When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the fews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar (John 19:13-15).
The Jews had a king, they said: Caesar. This king was simultaneously religious and political, for the political order of imperial Rome was considered sacred. Caesar was king of the civil covenant. And he was indeed their political sovereign.
But he was not their only king. They lived in God's kingdom, and God's kingdom encompassed Caesar's, Caesar was under God, though over them. They knew this, but they kept silent about it publicly. To have admitted publicly what their covenantal theology required them to believe would have been an act of revolution. They would have faced the same kind of persecution that the early Church faced for its public affirmation of obedience to Caesar on a strictly political basis; this was a denial of Roman religion, an act of sacrilege.1 The leaders of Israel in Christ's day were not ready to take this step. When they were ready - in A.D. 70 and
1. R. J. Rushdoony, The One and the Many: Studies in the Philosophy of Ore% and Ultimacy (Fairfax, Virginia: Thobum Press, [197 1] 1978), ch. 6.
132 - they did so in terms of politics as well as religion, and were defeated militarily. In the first revolt, they lost their Temple. In the second, they lost their land. The Diaspora began.
A very similar theological dilemma faces modern Jews and modern Christians. It is the question of the sacred character of the state. Until three centuries ago, most Europeans believed in the divine right of kings. "Divine right" meant that there was no earthly appeal beyond the decision of the king. The king answered only to God. With England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, Parliament usurped this title from the king. The eighteenth-century British legal historian, William Blackstone, enunciated this view of the divine right of Parliament: "Sir Edward Coke says: The power and jurisdiction of Parliament is so transcendent and absolute, that it cannot be confined, either for causes and persons, within any bounds. " Blackstone continued in this vein: "It can, in short, do everything that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call its power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of Parliament. True it is, that what the Parliament cloth, no authority on earth can undo. "2 Blackstone was wrong: beginning in 1775, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done.
This idea of the divine right of the political order is as popular a belief today as it was in Rome two millennia ago. What is different today is that the divine right of the state is argued in terms of the sovereignty of autonomous man. No longer do men claim that God has established the state; man has established it. Man's will be done!
And so, Orthodox Jews and orthodox Christians once again find themselves trapped. To the extent that they live in peace together, they do so only as wards of the State. They still live under imperial rule. And woe to the group that announces publicly, "We have no king but Caesar!" They have thereby in principle delivered themselves into the hands of their greatest enemy, the messi
2. Cited by A. V. Dicey, Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (8th cd.; Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Classics,  1982), p. 5.
anic state. That State will impose its sovereignty, its hierarchy, its laws, and its sanctions. It will then make itself their heir.
The Jewish leaders had already been trapped by Jesus in His graphic example of the coin. They had sought to trap him politically; their attempt failed.
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way (Matthew 22:15-22).
They knew He was correct. They had the tribute money, a (translated as "penny"), a coin that was used for tax paying. As numismatist and theologian Ethelbert Stauffer comments: "The coin, in brief, is a symbol both of power and of the cult. It is a symbol of power. For it is the instrument of Roman imperial policy. . . of Roman currency policy . . . of Roman fiscal policy. . . ."3 It was a cultic symbol because the emperor's portrait was on it. Julius Caesar was the first to put his portrait on a Roman coin, just prior to his assassination. "But his coins survived, and their cultic character was emphasized by mythological ornament and inscriptions. "4
3. Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia Westminster Press, 1955), p. 125.
The Jews fully understood this. It is significant that in Bar revolt a century after this confrontation with Jesus, Bar Kochba had these Roman coins collected, had the hated portraits and inscriptions hammered out and replaced by images of the Hebrew temple, vessels, and Hebrew inscriptions.5 Thus, concludes Stauffer, "The denarius becomes a symbol of the metaphysical glorification of policy which runs through the whole of ancient imperial policy, and which also determined the Roman philosophy of domination from the time of Julius Caesar. Though perhaps the most modest sign, this denarius of Tiberius is the most official and universal sign of the apotheosis of power and the worship of the homo imperiosus in the time of Christ."6
And the Pharisees had one of these coins to bring to Jesus. They were admitting formally and publicly that they were under Rome's power, but also under Rome's protection. Their political king was Caesar.
