Resurrection and Euangelion

Jesus resurrected and Mary Magdalene

Image via Wikipedia

I wrote this brief post in response not to Brian Terrell’s article critiquing SojournersA Covenant of Civility” titled “A Covenant for Outrage” but in response to the ludicrous comments regarding that post that imply Jesus did not decry the Roman Empire on every front.

The words we know as “Gospel” or “good news” in Greek is the word euangelion. In the 1st century Roman imperial context, euangelion carried specific connotations. First, it implicated an important victory won by Caesar. The news of these war victories traveled around the empire on the tongues of evangelists who were paid for good news and punished for bad news. Additionally, when one Caesar succeeded another, gave birth to an heir, or did any other thing deemed incredible by the Roman elite, they spread the euangelion.

In its imperial context, euangelion was a message predicated on an action accomplished by the Caesar. Roman society produced one of the worst disparities between the rich and poor in the history of humanity. Part of this derived from a massive standing army that required vast funds to support. Those at the top utilized this military to exploit those at the bottom of their livelihoods in order to pay for the military that turned around and stole its payment from the backs of the poor. In order to sustain the military, the Caesars engaged in imperial endeavors that produced more resources for taking and more reasons to keep the enlarging military. The euangelion of Caesar, therefore, would mean little more to the poor and outcast than continued exploitation and the knowledge that others would endure their fate.

Mark’s Gospel takes the message of euangelion and turns it into a literary genre about a different ruler. Mark 1.1 states, “The beginning {genesis} of the euangelion of Jesus Christ, the Son of G-d.” Since Jesus is the one whom the euangelion is about, immediately, Jesus replaced Caesar in the consciousness of the first Christians. Read in the imperial context, we expect to hear what action the Caesar accomplished that elicited the telling of euangelion.

All four canonical gospels tell the story differently, but they all end the same way: Jesus risen from the dead. This part is important. The Romans held a monopoly on capital punishment. Life and death were their’s and their’s alone. For this reason, the Judean leaders bring Jesus before the Roman Governor Pilate asking him to kill Jesus. He complies. Jesus dies, but a few days later, he rises from the dead.

For the Gospel writers and early believers, Jesus’ resurrection meant everything. Why? It meant that the Romans failed to exercise power over him through death. This was the euangelion. Jesus’ resurrection was the ultimate protest. For people who heard the euangelion of Caesar’s victories, to hear of a victory not over the Roman military but over death dealt by the Romans, the new euangelion would, by its very nature, implicate Caesar’s powerlessness.

As a result, a few followers of this Jesus traveled throughout the entire empire telling anyone they could the euangelion of Jesus’ victory over Caesar. People would invariably hear this to be a counter eaungelion to Caesar’s, especially when it was coupled with the term “empire {basileia} of G-d”. Those who believed Jesus actually rose from the dead were challenged to live in the full logic of that belief; they were challenged to live as though Caesar no longer had any power!

Sojourners’ “A Covenant for Civility” pretends Jesus never rose from the dead. Instead, it presupposes Caesar’s power over life and death and asks that we talk about it “civilly”. Our responsibility as followers of Jesus the Messiah is to proclaim and live the euangelion of Jesus. We must proclaim Jesus’ counter euangelion to the largest military power in the world. The euangelion of the United States of America has no power in the face of Jesus’ resurrection, and no level of civility can alter that truth. Let us stop acting like people who still believe the Roman Empire possesses power over us and start acting like people who long to see the Way of Jesus, the Way that conquers imperial might through death and resurrection.


About ben adam

The world is going to hell in a handbasket, and we might miss Armageddon because we're too busy watching MTV and CNN. Please, read a book, throw a ball, bake some bread, and for goodness sake, turn the TV off.
This entry was posted in Anti-imperialism, Anti-militarization, Bible, Christianity, Christology, discipleship, Kingdom of G-d, Nationalism, Resistance, Resurrection and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Resurrection and Euangelion

  1. Thanks, Ben, for your usual depth of insight and passion of commitment to the Way of Jesus.

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