Prisoners of the State

Now just to emphasise the treatment that God's anointed get at the hands of His chosen earthly leaders, there are many examples of the former being incarcerated in the prisons of the latter. These are just a few of the more notable or instructive ones:

Probably one of the more famous accounts is that of Joseph's imprisonment at the behest of his master:

20 So Joseph's master took him and gave him over to the prison house, the place where the prisoners of the king were kept under arrest, and he continued there in the prison house.
21 However, Jehovah continued with Joseph and kept extending loving‐kindness to him and granting him to find favour in the eyes of the chief officer of the prison house (Genesis 39)

So although Joseph was certainly imprisoned for a totally unjust reason, he was looked after in the best possible way by his God. But there was more; as always God was playing the long game. Not only was Joseph's stay in prison not unpleasant but, through his God-given gift of correctly interpreting dreams, it directly lead to his achieving a position of prominence in Pharaoh's court more than two years after he had been gaoled:

12 And there was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, a servant of the chief of the bodyguard. When we related them to him, he proceeded to interpret our dreams to us. He interpreted to each according to his dream.
13 And it turned out that just as he had interpreted to us so it happened. Me he returned to my office, but him he hanged."
14 And Phar′aoh proceeded to send and to call Joseph, that they might bring him quickly from the prison hole. Hence he shaved and changed his mantles and went in to Phar′aoh (Genesis 41)

So this example demonstrates that any unjust punishment at the hands of our earthly masters can have beneficial effects for us as individuals if we are prepared to accept our fate as part of our service to God. Such acceptance can also effectively support God's grand plan. There is surely no greater comfort in adversity than that, even if we cannot immediately see its benefit from our own limited perspective!

Another famous example was the imprisonment of Samson:

25 And it came about that because their heart was merry, they began to say: "Call Samson that he may offer us some amusement." So they called Samson out of the prison house that he might make sport before them; and they proceeded to stand him between the pillars

30 And Samson proceeded to say: "Let my soul die with the Phi‧lis′tines." Then he bent himself with power, and the house went falling upon the axis lords and upon all the people that were in it, so that the dead that he put to death in his own death came to be more than those he had put to death during his lifetime. (Judges 16)

His ‘temporary' release from prison ended in the total destruction of the ruling Philistines' hierarchy. Whilst it also led to Samson's own voluntary death, he had the glory of sacrificing his own life to help meet God's plan. Again this was a powerful case of putting God before one's own immediate human needs in the knowledge of the wondrous reward to come in the next system of things. This meant that Samson had to suffer at the hands of the Philistine rulers that God placed in command over His people to demonstrate a harsh lesson to the Philistines and Hebrews alike.

The apostles were imprisoned and punished by the leaders of the synagogue for preaching the good news of the Kingdom. They counted their punishment as a blessing in that God had presented an opportunity, through His earthly church leaders, to make such a sacrifice. Without placing evil in the world how is God to commend the good?

40 At this they gave heed to him, and they summoned the apostles, flogged them, and ordered them to stop speaking upon the basis of Jesus' name, and let them go.
41 These, therefore, went their way from before the San′he‧drin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy to be dishonoured in behalf of his name (Acts 5)

The local rulers of Thyatira were entreated to punish and imprison the apostles Paul and Silas. What was God's purpose in allowing them to be imprisoned when He enabled them to escape that very night? Resulting directly from their miraculous release from prison their jailer asked for him and his family to be baptised:

25 But about the middle of the night Paul and Silas were praying and praising God with song; yes, the prisoners were hearing them.
26 Suddenly a great earthquake occurred, so that the foundations of the jail were shaken. Moreover, all the doors were instantly opened, and the bonds of all were loosened.
27 The jailer, being awakened out of sleep and seeing the prison doors were open, drew his sword and was about to do away with himself, imagining that the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul called out with a loud voice, saying: "Do not hurt yourself, for we are all here!"
29 So he asked for lights and leaped in and, seized with trembling, he fell down before Paul and Silas.
30 And he brought them outside and said: "Sirs, what must I do to get saved?"
31 They said: "Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved, you and your household."
32 And they spoke the word of Jehovah to him together with all those in his house.
33 And he took them along in that hour of the night and bathed their stripes; and, one and all, he and his were baptized without delay. (Acts 16)

No doubt Paul and Silas were very pleased at that outcome despite the physical and mental pain they had to suffer in the process at the hands of their captors. Their suffering had led directly to their saving of a whole sinner's family. A great reward for one night's discomfort!

