Jesus, The Revolutionary
by Frank Viola
Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of this century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom.A.W. Tozer
Jesus Christ is not only the Savior, the Messiah, the Prophet, the Priest, and the King. He is also the Revolutionary. Yet, few Christians know Him as such; unfortunately, I know this from experience. For several years now I’ve been working with house churches, writing, and speaking about radical church deconstruction and renewal. In many places I go, people ask me: “Why do you have to be so negative about the modern church, Frank!? Jesus is not a critical person. It is so unlike our Lord to talk about what is wrong with the church. Let us focus on the positive and ignore the negative!”
Such high volume sentiments express complete unfamiliarity with Christ as revolutionary teacher; radical prophet; provocative preacher; controversialist; iconoclast; and the implacable opponent of the religious establishment.
Granted, our Lord is not critical or harsh with His own. He is full of mercy and kindness, and He loves His people passionately. However, this is precisely why He is jealous over His Bride. And it is why He will not compromise with the unbreakable traditions to which His people have been held captive. Nor will He ignore our fanatical devotion to them.
Consider our Lord’s conduct while on earth.
Jesus was never a rabble-rouser nor a ranting rebel, yet He constantly defied the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees. He did not do so by accident, but with great deliberation. The Pharisees were those who, for the sake of the “truth” they saw, tried to extinguish the truth they could not see. This explains why there was always a blizzard of controversy between the “tradition of the elders” and the acts of Jesus.
Someone once said that “a rebel attempts to change the past; a revolutionary attempts to change the future.” Jesus Christ brought drastic change to the world. Change to humanity’s view of God. Change to God’s view of humankind. Change to men’s view of women. Our Lord came to bring radical change to the old order of things, replacing it with a new order. He came to bring forth a new covenant—a new kingdom—a new birth—a new race—a new species—a new culture—and a new civilization.
As you read through the Gospels, behold your Lord, the Revolutionary. Watch Him throw the Pharisees into a panic by intentionally flaunting their conventions. Numerous times Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, flatly breaking their cherished tradition. If the Lord wanted to placate His enemies, He could have waited until Sunday or Monday to heal some of these people. Instead, He deliberately healed on the Sabbath, knowing full well it would make His opponents livid.
This pattern runs pretty deep. In one instance, Jesus healed a blind man by mixing clay with spittle and putting it in the man’s eyes. Such an act was in direct defiance to the Jewish ordinance that prohibited healing on the Sabbath by mixing mud with spittle! Yet your Lord intentionally shattered this tradition publicly and with absolute resolve. Watch Him eat food with unwashed hands under the judgmental gaze of the Pharisees, again intentionally defying their fossilized tradition.
In Jesus, we have a Man who refused to bow to the pressures of religious conformity. A Man who preached a revolution. A Man who would not tolerate hypocrisy. A Man who was not afraid to provoke those who suppressed the liberating gospel He brought to set men free. A Man who did not mind evoking anger in His enemies, causing them to gird their thighs for battle.
What is my point? It is this: Jesus Christ came not only as Messiah, the Anointed One of God to deliver His people from the bondage of the fall…
He came not only as Savior, paying a debt He did not owe to wash away humanity’s war, hatred, and ingrained sin…
He came not only as Prophet, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable…
He came not only as Priest, representing man before God and representing God before man…
He came not only as King, triumphant over all authorities, principalities, and powers…
He also came as Revolutionary, tearing apart the old wineskin with a view to bringing in the new.
Behold your Lord, the Revolutionary!
For many Christians, this is a new look at Jesus Christ. Therefore, to reveal the weaknesses of the church in modernity so that Christ’s Body can fulfill God’s ultimate intention is simply an expression of our Lord’s revolutionary nature. The dominating aim of that nature is to put you and me at the center of the beating heart of God. To put you and me in the core of His eternal purpose—a purpose for which everything was created.
What is needed, then, is a revolution within the Christian faith. Renewal movements will not do it. Revivals will not cut it. Both have been plentiful for the past 50 years. (I might add that they are repackaged every five years.) Renewal movements and revivals have never been potent enough to break the immense inertia of religious tradition.
Renewing and inventing new forms for church is like changing clothes on a mannequin. Doing so will never give it life no matter how avant-garde the garb is. No, the axe must be laid to the root of the problem and a revolution ignited!
What is needed is a complete upheaval of our current Christian practices. All traditions that find no soil in Scripture must be forever abandoned. We must begin anew . . . from ground zero. Anything less will prove defective.
If you are a disciple of the Revolutionary from Nazareth . . .the Radical Messiah who lays His axe to the root . . .you will eventually evoke a specific question. It is the same question that was asked our Lord’s disciples while He walked this earth. That question is: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?”
A true radical must be a man of roots. In words that I have used elsewhere, “The revolutionary can be an ‘outsider’ to the structure he would see collapse: indeed, he must set himself outside of it. But the radical goes to the roots of his own tradition. He must love it: he must weep over Jerusalem, even if he has to pronounce its doom.”John A.T. Robinson
Frank Viola [ http://ptmin.org ] is the author of a series of books on radical church renewal and reform. His passion is to see the centrality of Jesus Christ and the life of the early church restored. Frank is part of the house church movement, and he lives in Florida. Among his books are Rethinking the Wineskin, Who is Your Covering?, Pagan Christianity, So You Want to Start a House Church?, Knowing Christ Together, and The Untold Story of the New Testament Church. You can reach him online at http://ptmin.org or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org This article is based on his book Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices [URL: www.ptmin.org/pagan.htm ]