Salvation had a context, and we’ve forgotten it.

When I was growing up, I was always taught that there is “good news” because there is bad news. The bad news was Hell and the good news was Christ paving a way for us to avoid the consequences that we deserved. The good news was eternal life in Heaven with Jesus because of his blood shed on the cross. Salvation was given by my acknowledgement of this fact. That I believed that Jesus is Lord. That Jesus is the Son of God. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”-Acts 4:12

Until I studied Religion and Ancient Rome, salvation never needed another layer than this. The world didn’t need to change because God is building us a better one somewhere else. The message was about leaving this place more than it was healing this place. Whatever momentary troubles we experience here we can suffer through because God is preparing for us a perfect home somewhere else. Ultimately my salvation was about an exit-strategy. A way to avoid the consequences of my sin.

But then I started reading the Bible, and I mean really reading it. I studied the ways in which the apostles talked about their “good news” (or gospel). I noticed they don’t even mention Hell in the entire account of the early church. Their gospel seemed to be about something more present and physical. I started hearing questions like “Well if all Jesus had to do to fix the problem was die, then why didn’t God just let Herod kill infant Jesus and let that be that.” Clearly this story, presented in the four Gospels, was not just about some exchange Jesus has done on our behalf. There is something so much more going on. There’s something about Jesus’ life that seems profoundly connected to salvation. This seems to be the point of Matthew’s gospel in comparing Christ to Moses.

Moses, a man sent to save God’s oppressed people from their slavery in Egypt. God’s people had been enslaved by the Empire. But the God of the Israelites, is a God of the oppressed. He sends a deliverer to free them from the injustice done upon them. Around 2,000 years ago, God’s people again were looking for such a deliverer. Countless Messiah figures rose into prominence in a effort to violently overthrow the Egypt of their day; the Roman Empire. People were looking for the God of the oppressed to do His work again. People looked towards figures like John the Baptist and Jesus Barabbas as figures of deliverance.  People who were not afraid to challenge the corrupt powers of Herod-the King of the Jews-and Caesar the head of the Romans.

Would God save us again like He had in the past? Would we be delivered?

That’s when a man in the footsteps of the prophetic voice of John the Baptist, came onto the scene. A man whom John claimed, “the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This man of course is known and worshiped by billions around the world. The man who is named Jesus which means….”God saves.”

In the time of Jesus, the Roman Empire was conquering the world through their military might and a mechanism called the Pax Romana or, the Roman Peace. When your tribe or kingdom submitted to the Roman Peace, Rome would nail their euangelion announcement (their Gospel announcement) to a post for all to see. On it you could read the words “There is no other name under Heaven by which you can be saved, save for Augustus.” You could receive this salvation by having your tribe admit to the fact that Caesar is Lord. Now Caesar Augustus also had a name that went alongside him. He was called the “divi filius” a name in reference to his adoption under Julius Caesar who was then believed to be a god.  Caesar Augustus….the divi filius. Caesar Augustus…the son of god.

Around the year 6BCE an inscription was carved on the side of Roman Government building. That inscription read: ‘The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura;  Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;  and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest /PHANEIS/, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times . . . the birthday of the god (Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of good news /EVANGELION/ concerning him.’”   (Shane Claiborne, JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, p 70)

Now, knowing this, read the opening line of The Gospel According to Mark.

“1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God”

Too often we stop at the theological understandings of the cross and miss the fact that Rome didn’t kill Jesus because he was a nice guy who taught about love. They killed him because he was an enemy of the state. They believed him to be an usurper. Someone taking on the Empire and stirring the public against them.

As the scriptures say: To those who believed in Jesus, to those who believed in his name. He gave them the right to become children of God. Adopted children of God. He gave them the right to become “divi filius-es.”

The prophetic power of Jesus had the power to conquer and change the entire power that produces injustice throughout the world.

This is why the Bible speaks of salvation as something that you continue with. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is calling a people that challenge the belief-structure of the Roman Empire. A people who believe that Jesus, not Caesar is Lord. A people who demand the entire creation ask the question, who is saving the world? Who is building a better world? Is the world made better through bloodshed and oppression? Or is the world made better through sacrifice and love?

Jesus is Lord is the profound statement that God is yet again delivering his people from the injustice and corruption of the world. But the beauty of Paul’s insight is that God is also delivering us from ourselves. Paul uses the Exodus language to make his case. “We are slaves to sin.”

Theologians of Black Liberation make the claim that “Unlike most ordinary western theology, salvation in the Christ event for a black liberation theologian is less spiritual and more physical, social, economic, and political. It’s not so much about Jesus’ work gets you a spot in Heaven when he died, but Jesus’ work creates a power from which you can draw today for social change. Liberation is not just consistent with the gospel, but liberation is the gospel. Liberation for the oppressed is the gospel. (Reconstruct| Season 1E10)

Can you see how Americans, members of the greatest military superpower the world has ever seen, might miss some of this contrast between Jesus’ message and Rome’s? We had to completely spiritualize it, make it all about Heaven and Hell. We missed the physical and we forgot the context.

 

As Americans and our obsession with the individual, we lost the ancient communal understanding of salvation. That being under the blanket of your Lord, your inclusion in their kingdom, meant your people were “saved.” But of course the spiritual and the individual understanding isn’t wrong. We must have the inward transformation in order to live out the outward transformation of all things. Or as the Scriptures speak over and over and over again, “the reconciliation of all things.”

James 2:14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

We are to be agents of liberation; of reconciliation. This is the new creation. So go my friends. Go and create the way of justice. Be Christians. So that all may be saved from oppression and injustice and from ourselves and the evil we bring into the world.

May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Because Jesus has shown us the better world that we all have been invited to be citizens of.

“Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst.”-Luke 17:21

 

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