Theme: God over Caesar
In this week’s lessons, we see that the state has a legitimate authority from God, and is therefore responsible before God to use that authority for righteousness rather than for wrong.
Scripture: John 19:11
Having discussed the first two options, God alone or Caesar alone, now we need to mention a third option, which acknowledges the authority of the two, but with Caesar as the dominant authority. This is what happened to Pilate. Pilate was a secular man, but probably not without some religious convictions or overtones to his thinking. When Jesus was accused of being the Son of God, he got worried. That means he had some idea of the divine, and perhaps felt that he himself might have some responsibility to that otherworldly reality. Jesus might be an expression of that divine power.
He recognized a certain divine authority in the world to some extent, but the problem with Pilate is that he feared Caesar more. It was not his sense of divine power, or Jesus, or the people that Pilate feared the most. It was Caesar. He was afraid that Caesar, who was over him, would take away his authority—that Pilate would be removed from his position of power—and that was a price he wasn’t willing to pay.
The turning point in the trial comes when the religious leaders say, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar” (v. 12). What Pilate wanted to be more than anything in the world was Caesar’s friend. The sad thing is that he made his decision on that basis and he wasn’t a friend of Caesar at all. Caesar didn’t care about Pilate. A little while later, Pilate was removed from his authority anyway. But you see, that’s what happens when you recognize the authority of God and Caesar, but make Caesar dominant. That cuts off any basis for true moral conduct and moral standing in a crisis when the crisis comes. Christian people, of course, have an opportunity to avoid that by not placing the authority of the state over the authority of God.
We come to the fourth point and that’s the acknowledgement of both God’s and Caesar’s authority, but God in the dominant position. This is the true approach. There’s a legitimate authority of Caesar, but it comes from God. The Christian recognizes the legitimate authority of the state but at the same time recognizes that it comes from God and therefore determines in his heart to serve God absolutely. And that’s what we need today. One thing Christians can do as they stand over against the state is to remind the state that it is responsible to God and that one day the state and those who form it will be answerable at the bar of justice, over which God himself presides.
How are Christians to do that? I think there are three things that Christians have to have. First of all, they have to be convinced deep down in their hearts that God is sovereign, that God is in control. That simply means that God is in control of the secular power as well as the state. Secular power may do many things wrong, but it does so by the permission of God and God controls these events. If you don’t believe that, then you tremble before everything that happens and you’re unable to take a stand.
What is the third option for understanding the relationship between the church and the state?
How is Pilate an example of this third option?
What is the fourth option? Explain why it is the right one.
What is the first truth Christians need to remember as they remind the state of its responsibility to God?
Reflection: What principles and lessons do we learn as we think about our own government, and our rights and duties as Christians living as citizens of a secular state?
Key Point: One thing Christians can do as they stand over against the state is to remind the state that it is responsible to God and that one day the state and those who form it will be answerable at the bar of justice, over which God himself presides.