Every once in a while, I hear the claim made that Jesus was a rebel. And every time I hear it, it makes me cringe. I’ve read the Bible several times, and I have never walked away thinking, Jesus was a rebel. I’ve taken classes, and again, never walked away thinking, Jesus was a rebel. And after looking into it a little deeper, I’ve walked away convinced, Jesus was not a rebel.
While I’ve heard the claim from conservative and liberal thinkers alike, I’m making the assumption that the idea rose with liberal and/or progressive thinkers. Thinkers who tend to twist definitions, ideas, and ideologies to fit their own purposes without regard for truth and reality.
So, let’s start here. What is a rebel? According to the Oxford Dictionary a rebel is:
A person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or leader
Now we all can agree that Jesus did not lead an armed resistance against anyone, so the focus of this article will be on the idea that he rose in opposition, but to whom?
It should be quite clear, from the start, that Jesus was not rebelling against God’s Old Testament Law. If God and Jesus are part of the the same Triune God, then rebelling against God’s Law, would essentially put Him at odds with himself. Simply put, this makes no sense.
The Bible also tells us that Jesus was sinless. He followed the Law to the letter, and told others to follow the Law. He told us that the Law would be fulfilled, but it would not go away, until God’s purpose was accomplished.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)
In dramatic difference to what we see today, Jesus was obedient to His Father, even when He knew that it was going to get Him killed.
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:41-42 ESV)
Jesus did not rise against His family, or His family’s Law.
The Bible doesn’t record many interactions between Jesus and the Roman government or civil authorities, but we aren’t left clueless either.
The first instance is not direct contact, but rather, is a trap set by the Pharisees who want Jesus to either make himself look bad in front of His own people, or make a statement advocating breaking the law by not paying taxes. Jesus, however, knows their intent and answers brilliantly:
Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 ESV)
Later, he is sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Prefect in Judaea at the time. After interrogating Jesus, Pilate found him to be innocent, and not worthy of death.
Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. (John 18:38 ESV)
Apparently the government wasn’t impressed with Jesus’ rebellion since they found him innocent. When He finally was sentenced to death, it was because Pilate caved due to political pressure, and told the crowd so, “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (Matthew 27:24).
The final group, religious leaders, are a little more interesting because I think this is where the confusion comes in. Without going into detail, the religious leaders we’re talking about were made up of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and while Jesus and they were in conflict, I don’t think it was Jesus who was rebelling against them, but they who were rebelling against Him.
The Jews had been anticipating a Messiah for thousands of years. When that Messiah showed up, in the form of Jesus, He wasn’t what they were expecting. Some accepted this and followed Him anyway, while others, particularly the religious leaders did not. They rejected Him, and yes, rebelled against His teaching.
Throughout the Gospels there are examples of the religious leaders antagonizing Him and looking for ways to discredit Him: He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath; His disciples ate with impure hands; and His disciples plucked wheat on the Sabbath when they were hungry. Despite the fact that He healed multitudes, exorcised demons, and fed thousands, they still kept looking for signs, accused Him of being a drunkard, and accused Him of healing through the power of Beelzebul, instead of God. They failed at every endeavor.
When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, they came after him with swords-remember our definition of rebel?-but he went willingly and cooperated. His apostles put up a brief resistance but Jesus told them to stop, and even healed the ear of one of the assailants whom Peter had cut the ear of.
He was taken to the Temple and put on trial complete with false charges. Why false charges? Because they had nothing on Him. If he were truly a rebel, they would have been able to provide real charges. After the kangaroo court, He was handed over to Roman authorities, where He met with Pilate, which I already discussed.
Jesus wasn’t rebelling against the religious authorities of the time. Sure, He pointed out their flaws, and their hypocrisy, but that was usually in response to their attacking Him first! That’s not very rebellious. I would say it’s more of defensive in nature, and much more effective, since His responses generally dealt with the specific situation at hand.
Nowhere in the Bible is Jesus described as a rebel. He is described as a Savior. Those who were in charge at the time rebelled against Him. He brought Truth, and they didn’t want to hear it.
Jesus was condemned by the liberal elites of the time for not conforming to their
politically religiously correct values. He threatened their man-made authority, prestige, and highly educated sensibilities; they knew better than the uneducated. He was condemned by a kangaroo court. The crowd was whipped up by what only could be considered a flash mob.
But, are we really any different? From the time of Adam, man has rebelled against God in one manner or another. There have always been those who follow, and those who rebel. They tried to make Jesus conform to their version of the Law, instead of conforming themselves to God’s version of the Law. To this day, we’re still trying to make Jesus fit our image of Him: teacher, rebel, socialist, someone who loves us and our faults. He’s everything but a Saviour; everything but the Son of God; everything but the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
Going back to our definition: A rebel is someone who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or ruler. We can state with confidence, Jesus did not rise in opposition or armed resistance to anyone. The world has rebelled against Him.