If you take this political/religious template and lay it over the New Testament, it opens another dimension of understanding. Jesus’ birth becomes a political event. He was born to overthrow Rome. Not in the civil sense of occupying an earthly throne, but in the sense that He was to be everything Rome was pretending to be. He was to be the true soter, kyrios, and divus filius.
When Luke told Theophilus (and others), “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord,” (2:10-11), it had Rome written all over it! The same thing was true when Mark told his audience, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (1:1). He was saying One has come into the world who was everything that Rome claimed to be but wasn’t!
Herod the Great’s attempt to murder Jesus (Matthew 2), was Rome’s attempt to keep its dominion. Similarly, Peter’s confession of Christ as “the son of the living God,” (Matthew 16:16), took place at Caesarea Philippi, where Herod had built a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar Augustus. It was in a Roman context that Peter confessed who the real Son of God is!
These overtones are everywhere in Jesus’ conversation with Pilate (John 18), when the he wants to know if Christ is a king. The Jews tell Pilate Jesus must be crucified “He claimed to be the Son of God.” And John tells us that when Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid (John 19:7-8). Finally, the Jewish leaders pulled the Caesar card on Pilate and claim they have no king but Caesar (v. 12-15). The irony is overwhelming— they rejected the true king while proclaiming their allegiance to the pseudo king!
While crucifixion was not invented by the Romans, it was perfected by them. It wasn’t just a method of capital punishment, it was a political statement. It said you went against Rome and you lost. It was tremendously effective because it not only put to death the insurrectionist, but it did it in a way to quell the rebellion of the next one hundred would-be rebels. Any thoughts of opposing Rome would be extinguished by the gruesome sight of a person nailed to a cross and left to die in front of his family and friends. When this happened to Jesus, it sent an unequivocal message to the disciples that Jesus was just another in a long line of people who thought they were the Messiah but were tragically mistaken. The cross said, “You lose and Rome wins—again!”
That means the resurrection was just as much a political statement as the other events of Jesus’ life. Listen to how Paul spoke of it when writing to the church at Rome. He speaks of Jesus “who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:4). Rome was not Lord! It had met a greater power in the Jewish carpenter and though they had put Him to death with their cross, they could not keep Him there. Through the resurrection He was powerfully proclaimed to be the Son of God.
All of this just reinforces the truth that history is His Story. Whether it’s the first century or the twenty-first century, Jesus reigns and is Lord of all.