“For this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—JOHN 18:37.
1, 2. (a) How is the world becoming more divided? (b) What questions will we answer in this article?
“FROM an early age, I saw only injustice,” says a sister in southern Europe about her past. “So I rejected the political system in my country, and I supported what many viewed as radical ideas. In fact, for many years I was the girlfriend of a terrorist.” A brother in southern Africa explains why he used to be violent: “I believed that my tribe was superior to all others, and I joined a political party. We were taught to kill our opponents with spears—even those of our own tribe who supported other political parties.” A sister living in central Europe admits: “I was prejudiced, and I hated anyone who was of a different nationality or who had a religion that was different from mine.”
2 Today, more and more people have attitudes like those three once had. Many political groups use violence to gain independence. It is common for people to fight about politics. And in many countries, people mistreat foreigners more and more. Just as the Bible foretold, people are “not open to any agreement” during these last days. (2 Timothy 3:1, 3) How can Christians remain united while the world becomes more divided? We can learn much from Jesus’ example. People in his day were also divided by strong political opinions. In this article, we will learn the answers to three questions: Why did Jesus refuse to get involved in any political group? How did Jesus show that God’s people must not take sides on political issues? And how did Jesus teach us that we should never use violence?
DID JESUS SUPPORT THOSE WHO WANTED INDEPENDENCE?
3, 4. (a) In Jesus’ day, what did many Jews want? (b) How did those feelings affect Jesus’ disciples?
3 Many Jews to whom Jesus preached really wanted to be free from the Romans. Jewish Zealots, a fanatical political group, did all they could to make these feelings even stronger. Many of the Zealots followed a man named Judas the Galilean, who lived about the time of Jesus. Judas was a false messiah, who misled many. The Jewish historian Josephus said that Judas urged the Jews to fight against Rome and called those who agreed to pay taxes to the Romans “cowards.” The Romans eventually put Judas to death. (Acts 5:37) Some of the Zealots even became violent to achieve their goals.
4 Most of the Jews were eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come. They thought that the Messiah would free them from the Romans and would make Israel a great nation again. (Luke 2:38; 3:15) Many believed that the Messiah would establish a kingdom on earth in Israel. When that happened, all the Jews who lived in different places around the world would return to Israel. Even John the Baptist once asked Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” (Matthew 11:2, 3) Perhaps John wondered whether someone else would come to free the Jews. Later, two disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus after he was resurrected. They said they had hoped that Jesus was the one who would free Israel. (Read Luke 24:21.) Soon after that, the apostles asked Jesus: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”—Acts 1:6.
5. (a) Why did the people of Galilee want Jesus to be their king? (b) How did Jesus correct their thinking?
5 The Jews expected that the Messiah would solve their problems. That is probably why the people of Galilee wanted Jesus to become their king. They must have thought that he would be the best leader. He was an excellent speaker, could cure the sick, and could even provide food for those who were hungry. After Jesus fed about 5,000 men, the people were amazed. Jesus realized what they wanted to do. The Bible says: “Jesus, knowing that they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain all alone.” (John 6:10-15) The next day, the people had likely calmed down. Jesus then explained to them that he had not come to provide for their material needs but to teach them about God’s Kingdom. He told them: “Work, not for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains for everlasting life.”—John 6:25-27.
6. How did Jesus make clear that he did not want political power on earth? (See opening picture.)
6 Shortly before his death, Jesus realized that some of his followers believed that he would start ruling as king in Jerusalem. Jesus told them the illustration of the minas to help them understand that this would not happen. That illustration was about “a man of noble birth,” Jesus, who would have to go away for a long time. (Luke 19:11-13, 15) Jesus also clearly told the Roman official Pontius Pilate that he did not take sides in the world’s politics. Pilate asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) Pilate may have been afraid that Jesus would make people revolt against the Romans. But Jesus answered: “My Kingdom is no part of this world.” (John 18:36) Jesus refused to get involved in politics, because his Kingdom would be in heaven. He said that his work on earth was to “bear witness to the truth.”—Read John 18:37.
7. Why may it be difficult to avoid supporting political groups even in our heart?
7 Jesus understood what his assignment was. When we understand what our assignment is, we will avoid supporting any political group, even in our heart. This is not always easy. One traveling overseer says that people in his area are becoming more extreme. They are very proud of their nation and believe that their lives would be better if their own people ruled over them. He adds: “Thankfully, the brothers have safeguarded their Christian unity by concentrating on preaching the good news of the Kingdom. They look to God to solve injustice and the other problems we face.”
HOW DID JESUS REMAIN NEUTRAL IN POLITICAL ISSUES?
8. What injustice did many Jews suffer in Jesus’ day?
8 When people see injustices happening around them, they often become more involved in politics. In Jesus’ day, paying taxes was an issue that caused many people to take sides in politics. In fact, Judas the Galilean rebelled against Rome because the Romans were registering people to make sure that they would pay taxes. And there were many taxes to pay, such as on possessions, land, and houses. Also, tax collectors were very corrupt, which made the problem worse. They sometimes paid government officials to get a position and then used their power to make a lot of money. Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, became rich because he made people pay a lot.—Luke 19:2, 8.
9, 10. (a) How did Jesus’ enemies try to get him involved in a political issue? (b) What do we learn from Jesus’ answer? (See opening picture.)
