Jesus, as a Messiah for the Jews of Judea and Galilee, followed in the footsteps of several Messiahs. Some extremely brave leaders are recorded in the Apocrypha (the books of the Catholic Bible that were written during the 400 years between Malachi and Matthew). Jesus could have followed in their footsteps and led armed rebellions.
The Roman Empire had conquered Jerusalem 60 years before Christ was born. Because the Jews had such a strong cohesive identity, they were less cooperative with the Roman occupation, so the Roman Empire became increasingly harsh, until the Jews seethed under the Roman oppression.
There were several responses to the Roman occupation:
1. Cooperate with the Romans. The Roman governor deposed the high priest and appointed their own choice of high priest. Most of the wealthy Jews cooperated with Rome. Matthew is an example of someone who obtained a job as a tax collector, collecting taxes for Rome.
2. Rebel against the occupation. Judas was called the Zealot, because he belonged to a political group that believed in guerrilla warfare and assassinations to throw off the Roman yoke.
3. Toleration. Most Jews hated the Romans, but cooperated because they had little choice, and did not want to stick their necks out and suffer a cruel death. Rome’s favorite method of punishment was crucifixion, of which about 3,000 had been performed in Judea on the Jews.
4. Messiahs kept popping up. Most of them raising guerrilla armies. These movements were quickly quashed by killing the leader. 30 years after Jesus died the first major war against the Romans erupted, resulting in the utter destruction of the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Jesus preached paying taxes to Rome, and even over-cooperating with foot soldiers who compelled a traveler to carry his 70 lb backpack a mile (when by law soldiers were only allowed to compel half a mile from a passerby).
However, Jesus did not preach about throwing off the yoke, vanquishing one’s enemy, nor did he try to raise an army or advocate assassinations.
Why not? Jesus had plenty of scriptures to go to that would have justified him in raising an army, and appealing to Yahweh to win over their oppressors. Gideon comes to mind, who was commanded by God to send the frightened soldiers home, and then to take only the ones who lapped the water in readiness for war. Finally with only 300 soldiers he conquers the Midianites in the dark of night with torches and trumpets, the Midianites slaughtering themselves in their confusion.
No, Jesus did not appeal to Gideon, nor to King David’s victories, or even to Joshua conquering the land of Canaan. No, Jesus went so far as to discourage his disciples from picking up weapons to throw off the Roman oppression. “If you live by the sword, you shall die by the sword.” Which in today’s language could be translated: “If you live by the bomb, you shall die by the bomb.”
Jesus has a very different message. Walter Wink says He ignores Rome. They are not important to him at all. He hardly mentions them at all.
Instead Jesus talks about a kingdom that reigns in the hearts of human beings, a kingdom built on loving one’s enemies.
My point is that if you asked Jesus if the entire [Old Testament] scriptures were inspired by God, each and every word equally accurate and valuable, Jesus would have said, No. We can see this in the verses and stories he chose to refer to, and especially in the stories he chose not to use in his lessons. Jesus had a different message from the [Old Testament] scriptures, and he chose very carefully which pieces to glean from the Scriptures, and which pieces to leave behind.
We should follow Jesus’ example and do the same today. We should take the core values that Jesus taught us, and leave behind the passages of the Old and New Testaments that seem to reinforce cultural harshness and inequality. We need to move forward as Jesus did, bravely teaching a new kingdom.