The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 2)


Chapter 2: The Kingdom Coming


1972: This second chapter is a tour through the Gospel of Luke designed to demonstrate that Jesus’ message was political and non-violent. Using one chapter to summarize an entire Gospel’s worth of evidence is difficult and Yoder strains at the task. He uses broad categories to plot the narrative of Luke, drawing relevant data along the way. He mentioned that there were many other points in Luke as well as the other gospels that could have made his thesis stronger if he wanted to go deeper.

1994: In the epilogue, Yoder responded briefly to some of the criticism he received over the years. Most importantly, people accuse him of using the gospel that suits his needs to make his point (since 1972, everyone’s realized that Luke is the gospel for the marginalized and the outcast). While Luke is the most socially conscious gospel, Yoder claimed that he could have drawn support from the other three as well had he chosen to do a larger study.

The role of political zealotry in Jesus’ ministry has also been questioned. Since the term Zealot was first used in 66 A.D., some have wondered whether it should be given so much prominence in a discussion of Jesus. Whether the term was in use or not, the substance of the zealot option in Jesus’ life remained the same.

Yoder closed by again stressing how he could have used many more passages to strengthen his message, such as the command to love your enemy.


First of all, I respect anyone willing to make their case from an entire gospel’s worth of data. Yoder did a fine job highlighting what needed to be revealed while at the same time responding to what was potentially the most obvious dangers to his thesis (e.g. Jesus telling his disciples that two swords were enough).

This chapter is easier to read today than it would have been in 1972, since much of what he fought for theologically is now widely accepted. Yes, Jesus is political.

That said, some of his exegetical work made me uncomfortable. At times it felt like he was overworking the data to make it fit his theory. A good example of this is Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem (Luke 19:36-46). There’s no question that Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey while receiving the adoration of the crowd, is a kingly act. Still, Yoder felt the need to press the language of the crowd. They were “praising God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen” (40). Yoder suggested that the mighty works they saw might have been a vision of imminent victory since there were not enough “mighty works” in the preceding chapters of Luke to support the crowd’s boast. I tend to think that three public years of healing and deliverance might qualify as “mighty works.”

Yoder penned a few strikingly profound passages in this chapter as well. Take this passage, for example, where Yoder questioned what the glory was that the Messiah entered into:

Might it not then mean … that the cross itself is seen as fulfilling the kingdom promise? Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come. (51)


< Ch. 1: The Possibility of a Messianic Ethic

Ch. 3: The Implications of the Jubilee >

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