9 Jesus’ enemies tried to get him involved in the issue of paying taxes. They asked him about the “head tax,” a tax of one denarius that all Jews had to pay. (Read Matthew 22:16-18.) The Jews really hated this tax because it reminded them that the Roman government controlled them. The “party followers of Herod,” that is, those who supported Herod’s political ideas, hoped that if Jesus said that they should not pay the tax, they could accuse him of being an enemy of the Roman Empire. But if Jesus said that they had to pay the tax, people might stop following him. So, what did Jesus do?
10 Jesus was careful to remain neutral on this issue. He said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:21) Jesus knew that many tax collectors were corrupt, but he did not focus on that. Instead, he focused on the real solution to mankind’s problems, God’s Kingdom. Jesus set the example for us. We should not take sides in any political issue, even if one side seems right and fair and the other side seems wrong and unjust. Christians focus on God’s Kingdom and on what God says is right. For that reason, we do not have strong opinions about injustices or speak out against them.—Matthew 6:33.
11. How can we help others find true justice?
11 Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been successful in getting rid of the strong political opinions they used to have. For example, before she learned the truth, one sister in Great Britain took social studies classes at a university and developed extreme political opinions. She says: “I wanted to champion the rights of black people, since we had suffered so much injustice. Although I was good at winning arguments, I still ended up feeling frustrated. I did not realize that the causes of racial injustice had to be uprooted from people’s hearts. When I began to study the Bible, however, I realized that I had to start with my own heart.” And it was a white sister who helped her change the way she felt in her heart. She adds: “Now I am serving as a regular pioneer in a sign-language congregation, and I am learning to reach out to all kinds of people.”
“RETURN YOUR SWORD TO ITS PLACE”
12. What kind of “leaven” did Jesus tell his disciples to avoid?
12 In Jesus’ time, religious leaders often supported political groups. For example, the book Daily Life in Palestine at the Time of Christ says that the Jews were divided into religious groups that were similar to political parties. So Jesus warned his disciples: “Keep your eyes open; look out for the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” (Mark 8:15) When Jesus mentioned Herod, he was probably referring to the party followers of Herod. The other group, the Pharisees, wanted the Jews to become independent from the Roman Empire. According to Matthew’s account, Jesus also warned his disciples against the Sadducees. The Sadducees wanted Rome to continue ruling because this allowed them to have powerful positions. Jesus warned his disciples to avoid the “leaven,” or the teachings, of these three groups. (Matthew 16:6, 12) And it is interesting that Jesus gave this warning soon after the people wanted to make him king.
Jesus taught his disciples to remain completely neutral
13, 14. (a) How did political and religious issues lead to violence and injustice? (b) Why is it never right to be violent, even when we are treated unjustly? (See opening picture.)
13 When religions take sides in political issues, it often leads to violence. Jesus taught his disciples to remain completely neutral. That is one reason why the chief priests and the Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus. They were afraid that the people would listen to him and stop following them. If that happened, they would lose their religious and political power. They said: “If we let him go on this way, they will all put faith in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48) So High Priest Caiaphas organized a plan to kill Jesus.—John 11:49-53; 18:14.
14 Caiaphas waited until it was nighttime and then sent soldiers to arrest Jesus. But Jesus knew about the plan to kill him. So during his last meal with the apostles, he told them to get some swords. Two swords would be enough to teach them an important lesson. (Luke 22:36-38) Later that night, a mob came to arrest Jesus, and Peter became so angry at the injustice that he took out a sword and attacked one of the men. (John 18:10) But Jesus told Peter: “Return your sword to its place, for all those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52, 53) What powerful lesson did Jesus teach his disciples? That they must be no part of the world. This is what Jesus had prayed for earlier that night. (Read John 17:16.) Only God has the right to fight injustice.
15, 16. (a) How has God’s Word helped Christians to avoid conflict? (b) What contrast does Jehovah see when he looks at today’s world?
15 The sister in southern Europe mentioned earlier learned the same lesson. She says: “I have seen that violence does not bring justice. I saw that those who resort to violence often end up dead. And many others become embittered. I was so happy to learn from the Bible that only God can bring true justice to the earth. For the last 25 years, that is the message I have been preaching.” The brother in southern Africa replaced his spear with “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word. (Ephesians 6:17) Now he preaches a message of peace to all kinds of people, no matter what tribe they are from. And after the sister in central Europe became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she married a brother from an ethnic group she used to hate. All three made these changes because they wanted to be like Christ.
16 It is very important to make these changes! The Bible says that mankind is like the sea that tosses and turns and is never peaceful. (Isaiah 17:12; 57:20, 21; Revelation 13:1) Political issues provoke people, divide them, and lead to violence. But we are peaceful and united. When Jehovah sees how divided people in the world are, he must be very happy to see how united his people are.—Read Zephaniah 3:17.
17. (a) What are three ways we can promote unity? (b) What will we consider in the next article?
17 In this article, we have learned that we can promote unity in three ways: (1) We trust that God’s Kingdom will correct all injustices, (2) we never take sides in political issues, and (3) we reject violence. But something else that can threaten our unity is prejudice. In the next article, we will learn how we can overcome prejudice, as the early Christians did.