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Saint Augustine
Jesus and Pacifism - Two Kingdoms - The Strong Man
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Article Index
Jesus and Pacifism
Personal Non-retaliation, Not Pacifism
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Turn the Other Cheek
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword
Two Kingdoms - The Strong Man
Jesus and the Roman Centurion -- Conclusion
All Pages



"Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s." (Matthew 22:21; cf., Luke 20:20-26)

Confusing the two kingdoms is a fundamentally modern mistake. Church and state ought not to transgress the prerogatives of the other. Christ‘s teaching is not a warrant to divorce church and state but rather to discern the appropriate realms of each.

A common secular misapprehension is to suppose the Kingdom of God to be merely a very nice copy of this world. This secular vision fails to comprehend the spiritual realm. One might attribute this attitude to either ignorance or ideological blindness. A reverse error is theological - to assume that there can be no good (complete depravity) in the world. This theological error lacks credible understanding concerning the creation and the imago dei resident (although damaged) in mankind.

Bock notes that the Savior’s “render to Caesar” pronouncement is the closest thing we have on record that might be construed as a political statement.57 Human governments have “a right to exist and to expect its citizens to participate in contributing to its functions.”58 We note that Christian faith neither confuses church and state, nor specifies what form government must take. The mission of the state is to order society. The mission of the church is to transform the individual (John 12:35-36) and to judge (John 7:24) this present order but not incorporate or imitate its worldly ways (Romans 12:2).

Two kingdoms intersect in the Christian who is a citizen of both. We are created with dual spiritual and physical natures, and so we dwell simultaneously in both realms. God delegates different authority to rulers (Proverbs 24:21; Romans 13:1-7) and to spiritual leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Since Christians dwell in both kingdoms, care must be taken to integrate the two kingdoms in faith and in deed.

For the very fact that the sword has been instituted by God to punish the evil, protect the good, and preserve peace [Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14] is powerful and sufficient proof that war and killing, along with all the things that accompany wartime and martial law, have been instituted by God. What else is war but the punishment of wrong and evil? Why does anyone go to war, except because he desires peace and obedience?59

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote concerning the Apostle Paul‘s discourse in Romans 13:1-5: “the core of his message is that government—however you want to limit that concept—derives its moral authority from God.”60 The state is “the minister of God” with powers to “revenge,” to “execute wrath,” including even wrath by the sword (which is unmistakably a reference to the death penalty).61 Government is accorded powers not divinely given to the individual, especially the power of temporal justice. He notes that this teaching from Romans concerning the powers of the state was the prevailing “consensus of Western thought,” both religious and secular, until modern times.62

A citizen of the Kingdom of God (Eph. 2:19) is necessarily a righteous inhabitant of this present realm; participating in society by supporting the ruling authorities (Tit. 3:1), paying taxes (Ro. 13:6) and living out one‘s calling. It therefore follows that a Christian may serve in government, in the military, in commerce, in medicine, in education, and in any other walk of life not expressly forbidden in scripture. The Christian is to discern the how to righteously live in two kingdoms and to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar‘s; and to God the things that are God‘s.”63


“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder." (Matthew 12:22-32)

Both Luke and Matthew record Jesus‘ teaching concerning the strong man. This is a spiritual-temporal metaphor concerning the exercise of power. The immediate scriptural context of this instruction has to do with the exorcism of demons.

…Luke presents the analogy of military force in the parable of the strong man. The ‘stronger one’ is implied to be a warrior who conquers or ‘overpowers’: (νικάω) – rather than ‘binds’ – the strong man who, fully armed (καθωπλισμένος), guards his own palace (αὐλήν) in order to ensure the safety (ἐν εἰρήνῃ) of his possessions. When the stronger one overcomes the strong, he takes the ‘armor’ (πανοπλία) in which the strong man trusted and divides up the ‘spoils’ (σκῦλα).64

The Messiah, as Divine Warrior, contextualizes his war-making inside his hearers‘ frame of reference and solidly within the framework of scriptural teaching. The Pharisees accuse Jesus of using demonic power to cast out evil spirits (Isaiah 49:24-25) - a charge he easily refutes. Jesus then proclaimed his exorcisms as proof that he had ushered in the Kingdom of God: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”65 Calvin notes that this attack on Satan is accomplished in “open battle resulting in demonic defeat and leaving evil nothing.”66 Christ is that someone stronger (ἰσχυρότερος) who overpowers (νικάω) the strong and, until now, uncontested ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31) and casts him out.

It is necessary for the ‘strong man‘ to be overpowered so that Jesus can repossess his stolen property – the creation (Mark 3:27). Luke writes that this can only be done when “one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him” and thus “takes away his armor in which he trusted and then divides his plunder” (Luke 11:22). So, the Messiah‘s entire ministry is about divinely overwhelming the powerful usurper who had taken control of what was rightfully God’s (Luke 11:21), “namely, God‘s people and ultimately the entire earth.”67 Christ‘s metaphor depends upon his hearer‘s understanding of power, and military might as then expressed by the oppressive Roman occupation of Israel. The subject here is the exercise of divine power wielded by the Messiah. Because of the Messiah‘s example we may conclude, prima facie, that resort to force is not evil in and of itself. A corollary deduction is that it is appropriate for the believer to oppose, restrain and confront evil. This is not a religious justification for resort to violence, rather a model for the restraint of evil.

An objection might be entertained that this exercise of power is entirely in the spiritual realm and does not affect the temporal. However, our human experience is that evil is objectified in earthly reality. The reason that this teaching is so readily understood is that the average hearer has experienced evil and knows evildoers who must be confronted and restrained. Further, that the moral and civic costs of allowing evil to thrive are ruinous to the human soul and to society.

Christians are to overthrow the power of Satan by the power of God (Ephesians 2:1ff) regardless of where it is manifested. In this present kingdom, we more readily see the physical effects of evil but may have difficulty identifying the spiritual force behind that evil. The Christian, in service of governing authority, may justly exercise coercive force to right wrongs, to establish justice and to enforce the peace as a righteous expression of faith.

Charles notes that biblical justice (Hebrew: mispat) is the cluster of principles that guide how humans rightly interrelate. In the pursuit of justice, we distinguish good and evil, guilt and innocence (Genesis 18:25; Isaiah 5:20ff); protect the innocent and weak (Exodus 23:6–9; Leviticus 19:9–10); prevent and correct injustice (Leviticus 19:11–14; Isaiah 10:1–2). “This justice, moreover, is to be impartial (e.g., Exodus 23:3; Leviticus. 19:15). The Pentateuch defines the contours of justice, the Psalms extol God for his inherent justice, and the prophetic literature calls Israel to repent and do justice.”68 Scripture contains crucial guidance for moral, ethical and spiritual boundaries.

The Christian serves as salt and light (Matthew 5:13) to bring the power of Christ into this world. Christians as citizens of two kingdoms must righteously integrate their faith and civic duty. The state ought to rightfully and righteously act to prevent oppression, fraud, murder, and all other crimes that deny the establishment of justice and the protection of individuals. The church, as it ushers in the Kingdom of God, is not to use the methods and weapons of the world but the power of God and His righteousness.

Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 18:17