By Bruce Green
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
SUB-VER-SIVE – adj. Intending or intended to subvert an established order, especially to undermine or overthrow an established government. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
We don’t normally think of the message about Jesus as being subversive. That’s to our poverty because it absolutely is. After all, becoming a follower is spoken of as being born again and becoming a new creation—can you get more radical than that? Paul speaks of being “united with Him in a death like His” (Romans 6:5) and being “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).
No, if we understand the teachings of Scripture, becoming a disciple of Christ is the most radical, subversive thing we can ever do. The fact that so many fail to see it that way is the problem. Not understanding the gospel is subversive is what leads to lukewarm discipleship. Jesus doesn’t round out our life—He is our life (Colossians 3:4)!
When Paul, Silas and Timothy brought the good news of Jesus to Thessalonica you can believe the people who heard it understood its subversive nature. A century before, Julius Caesar had been assassinated and the Roman Senate declared him a god. This became the driving force behind the establishment of the Imperial Cult—the worship of Rome and its emperors. The vocabulary of the Imperial Cult referred to the emperor as Lord and Savior. He was over the kingdom of Rome. News about him was cast as gospel—a salvation bringing message.
Thessalonica was a Roman city through and through. It was capital of the province of Macedonia. It was located on the Via Egnatia (a major thoroughfare that linked with the Via Appia to connect Rome to Byzantium). The Imperial Cult had a temple there. When Paul, Silas and Timothy showed up and began talking about the gospel of Jesus, His kingdom, and how He was Lord and Savior—how do you think the Thessalonians would have received that?
We don’t have to wonder. In 1:5-6 Paul tells us, “Our gospel” (as opposed to Rome’s), “came to you not simply with words but with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction . . . You welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” They “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (v. 9). Their lives were completely transformed by the good news because they didn’t view it in a shallow, peripheral way—they understood its life-changing dimensions.
Because of that he goes on to say, “You became a model to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere” (v. 7). They weren’t perfect (Paul will deal with some of their problems in his second letter to them), but they were pursuing God in such a way that he speaks of their “work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). They weren’t super-disciples, but they were all in for Jesus.
The message here isn’t the transformed lives of disciples—it’s the Christ who transforms lives and understanding the subversive nature of His call. Jesus isn’t interested in setting up a political kingdom (John 18:36), but He does want reign completely in our lives.
He would be Lord of all or He’s not Lord at all.