Monday, August 2, 2010

Jesus Was Not a Rebel

When I say that Jesus was not a rebel, I mean that he was not a rebel in the way that most modern or post-modern Americans define rebel. When I hear or read a claim that Jesus was a rebel, it usually implies the following definition:

A rebel opposes authority simply because it is authority. A rebel flaunts traditions simply because they are traditions.

People who view Jesus as this sort of rebel emphasize that he publicly broke Sabbath traditions and consorted with outsiders such as tax collectors and prostitutes. But does this sort of rebel image really fit Jesus? As I read the Gospels, it seems clear to me that Jesus was not opposed to all authority or all tradition. Rather, he sought to overthrow one sort of authority and replace it with another. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) carefully - Jesus rejects the authority of the scribes and Pharisees, but he replaces it with his own authority and the authority of the Torah. Jesus was not opposed to all traditions, but only to those traditions that prevented genuine obedience to the even older tradition of the Law.

Why does this matter? Because it seems to me that a certain class of Christian routinely skewers authority and traditions and uses the excuse that Jesus was a rebel. Before we begin to flaunt Christian traditions by swearing or smoking pot (for example), we need to ask if that sort of rebellion is really anything like what Jesus did. Jesus broke bad rules and replaced them with "greater righteousness" based on love for God and neighbor.


  1. Nicely said. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly. Having dispatched the "rebel" label so ably, do you have thoughts on the idea that Jesus was was a "radical" and that His teachings were "radical"?

    Feeling as you do on the rebel issue, I find myself asking whether it is "radical" to teach a tradition to a world that has turned its back on that tradition.



  2. Hi Michael

    That's a good question. I guess it depends on what we mean by "radical." If we mean shocking or profoundly different, then "radical" seems to at least partially fit Jesus, doesn't it?



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