Was Jesus a Radical?

The simple answer is yes.  Jesus was radical in his ministry and teachings.  He questioned the rulers of the Jewish faith, he threw people out of the temple, he pronounced woe to the scribes and Pharisees, he performed healings and miracles on the Sabbath, his disciples did not fast, and even ate without washing their hands.  His whole Sermon on the Mount turned the Jewish traditions and laws seemingly upside down.  The simple answer is that Jesus was a radical; however, I don’t believe it’s that simple.

The first thing to bear in mind is who Jesus was.  This was the living, breathing incarnation of God’s spirit.  He was often spoken of as teaching like one with authority, not as the scribes and Pharisees.  His disciples noted that even the wind and the sea obeyed his voice, and questioned who had such authority.  Many times Jesus was accused of blasphemy, and truly his words would have have been blasphemous had he not been the Son of God.  Every time Jesus rebuked the temple leaders, questioned Jewish traditions, or broke the “law,” it was because the system was corrupt, the teachers were misguiding the people, or else man’s law was wrong by God’s law.  Jesus was acting righteously to restore true practice of being faithful to God, and he had the authority to do so.

Jesus wasn’t just being radical for the sake of being different or drawing attention to himself.  He also left several examples of how we are to submit to those in authority, and keep the peace whenever possible.  First, at age twelve we have a story of Jesus being left at the temple by his parents.  You know this story; when they found him the teachers marveled at his understanding.  But look what happens as they head home, and Mary is pondering these things.  Luke 2:51  says that Jesus submitted to his parents authority.  This is the same God that created the universe, but he submitted to the authority of his earthly parents because that’s what good children are supposed to do.  In Mark chp. 1  Jesus heals a man of leprosy, but then instructs him to go to the temple priest and offer the sacrifice the law demands for thanksgiving.  All the indications are that during his lifetime Jesus was an observant Jew.  When asked about paying taxes (Mark 12) Jesus says to give to God those things which are God’s and give to Cesar (or the government) the things which are Cesar’s.  Even when he is arrested and tried under false pretenses, Jesus submits to the rulers of this world and takes the punishment they prescribe.

Jesus was a radical; but he was also fully committed to doing God’s will.  He was a servant to his followers, as well as a leader.  We are taught by Jesus to submit to those in authority, namely our parents, church leaders, and the government.  We are to obey man’s law except when it conflicts with God’s law.  We have no excuse to be rebellious, foolish or ridiculous on the grounds that Jesus wasn’t a radical trying to bring down the system; on the contrary, he fulfilled the law and the prophets perfectly.

10 thoughts on “Was Jesus a Radical?

  1. Pingback: Pages tagged "blasphemy"

  2. Great piece, however I am struggling with a comment in your closing paragraph. I understand the intent of “We are taught by Jesus to submit to those in authority, namely our parents, church leaders, and the government” ,but what in the cause of corrupt leaders whether they be church leaders or government leaders? Is there never a time to question and call for change?

  3. RT, when the leadership is corrput absolutely. Jesus pronounced woe on the scribes and Pharisees for how they often mislead the people. We are taught to try as much as possible to live peacefully with all men, and to follow man’s law UNLESS it conflicts with God’s law. Daniel is a good example of choosing God’s law over man. Thanks, good observation.

  4. Jesus knew that His teachings would revolutionise the world. It was the fishermen, the prostitutes and the tax collectors who were welcomed into the kingdom rather than the Religious of the day.

    Josephus, a Pharisee writing shortly after Jesus’ short sojourn on earth wondered whether it was even lawful for Jesus Son of man to be even called a man, seeing as he had done so many wonderful things and had appeared to a number of people after His death.

  5. shevaberakhot – I have books piling up that I’m supposed to “get around” to reading, and sadly the complete works of Josephus is one of them (actually 3 volumes). My ESV Study Bible is on the way, so it may get bumped up the list when it arrives.

  6. Pingback: Psalm II | Brother Andrew

  7. RT–I think we are still supposed to obey the Govt or President because I believe God put them in that position. Just like a kid has to obey his parents even though he doesn’t agree with them. In cases of abuse or doing what Jesus hates that is different maybe, I dunno.

  8. Mr Bunch, I’m not certain we today understand the meaning of the word radical. I don’t believe it means novel, or undermining, or eccentric or subversive, or anything like that. From the Latin “radix” it means to go right to the “root” of a movement–and to my eyes and ears, Jesus does just that in terms of Judaism. Right to Abram’s original call to collaborate with God in the redemption and restitution of all humanity–“by you all families of the earth will be blessed”. Jesus enunciated Judaism’s universal vocation to extend this good news of God’s loving-kindness far beyond her own borders, and I hear this so very clearly in Jesus’ preaching–particularly in the Nazareth sermon of Luke 4:17-21. I think the primary reason for the conflict of Jesus, with other leaders in Judaism, is that after nearly 500 years of foreign domination, many Jews, even the most religious ones, had forsaken this “root” part of their own vocation to bless insiders and outsiders (including the “resident alien”, the “foreigner in your midst”) alike. Matthew and Luke emphasise, in recording Jesus’ last words of commission, his “root” commitment that the good news of God’s salvation of humanity continues to be extended to “all nations” and “to the ends of the earth”. Jesus’ followers, including Peter, finally also grasp the impartiality of God (Acts 10:34) and God’s pouring of the Spirit in the last days on all who are open to God’s Spirit regardless of nationality, gender, age or social standing (Acts 2:17-21, Peter’s sermon quoting the “radical” prophet Joel). I believe Jesus to be truly radical and truly in complete continuity with his Judeo-Hebrew heritage. “Radical” and “in continuity”, I think, mean the same thing.

  9. Dean Spalding, you are commenting on a post I wrote 12 years ago. The first thing I had to do was go back and read it again myself. Whatever “we today” as a collective understand radical to mean, that’s how I approached the question. As an adjective, radical means “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.” Or perhaps “advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.” That’s the way the word is used in our society; as a noun, in the case of someone being a radical, it is a person that affects those changes listed above.

    In the first century Jesus would not have been called radical. The word often used by his religious critics was zealot. He was full of energy, quickly attracted a large following, and in our colloquial terms “made waves.” The puppet leaders in Israel did not like waves because that would attract the actual powers in Rome and cause them to take action, which did happen in A.D. 70.

    I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of the original Latin root (no pun intended). But what I was asking about was more the political/social radical meaning of our day. Someone with ideas about changing the status quo in remarkable ways and the energy and charisma to do it. Keeping mind that Jesus was only radical from the point of view of those leading Israel away from God and what he wanted was to bring them back to the fold of his Father.

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