Romans 13 Verse 7

It would appear that those in power can extract from their citizens just what they wish and not only in purely material possessions:

7 Render to all their dues, to him who [calls for] the tax, the tax; to him who [calls for] the tribute, the tribute; to him who [calls for] fear, such fear; to him who [calls for] honor, such honor. (Romans 13)

This wonderful account of Jesus's retort to the Pharisees about paying taxes pretty much says it all: 

17 Tell us, therefore, What do you think? Is it lawful to pay head tax to Caesar or not?"
18 But Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said: "Why do YOU put me to the test, hypocrites?
19 Show me the head tax coin." They brought him a de‧nar′i‧us.
20 And he said to them: "Whose image and inscription is this?"
21 They said: "Caesar's." Then he said to them: "Pay back, therefore, Caesar's things to Caesar, but God's things to God." (Matthew 22)

While our governments may legitimately demand their requirements of us, our spirits owe a quite different debt to God. I think this lesson is the most difficult for us (and certainly me) to learn in that we must concentrate hard on our spiritual lives even to the expense of our physical souls. The book of Proverbs confirms that we should fear both our spiritual and physical leaders:

21 My son, fear Jehovah and the king. With those who are for a change, do not intermeddle (Proverbs 24)

Paul's first letter to Peter reminds us that we must honour all men including the earthly leaders of our nation states:

17 Honor [men] of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, have honor for the king. (1 Peter 2)

Romans 13 Verse 1

So let us make a start by reviewing each of the offending verses from chapter 13 of this epistle of Paul that I have found so perplexing:

1 Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities, for there is no authority except by God; the existing authorities stand placed in their relative positions by God. (Romans 13)

This first verse sets the scene by clearly stating that Christians should accept the rule of their national governments. Is this what Paul meant by ‘superior authorities'? Well yes I think it must be since this is emphasised in his letter to Titus:

1 Continue reminding them to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work, (Titus 3)

And in his first letter to Peter:

13 For the Lord's sake subject yourselves to every human creation: whether to a king as being superior
14 or to governors as being sent by him to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good. (1Peter 2)

So this all looks pretty clear so far except that if we look at the epistle to Luke it has something very different to say:

5 So he brought him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the inhabited earth in an instant of time;
6 and the Devil said to him: "I will give you all this authority and the glory of them, because it has been delivered to me, and to whomever I wish I give it.
7 You, therefore, if you do an act of worship before me, it will all be yours."
8 In reply Jesus said to him: "It is written, ‘It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.'" (Luke 4)

These verses from Luke succinctly bring out my dichotomy. On the one hand we are told to obey the law of the land and our national leaders as being placed in authority by Jehovah God. On the other hand we are told that all earthly authority currently belongs to the Devil and that we are only to render sacred service to God. So which is it guys? 

Adding further fuel to my fire is the Wild Beast of Revelation 13:

4 And they worshiped the dragon because it gave the authority to the wild beast, and they worshiped the wild beast with the words: "Who is like the wild beast, and who can do battle with it?" (Revelation 13).
 
In 
Understanding [158] ‘Revelation 13 & 17: Earth born & Sea born wild beasts & an image: The meanings of 616' the symbolism of Satan as the dragon and the United Nations as the wild beast are revealed. Again this confirms Satan's rulership over the world powers. However Jesus' contretemps with Pilate, as written in the gospel of John, seems to take us back to the original theme presented by Romans:

10 Hence Pilate said to him: "Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know I have authority to release you and I have authority to impale you?"
11 Jesus answered him: "You would have no authority at all against me unless it had been granted to you from above. This is why the man that handed me over to you has greater sin." (John 19)

It appears that even our holy saviour was effectively subservient to the earthly powers that have been allowed to rule in this system. From my perspective it is only when I read Matthew's gospel that any inkling of the true intent of God in this matter starts to be revealed for my benefit:

20 And he said to them: "Whose image and inscription is this?"
21 They said: "Caesar's." Then he said to them: "Pay back, therefore, Caesar's things to Caesar, but God's things to God." (Matthew 22)

It must be true that the worldly powers are in their positions of authority since God has clearly allowed them this role as indeed he has allowed Satan to take his place in the overall rulership in the current system of things. It would seem that we Christians are to accept their rule of law except where it would cause us to contravene God's own Laws. Well I guess that makes sense in principle. An example of how this might operate is unsurprisingly provided in the Acts of the Apostles:

