in this multifaceted use of Caesar is in fact the systems themselves. The lie of the Powers at the top of this list rests in the claim that we are all Evil. From this flows every justification for the oppression of the other, as the only way to not be Evil is to hold power over the other and make them the enemy of our righteous status. The truth of Christ is that we are made in God’s image. The Kingdom of Christ flips the love of Power on its head by reversing the trajectory- we are all made in the image of God, therefore the enemy is Power itself. The beauty of the great reversal is that God’s new creation project begins with the call to free participation in building a Kingdom of love. But here is the thing- it is Christ’s work that has freed us to do so by defeating the Powers that hold this creation enslaved. Thus the call to participate must attend to and do the work of dismantling the systems that proclaim the lie rather than the truth. To say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not, and this claim bears the statement that we are in fact image bearers called to image the love of Christ in and for the world.