The dialogue between Pilate and the priests in the Gospel accounts at the time of Jesus’ trial reveal a tense and contemptuous relationship between them, not unlike what is often the case today between church and state! The priests considered Pilate unclean and his questions insulting. They refused to go in and meet with him, so he was obliged to come out to them (John 18:28-30). Power plays between church and state still exist today, each one jealous of the authority the other has over the people, each one suspicious of the other, and as we shall see, each one seeks to take the position of temporary power over the other.
There is a great deal of ado today among Christian leaders concerning the relationship of church and state. We contend with men in the courts of law and take our stand there. If we lose, Satan has won a round in the battle against Christianity. In other words, the government officials are unclean, but we are pure and stand for a righteous God. On the other hand, if we win, we humiliate our opponents, claiming victory in the name of Righteousness, and the God we serve moved our unclean legislature or the unclean courts in the direction they should be going. Is this expressing the love of Christ, which is supposed to be shed abroad in our hearts? Is this how Christ behaved before Pilate (the state) or is this the manner in which the chief priests behaved before the state? God, help us!
Is this a fair comparison, or am I perverting Scripture to serve my own doctrinal interests? What does Scripture say concerning the rights of Christians today? “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’…” (Matthew 5:38). In other words, it is good to demand justice for oneself. Don’t let anyone tread on my personal rights, because that gives the enemy a beachhead from which to act out his will over me. Keep short accounts!
“…but I say unto you that you resist not evil…” (Matthew 5:39).
The Lord is not speaking here of murder or allowing anarchy to run rampant in our streets. Consider the context. “If someone smites you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” The context is speaking of an insult. One would be using the back of one’s right hand in order to strike the right cheek of someone else. The Bible always assumes a person is right-handed, unless the point of being left-handed is brought out in the word of God. Therefore, if someone is stepping on my toes and mocking me, wounding my pride etc., the command is that I should not prevent evil from continuing to run its course.
“If any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also” (Matthew 5:40).
The Lord is not speaking of permitting someone to just take my home or what is my family’s. The context reveals a personal item, my own covering. It is speaking here of what I naturally use to protect myself against the outer elements. This reminds me of the coats of skin, which God made for Adam and Eve to cover what they saw as shameful (Genesis 3:7, 10-11, 21). Christ is my Righteousness and my covering from shame (1Corinthians 1:30; cp. Galatians 3:27). If someone would expose me as a sinner, I am to agree with him and expose myself to even more harm than my enemy would at first have planned. Christ is all I need to bring me through such circumstances. I have no right to honor but to that which comes through following Jesus. I have no right to reputation, but to what he gives me. I have no right to a covering but to the one that comes to me by receiving Christ as my Savior.
It was customary during the Roman occupation, that a messenger employed by Rome could demand assistance from the local citizens. Whomsoever the messenger chose had to carry his burden for a mile. This person was not paid for any assistance required by the messenger. “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41). If my liberty is forcibly limited by law, not only am I not to complain, but I am commanded to use my servitude as a liberty to do more for the name of Christ. I am to give to whomsoever asks and not hide myself from him who would make demands of my life or time (Matthew 5:42), all for Christ’s namesake.
I have to wonder about the attitude that more and more of today’s Christian leaders seem so ready to take in demanding a greater voice in politics. Who spoke the loudest on that Passover day long ago, the chief priests (religious leaders) or Christ? More importantly, whose power is most felt 2000 years later, those who positioned themselves in a righteous stand, or he who did not resist evil? I know there are arguments against the position I take, and for some of those arguments I have no adequate answer. I can only ask, when did Christ resist evil? Is anyone able to quote chapter and verse? Pilate had great power even to the point of life and death (John 19:10), and the priests desired to share in that power or at least have it exercised as they pleased (John 18:29-31). Who was unclean, really? Are we any better today? May the Lord give us eyes that see and ears that hear.