27 So they brought them and stood them in the San′he‧drin hall. And the high priest questioned them
28 and said: "We positively ordered YOU not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! YOU have filled Jerusalem with YOUR teaching, and YOU are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us."
29 In answer Peter and the [other] apostles said: "We must obey God as ruler rather than men. (Acts 5)

Here we have the example where the apostles are defying the high priest but only on the matter of Christ's teachings. So it seems that we can defy the earthly powers in authority over us but only in our own actions in God's cause where that clashes with the agenda of those powers. Despite my strong personal anti-government predilections perhaps I should hold my own council in these matters and just continue in my own actions to promulgate the good news of God's Kingdom in the system to come? In the end of the day what view does our Lord have on terrorists, the ultimate purveyors of anarchy? Not a good one I expect since they have decided to effectively play the governments' own game and not that of our God.

Introduction

As is my want I found myself somewhat concerned at a small matter I tripped up over recently in the book of Romans. I refer to the first few verses of chapter 13 in which Paul extols the virtue of obeying the law of the land and its human leaders. Certainly, taken at immediate face value, I find I have an extreme issue with that particular edict. My natural earthly political predilection as a Christian is that of anarchy. From what I have seen through historic examples and of governments in this current age, they are in power because they want to be. This is entirely the wrong reason since they are clearly interested in their own self-aggrandisement and/or the promulgation of their own ill thought out politics rather than the genuine well-being of their subjects. Show me one current national leader that breaks the mould. As a result of this motivation we have governments, without fail, who are entirely inept at managing their national and international responsibilities and who are also corrupt to varying degrees in order to retain their position of power and/or make financial gain from their status and privilege. Whilst it is not for me to make judgement on these individuals, it is nonetheless abundantly clear to me and any other free thinking persons, that pretty much 100% of these ones are unfit to be our national leaders. 

I am also mystified by Paul's epistle from the point of view that the Lords' Witnesses believe that Satan currently rules the planet (ref. 
Understanding 23 - Satan is the ruler of this system of things) and therefore I would assume it is Satan's choice as to who rules in each nation. Did God really select Hitler to rule in 1930's Weimar Germany? Or was this letter of Paul only strictly intended for the Roman congregation with no wider audience implicated? Even if this latter were the case, I doubt if God would have selected Caligula to lead the Roman nation? Also if this was a satisfactory means of rulership to our God why has He not planned to continue with this self-same regime into His Kingdom? Or did God choose these leaders to teach us all the benefits of His system of government once we get into the Kingdom? I feel I am in for an interesting self-debate on all this.

Civil Obedience

Jewish Lords' Witness

Romans 13 Verse 5

Verse 5 continues the theme:

5 There is therefore compelling reason for YOU people to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of [YOUR] conscience. (Romans 13)

This verse needs a little context which Paul's first letter to Peter helps to supply:

18 Let house servants be in subjection to [their] owners with all [due] fear, not only to the good and reasonable, but also to those hard to please.
19 For if someone, because of conscience toward God, bears up under grievous things and suffers unjustly, this is an agreeable thing.
20 For what merit is there in it if, when YOU are sinning and being slapped, YOU endure it? But if, when YOU are doing good and YOU suffer, YOU endure it, this is a thing agreeable with God. (1 Peter 2)

16 Hold a good conscience, so that in the particular in which YOU are spoken against they may get ashamed who are speaking slightingly of YOUR good conduct in connection with Christ.
17 For it is better to suffer because YOU are doing good, if the will of God wishes it, than because YOU are doing evil. (1 Peter 3)

If one suffers unjustly at the hands of a harsh ruler then that one's blessings will be counted for him. Is this the case for the six million Jews who suffered in silence at the hands of Hitler's Nazi Party? In the next system will we see those six million take their place as blessed ones in God's Kingdom while the very spirits of their Nazi persecutors will be bulldozed alive into the pit of Gehenna. This world was made to teach humans and angels alike the harsh lessons that need learning for us all to live in a morally sustainable society. Well it does not come any harsher for all concerned than these world events and their prospective outcomes. Perhaps the book of Daniel provides a further clue for us:

18 As for you, O king, the Most High God himself gave to Neb‧u‧chad‧nez′zar your father the kingdom and the greatness and the dignity and the majesty.
19 And because of the greatness that He gave him, all peoples, national groups and languages proved to be quaking and showing fear before him. Whom he happened to want to, he was killing; and whom he happened to want to, he was striking; and whom he happened to want to, he was exalting; and whom he happened to want to, he was humiliating.
20 But when his heart became haughty and his own spirit became hard, so as to act presumptuously, he was brought down from the throne of his kingdom, and his own dignity was taken away from him. (Daniel 5)

This confirms that evil earthly leaders will ultimately be judged by our God and will be severely punished both in this life and the next for any abuse of the power that God has granted them. It would seem that the fate of Hitler at the end of his earthly reign was not so very different from that of his ancient predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. It seems to me that all of us, slaves, citizens and rulers alike, are all placed into the circumstances that will test each of our own individual human weaknesses to the full to enable our God to make the best possible judgement on our fates both in this life and the next.