The Jews' Other Kings
The Jewish leaders also knew that they were under God's kingship, but they chose for political reasons not to mention this fact to Pilate. They were Rome's middlemen, serving just as the Hebrew leaders had served under Pharaoh: as associate taskmasters, as "officers of the children of Israel" (Exodus 5:14). And like those earlier officers under Pharaoh, they hated God's Prophet, who offered them deliverance from bondage — not just political bondage, which they hoped and dreamed of, but bondage from sin, which was far lower on their list of priorities. They did just as their fathers had done in Egypt: they blamed the Deliverer. "And they met Moses and Aaron, who stood in the way, as they came forth from Pharaoh: And they said unto them, The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to slay us" (Exodus 5:20-21).
Most astounding of all, the Talmud accuses Jesus (Yeshu, the Nazarean)7 of being not only a sorcerer and an apostate, but also a man "connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential] ,"8
Yes, they had a king, Caesar, just as their fathers had had a king, Pharaoh. And that king brought judgment on them. In A.D. 70, they revolted. They did it again in the Bar Kochba revolt of 132-35. Why? Because they wanted an earthly king other than Caesar, and also other than Jesus the Messiah. They wanted political deliverance, not spiritual deliverance. They were lured into disaster by those who promised the political deliverance they dreamed of: by the zealots in A.D. 69-70 and by the false Messiah, Bar Kockba, the "son of the stars," in 132-35. After that, the Remans dispersed them throughout the Empire, and, absent from the land, the Rabbis used this as an excuse to abandon the specified sanctions of Old Testament law.9 The Old Covenant, which they had broken first by calling for the crucifixion of Christ, and broken again by rejecting the testimony of the Church until 70, was now formally broken.
A World Without Kings?
We live in the first century in mankind's recorded history in which there are no kings, for all intents and purposes. The deposed "king" of Egypt, Farouk, said it best: "There are but five kings left on earth today: the King of England, and the kings of spades, hearts, diamonds, and clubs." Men are told that they need no longer fear Caesar. We are told that they no longer face a choice: the worship of God or the worship of Caesar.
The key question is: Who tells them this? Humanists, the promoters of the third covenant. Their gospel is: "All nations under man."
7. Sanhedrin 43a, Note 6.
9. George Horowitz, The Spirit of Jewish Law (New York: Central Books Co.,  1963), p. 93.
Because committed Christians and committed Jews have believed this lie, it has become easy for them to accept the claims of the humanists that "the people" alone are sovereign. We are the kings of our own political order. Why not come together in a civil covenant and exercise legitimate rule as equals? We thereby submit only to ourselves. But when we fail to acknowledge the sovereignty of the God of the Bible as the basis of all political authority, our cry is in principle still the same: "We have no king but Caesar."
The sovereignty of man is the premise of the American civil religion, as well as the religion of democracy in Europe. This is the legal foundation Americans refer to as "the Judeo-Christian tradition." But there is a problem with this view of civil religion: the nature of the civil order is hidden from the eyes of the The political order rests officially on the premise of the political sovereignty of man - not a subordinate political sovereignty delegated to man by an absolutely sovereign God, but a primary sovereignty delegated by man to his political representatives. We pretend that we anoint rulers by our own authority .10 But we nevertheless discover that we have great difficulty in displacing them. We "sovereigns" have once again become subordinate. We serve our "public servants," who are never satisfied with our performance.
We have believed the humanists' lie. There is in fact no escape from questions of kingship and covenant. There is no escape from civil covenants, no matter what we call them. Eighteenth-century social contract theory succeeded for a while in deflecting our perception of the covenantal foundation of the political process, and Marxism's nineteenth-century economic reductionism did not improve men's covenantal awareness. But as we approach the third millennium after Christ, the sands in Enlightenment humanism's hour glass are running out. It matters little whether it is the right-wing Enlightenment (Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, and
10. Edmund S. Morgan, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereign in England and America ¿JVewYork: Norton, 1988).
the American Revolution) 11 or the left-wing Enlightenment (Adam Weishaupt, Robespierre, and the French Revolution): the end is in sight. Yet nothing on the political horizon seems capable of replacing the present order. This is because nothing on the religious horizon seems likely to replace the present order. Nevertheless, time is running out, for the present order's faith in its own future has disappeared, despite the weekly wonders of advancing technology. 12
What king is to be served by the faithful covenant-keeper? Caesar or God? Until those who call themselves orthodox, whether Christians or Jews, get this question clear in their minds, they will continue to serve Caesar.
11. Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), Part 3.
12. Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York Basic Books, 1980), Epilog.
Was this article helpful?