The Jews of Paul’s day, like other nations Rome had conquered, were little more than chattel in the hands of an oppressive, dominating government. They were an underprivileged minority, a very small cog in the rolling machinery of Roman domination.
They had no legal rights or recourse if wronged. Many reactionary Jews, called zealots, were in constant rebellion to Rome and sought every opportunity to disrupt or dismantle the stifling chains of slavery their invaders had placed on them.
But, as MacArthur relates, despite heavy restrictions, the Jews were allowed many religious freedoms. Mac relates, “…they were not required to worship Caesar or any pagan deity. They were free to maintain their priesthood and temple and to support those religious institutions by offerings.
“The Romans safeguarded the Sabbath, the Mosaic ceremonial and dietary laws, and they upheld the Jews’ wish to prohibit idols, including images of the emperor…Because the Romans generally considered Christianity to be a sect of Judaism, the early church was generally able to share many of the Jews’ religious freedoms,” (Mac commentary on Romans, Vol. II, p. 210).
But most Jews could not tolerate the Roman domination. They took this rebellious feeling as a divine mandate, using Deut. 17:15 as their standard: You may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
Just as the early church was getting started the tensions between Rome and Jerusalem seethed until they came to a boiling point of murder, social disobedience, and general unrest and hostility. Jewish insurrection expanded and eventuated in the holocaust of A.D. 70 in which 1,100,000 Jews—including women, children, and priests—were massacred without mercy by the retaliating Romans.
Many if not most Jews of Jesus’ day expected that Messiah would come as a conquering king to free the nation from its oppressors. Even Jesus’ disciples consistently wondered when He was going to claim by force His rightful position as Messianic king over Israel. But Jesus made no such claim for His ministry. He came in peace to affect and change men’s hearts, not the political or social powers. He said, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s, (Matt. 22:21). “…He made no call for political or social reform, even by peaceful means…He never attempted to capture the culture for biblical morality or to gain greater freedom,” (Mac p. 210).
Jesus didn’t have many positive things to say about the scribes (lawyers) and Pharisees (the dominant religious sect of Judaism), but in regards to obedience He did say this: The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore, all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them, (Matt. 23:2-3). “Those wicked leaders were not to be emulated, but they were to be obeyed. Changing the form of government or superficially moralizing it were not Jesus’ goals. He sought to redeem individual souls,” (Mac p. 211).
Jesus compassion for the pain and hardships of people was profound. He healed and taught multiple thousands of the lost sheep of Israel, and sometimes at great personal sacrifice for His own comfort and safety. Jesus Himself, the Lord of the universe, creator of everything that is, was homeless on the earth. He said of Himself, Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head, (Matt. 8:20). Social morality and structure were never His concern.
The following is an extended quote from John MacArthur to close out the introduction to chapter 13 of Romans. With what has been studied in the last three blogs I think we have a good solid foundation to build on to correctly understand and exegete the chapter:
“But even meeting physical needs was not the goal of His [Jesus’] life and ministry. Above all else, He came to meet a need that far surpasses all other needs, a need that only He could satisfy. He therefore spoke to the hearts and souls of individual men and women—never to their political, social, economic, or racial rights or physical pain and plights. He taught the saving gospel that had power to make their souls right with His Father and to grant them eternal life—in light of which, temporal rights and morals pale in importance.
“He did not come to proclaim or establish a new social order but a new spiritual order, His church. He did not seek to make the old creation moral but to make the new creations holy. And He mandated His church to perpetuate His ministry in that same way and toward that same end, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation, (Mark 16:15).
“No minority in the United States or in any other part of the western world has had their babies massacred while they slept. Many people on welfare today have amenities, conveniences, opportunities, and rights that even the wealthiest citizens of Jesus’ day could not have imagined. Yet neither the Lord nor His apostles give any justification for political revolt, rebellion, or civil disobedience. There was no effort on His part to eliminate social or political injustice.
“What, then, is the Christian’s responsibility to society, and to government in particular, if we are to remain ‘aliens and strangers’ in this world (1 Peter 2:11) who have a platform to call people to salvation? How are we to live in the world but not be of it (John 17:11, 16)?
“In the present text, Paul presents the two basic principles that answer those questions. First: Be subject to government (v. 1); and second: Pay taxes (v. 6). Those commands summarize the Christian’s civic duty. It is through fulfilling those two obligations that we render to Caesar things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s, (Matt. 22:21),” (Mac p. 211).
Next time, by God’s sweet grace, we will look at 13:1 together. Until then, remember, He who calls you is faithful, Who also will do it, (1 Thess. 5:24). Peace to all in Christ Jesus….mike.