By Derek R. Iannelli-Smith
Was Jesus a revolutionary? What does that mean, and what doesn’t it mean?
The Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines revolutionary’ as, “constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.” Today’s church’ likes it’s post-modern terms and “Jesus the revolutionary” is one of those that possibly gets caught up in the hype of hip’ terms out there in our efforts to reach the emerging generation. Vocabulary can be a tricky thing. Try asking a group of folks what grace’ means, and you will find that the pendulum swings from one extreme to another without any balance. Jesus the revolutionary just might evoke this kind of swinging’ of definitions. However, I think that Jesus’ view of revolutionary and our view are at odds with each other. Let’s look at a text that may shed some light on this:
14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(Luke 4:14-21, ESV)
A commentary I was reading on this text suggested that we need to take notice of the revolutionary implications of the Messiah’s mission. When rightly viewed, we see that He came to deal with the enormous problems that have afflicted mankind throughout history and today: Poverty. To proclaim good news to the poor. Subjugation. To proclaim liberty to the captives. Grief. To recover the sight of the blind. Cruelty. To set at liberty those who are oppressed. It is true, whether you think of these ills in a physical sense or in a spiritual sense. Christ is the answer, but sometimes I think we can all agree, it is sold’ wrongly. Just like the disciples not getting it (they thought He came to overthrow the Roman government), we sometimes preach a gospel that says; “when you become a Christian everything is going to get better.” We don’t get it’ either and need to be reminded too.
Whether we like to admit it or not, we are faced with this same dilemma. Many have thought of Jesus as a teacher, as a good man, or a tragic historical figure who was killed because He was too far ahead of His time. But when we meet Jesus in Scripture, and hear His claims, we realize that Jesus calls on us to see Him as the living Son of God. Believing in Jesus Christ as LORD and SAVIOR is bringing about a major or fundamental change in the way we think about the world, our relationships and what it means to be a Christian.
Jesus’ neighbors were confronted with a decision they did not want to make, and a claim they did not want to hear. The Bible says they “were furious” (v. 28), and that they tried to kill Jesus (v. 29). One of the reasons I am a fan of Way of the Master, is because the Law, when rightly understood brings us to the same place, and we must make a decision about God’s holiness in light of my sinfulness, about how we all have a gospel gap in our lives, believer and non-believer.
Jesus demonstrated a different life style and taught others to live their lives in a radically new and revolutionary way…going against the culture of His time. When people believed His message and started living differently, it turned the world upside down; it turns the world upside down.
I think we need to be cautious of calling Jesus something He never called Himself. I will let Him speak for Himself;
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)
Another great resource discussing Jesus the revolutionary is by my brother in Christ, Frank Viola at The Ooze.
Derek R. Iannelli-Smith is a bumbling church planter in Goose Creek, SC who is humbled that he had/has an opportunity to attain an M.Div (Pastoral Counseling) and maintain his NANC (Biblical Counseling) certification.