Romans 13 Verse 3

So to verse 3:

3 For those ruling are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you, then, want to have no fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; (Romans 13)

Here the scripture seems to be telling us that the earthly rulers are placed in power to ensure their subjects carry out good deeds through fear of punishment for doing bad. Paul's first letter to Peter supports this notion:

13 For the Lord's sake subject yourselves to every human creation: whether to a king as being superior
14 or to governors as being sent by him to inflict punishment on evildoers but to praise doers of good. (1 Peter 2)

The above verses start to give rise to my issue again. I would have to concede that, living in the UK in the latter half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries, the overall government of the country is in place to protect the innocent citizen in favour of the guilty ones in the eyes of the law. This is even with my overall misgivings of government as expressed at the beginning of this piece. However what have we to say about the rule of government in Hitler's Germany? The Third Reich effectively mandated the persecution of the Jews but then was that so very different from the history of the Jews as told in the Old Testament? But that was then. Is not the book of Romans addressing the circumstances after Christ's sacrificial act of salvation for all mankind? Christ himself died in an act of subservience to the greater cause when it would have been easier for him to have summoned up an army of angels to save his physical soul and to destroy his Roman and Jewish tormentors. But still how can Paul possibly describe Hitler as a force for good? I am afraid this still beats me! Perhaps a partial answer to this perplexing question comes a little later in the same epistle:

13 Indeed, who is the man that will harm YOU if YOU become zealous for what is good?
14 But even if YOU should suffer for the sake of righteousness, YOU are happy. However, the object of their fear do not YOU fear, neither become agitated. (1 Peter 3)

This seems to be saying that if a good Christian keeps his proper counsel then he will not be harmed for the most part. However even in the unusual case when he is harmed for his very faith then this will be counted to him manifold times. Even so this still does not directly address the issue of an evil ruler put in place by God!

Romans 13 Verse 6

Oh yes and now we come on to my very favourite of subjects!

6 For that is why YOU are also paying taxes; for they are God's public servants constantly serving this very purpose. (Romans 13)

Not only do I object to God's appointed governments but I also have to suffer the indignity of having to pay for the privilege! It was certainly well established under God's laws that one tenth of one's earnings/possessions was paid by way of a tax for the upkeep of God's priesthood: 

30 And every tenth part of the land, out of the seed of the land and the fruit of the tree, belongs to Jehovah. It is something holy to Jehovah. (Leviticus 27)

5 True, the men from the sons of Le′vi who receive their priestly office have a commandment to collect tithes from the people according to the Law, that is, from their brothers, even if these have issued from the loins of Abraham (Hebrews 7)

This, of itself does not seem unreasonable (particularly since I am a Levite!). However the prospective payment of taxes, currently usually well above the 10% level and to a probably secular regime, is somewhat out of kilter with the original intent. It would seem that this is more of the same honouring of God's elected governments. Through good and bad we must suffer in silence and not count the cost in physical or financial terms to enable us to free our spirits from this very existence. This is a very hard but necessary lesson for us to learn for entry into the Kingdom.

Romans 13 Verse 2

Let us move on to verse 2:

2 Therefore he who opposes the authority has taken a stand against the arrangement of God; those who have taken a stand against it will receive judgment to themselves. (Romans 13)

I would have to say that verse 2 seems to fully confirm my views arising from the study of the scriptures above. It would seem that I should not commentate against today's rulers since this will ultimately be our Lord's judgement not mine. However, this does not dictate my thoughts on the subject. There seem to be numerous other scriptures confirming this view; here I provide a small selection of them. In this first one the king referred to is the earthly king not another description of God:

2 I [say:] "Keep the very order of the king, and that out of regard for the oath of God.
3 Do not hurry yourself, that you may go out from before him. Do not stand in a bad thing. For all that he delights [to do] he will do,
4 because the word of the king is the power of control; and who may say to him: ‘What are you doing?'" (Ecclesiastes 8)

Ezra makes it clear that we must obey both our heavenly and our earthly leaders:

