Rome was ruled by the gods. At least, that’s what they want us to believe. Once they had the throne, the Emperors of Rome felt it only natural to take a step into the heavens.
In some inscriptions, Augustus is known as Caesar Divi Filius, meaning Son of a God. Caligula was the first emperor to demand to be worshiped. Domitian took the title “lord and god” and ordered people to confess the same as a test of loyalty. The Emperors of one of the greatest civilizations in history could not escape the allure of deification.
It’s in this setting of men pretending to be gods that the story spread of how God had become a man. Jesus lived in Israel under the rule of Caesar.
The irony can’t be lost on a Christian. It was often declared in Rome that “Caesar is Lord.” It was customary for military evangelists to go through the streets and proclaim the Gospel or the Good News of Caesar’s latest conquests in battle. The language of the New Testament was first heard in the streets of Rome.
The Gospel writers caught on to the political rhetoric of the Romans and used it to tell the story of a greater kingdom than Rome and a better King than Caesar.
A new breed of evangelists proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ that death had been conquered and that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord. But it was a story that was too subversive for Rome.
One after another, its rulers responded with an iron fist. Men were thrown to lions. Women were sent to the grave. Under a handful of Caesars, persecution followed Christians over a period of three centuries because they gave their worship to Christ alone. They were willing to die for Him because they believed He had risen from the dead—something no Caesar had ever done.
Death was the one territory that refused to submit to Rome. But it was also the weapon that was used against its dissidents.
Christians were persecuted because they lived in Rome as citizens of heaven, under the lordship of Christ. Rome was ruled by Caesar and the Church was ruled by Christ. Yet today, the glory of Rome is a memory and the once persecuted church marches on towards eternity. But not without conflict, from within and without.
Some of us remain under the curse of Caesar. We still want a throne to give us a name and a title to give us our worth. The corruption that comes with a crown still has the power to seduce the servant and turn him into a tyrant.
But our instinct to rule is not contrary to the will of God. In fact, He designed Adam to rule over creation; in harmony with His character and purpose. The trouble is that we have the first instinct but we’ve lost the other.
To be made in the image of God is to be made in the likeness of a righteous Ruler. In the Genesis story, when God’s work is over, Adam’s work begins. He was God’s sub-lord over creation, the ruling representative of God’s character. But he traded the honour for a treat.
To be sons of Adam is to be children of rebellion. It’s in our nature to serve ourselves because our parents did the same. Adam and Eve were tricked into swapping a crown for a craving. We don’t seem to have learnt from their mistakes. We’re still falling for that serpentine trick. We’re still trading a treasure, for many a trivial thing.
The Proverbs tell us that “a ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor”. It makes sense then that so much of our human condition is the natural result of nations, homes, offices and communities under the rule of men without understanding.
The Proverbs also tell us that “a wicked ruler over a poor people is like a roaring lion or a charging bear.” All of us have met that sort of beast. Whether it’s a corrupt politician, an ill-tempered boss, an authoritarian leader or an alcoholic father; we have seen what it looks like when a leader forgets how to rule.
The trouble with humanity is not that we are sinful. No doubt, that’s the present state of our being. But once we were rulers. Once we were regents. Once we named the animals. Once we were the image of God, blameless and without fault.
The trouble with humanity is that we have forgotten who we are. We are rulers living as slaves to our cravings—unfit to rule the world because we cannot even rule ourselves. We are fallen rulers that need to be restored, so we can be people who bring the righteous rule of God into every corner of human existence.
But no one is meant to rule over everything and no one is meant to submit to everyone. We are made to rule over things entrusted to us, but we are also made to submit to those who rule over us.
To be made in the image of God is to rule and submit in the likeness of Christ. This is why it’s significant that Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God.”
He is a visible, tangible reminder of who we are meant to be. Christ is the ruler we were created to be like, who submits perfectly to the will of His Father, washing even the feet of His disciples. His submission doesn’t weaken His rule. In fact, it solidifies His lordship and tells us what it looks like when a ruler is truly secure in Himself.
Christian leadership comes with a sobering summons to rule in the image of God and submit in the humility of Christ. To this we are called. In the Gospel of Mark, the first words of Jesus are, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News.”
To repent is to turn around and redirect the course of our lives. We are invited to enter a kingdom more glorious than Rome and to follow a King more righteous than Caesar. When we repent, we are restored to our true identity—adopted children of God, who rule the earth and submit to one another, in the likeness of God.
The measure of this rule and submission is the order that it brings. By their fruits we shall know them. In a manner of speaking, the Genesis story presents God as the Creator who makes something out of nothing. In similar terms, man is presented as a creator who makes something out of something that God has made.
Adam names the animals and works the garden to preserve its creative life force. But if God created order out of disorder, our Edenic parents managed to bring disorder out of order.
The creative force turned destructive. The submissive nature of man turned self-serving. To be restored is to become agents who reverse this movement towards disorder, wherever our rule may reach.
When Jesus says that the kingdom of God is here, He’s telling us that God’s order in Genesis is being restored and we are invited to be agents of that restoration.
We are now meant to bring order of disorder: in relationships, families, finance, law, time management, the environment and everything else. The privilege to tend the earth, that was lost in Eden, is restored to us in Jesus.
But there’s more. It’s a long way from self-centeredness to Christlikeness. The adoption papers are signed but we have yet to learn the Family business. Our present history with rule, authority, power, dominion and submission is not without wrinkle and stain.
India is a lot like Rome. We idolize our leaders and they deify themselves.
A Sri Lankan Pastor once told me that when the legendary cricketer Sanath Jayasuria walks into a coffee shop in Colombo, people smile at him and perhaps greet him politely. But when he went to a mall in India, he was mobbed by unruly fans.
There’s something in the Indian sensibility that has conditioned us to put people in power on a pedestal that does not belong to them. It’s true that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but in India we have a habit of feeding the corruption.
As a young Christian, I remember witnessing a disturbing favoritism for western leaders and a distasteful attraction to the pulpit, the stage and the microphone.
Sometimes the trouble with Christian leadership in India is that it is marked by personality but not character, charm but not wisdom, eloquence but not substance, control but not authority, busy bodies but not rested spirits and good intentions but not fervent prayer.
Leaders and followers need a better pattern to imitate. In the book of Acts, the Bereans were not intimidated by Paul. In fact, they took him to task and brought him, too, under the authority of the Word. Fortunately, he was a leader who would have it no other way.
India needs leaders who rule in the humility of Christ and followers who aren’t seduced by Caesar.
A leader who takes more honor than he deserves is as lost as the person who gives him the undeserved honor. They are people who have the God-given instinct to rule and submit, but they have forgotten the spirit in which they were made to rule and the Person to whom they must submit. The relationship takes on cult-like dimensions.
Authority turns authoritarian and submission turns into fanaticism. Pride takes the place of humility. Money takes the place of God. Eden is reborn and Rome is revisited.
The rule of God brings life wherever it is honored. When we rule in His image and submit to His purpose, we will see integrity at work, truth in the financials, justice in society, faithfulness in marriage, leadership at home and order in the private life.
The single greatest act of leadership in history was a Man’s mission to lay down his life for his friends. On the weight of this act of submission, all authority in heaven and on earth was given to Him.
When we begin to submit to the will of God, we begin to rule in the likeness of His Son. All other kingdoms will crumble. All other thrones will fall. But we will be given the crown of life, if we cast our own crowns to the ground.
Written for Christian Trends Magazine
Image Credit: Gisela Giardino