26 And as for everyone that does not become a doer of the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be promptly executed upon him, whether for death or for banishment, or for money fine or for imprisonment." (Ezra 7)

Whilst it appears that both sets of laws must be obeyed, I think it noteworthy that God's law is mentioned first thereby appearing to take precedence over the earthly laws should there be a disparity between them. A golden example of such a disparity is provided in the book of Daniel:

14 Neb‧u‧chad‧nez′zar was answering and saying to them: "Is it really so, O Sha′drach, Me′shach and A‧bed′ne‧go, that YOU are not serving my own gods, and the image of gold that I have set up YOU are not worshiping? (Daniel 3)

The above scripture is a clear example of faithful ones clinging to God's requirements which expressly run counter to those of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Conclusion

It is incumbent upon us Christians to give due respect to all of God's children regardless of their attitude towards us. That is one very hard lesson indeed but it is the essence of why Christ died on the cross for us. Without fully learning that lesson we will not be able to follow our saviour beyond God's Kingdom on Earth. I do not think I need to say any more on this subject. This study has put God's placing of our national leaders into a proper perspective for me and I hope it has been of some benefit to the reader. I leave you with a little more of Paul's letter to Titus:

1 Continue reminding them to be in subjection and be obedient to governments and authorities as rulers, to be ready for every good work,
2 to speak injuriously of no one, not to be belligerent, to be reasonable, exhibiting all mildness toward all men.
3 For even we were once senseless, disobedient, being misled, being slaves to various desires and pleasures, carrying on in badness and envy, abhorrent, hating one another.
4 However, when the kindness and the love for man on the part of our Savior, God, was manifested,
5 owing to no works in righteousness that we had performed, but according to his mercy he saved us through the bath that brought us to life and through the making of us new by holy spirit.
6 This [spirit] he poured out richly upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 that, after being declared righteous by virtue of the undeserved kindness of that one, we might become heirs according to a hope of everlasting life. (Titus 3)

The story of Paul, prior to his conversion, is one perverse case in point demonstrating how mysterious and wonderful are the ways of our God. Here we have Paul, acting under the authority of the chief priests. Under his instructions many First New Covenant Saints were imprisoned and murdered on the path to Paul's achieving his own righteousness. And nothing was wasted in that, no doubt, all of his victims will be resurrected into the Kingdom of Heaven:

9 I, for one, really thought within myself I ought to commit many acts of opposition against the name of Jesus the Naz‧a‧rene′;
10 which, in fact, I did in Jerusalem, and many of the holy ones I locked up in prisons, as I had received authority from the chief priests; and when they were to be executed, I cast my vote against them.
11 And by punishing them many times in all the synagogues I tried to force them to make a recantation; and since I was extremely mad against them, I went so far as to persecuting them even in outside cities. (Acts 26)

In the end of the day, Revelation states the position of those suffering for Christ's sake, at the hands of Satan's earthly rulers, very succinctly:

10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2)

Clearly this general topic of the status of earthly rulers is of much importance to us all. The development of earthly ruler-ship over the ages and into the Kingdom of God is covered on the True Bible Code web-site at: 
[25]  Monarchy, Democracy, Qualifying Democracy, Constitutional Democracy, Qualifying Constitutional Democracy, Qualifying Constitutional Meritocracy, Qualifying Constitutional Philanthropocracy, Qualifying Constitutional Patriarchal Philanthropocracy. The Transition from the politics of this system to the politics of the Kingdom of God

Romans 13 Verse 4

Verse 4 continues in the same vein as its predecessor verse 3:

4 for it is God's minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear: for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword; for it is God's minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad. (Romans 13)

Isaiah gives a couple of specific examples of such earthly ruling avengers:

5 Aha, the As‧syr′i‧an, the rod for my anger, and the stick that is in their hand for my denunciation!
6 Against an apostate nation I shall send him, and against the people of my fury I shall issue a command to him, to take much spoil and to take much plunder and to make it a trampling place like the clay of the streets. (Isaiah 10)

1 This is what Jehovah has said to his anointed one, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have taken hold of, to subdue before him nations, so that I may ungird even the hips of kings; to open before him the two‐leaved doors, so that even the gates will not be shut (Isaiah 45)

This makes it pretty clear that God will use earthly powers to punish those He will. Did He really use Hitler to punish the Jewish Remnant in the Third Reich. What was their crime in God's eyes? Or was His purpose to establish the State of Israel after World War 2, which presumably would not have occurred without the holocaust?