The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 12)


Chapter 12: The War of the Lamb


1972: With our focus on Jesus and Paul, other biblical witnesses have been left out, notably Revelation. Christian social ethics is obsessed with discovering the meaning and direction of history. It turns out this is no easy task because of the plethora of free agents in play. Revelation provides a better solution that trying to decode history. John reminds us that “the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history” (232). Indeed, Jesus’ faithfulness to the enemy led him to give up his own handle on the meaning of history to be faithful to the will of God.

Jesus chose to give up providential control of history. This is eloquently recorded in the Philippians 2 hymn. Jesus’ example determines the type of pacifism we choose. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist in order to manipulate events to a certain end—he gave up concern for the end to live faithfully to God.

Therefore, the cross is not a technique to achieve an end. “The cross is not a recipe for resurrection” (238). The cross is the result of faithfulness. Pacifism then, not as the means to an end but as the result of faithfulness, provokes new questions such as,”Does it make sense to ask the public authorities in civil society to enforce standards of fraternity and equity which Christians can seek after in the church on the basis of the free assent of those who claim to be committed to Christian obedience” (239)? As our world moves away from its Christian heritage, perhaps the Apocalypse with its call to obedience rather then history-manipulation will become more crucial to the church’s existence again.

Our modern version of Christianity is wide-open to the Marxist criticism of promising a glorious future to help us forget our present. In the early church, the gap between present and hereafter was not important. The glorious future was the logical extension of the present trajectory. A recovery of this understanding would help the church see the relevance of Apocalyptic literature again.

1994: Much scholarship has been conducted since the first edition on the interpretation of Revelation. Unfortunately, many simply use a convenient interpretative grid to confirm their own views. In the end, biblical apocalypses remind us that Jesus is the key to understanding how God is acting in a sinful world. We must follow Jesus, not our modern infatuation with effectiveness.


Although this chapter was the least scholarly in the traditional sense (there were not footnotes), Yoder’s writing is as complicated as ever. In the end, it was worth the reading and rereading for the insights gleaned.

One of the questions that has confused me over the years is, what right do Christians have to expect the state to enforce Christian morality on the public? It was good to hear Yoder state this question outright, although no direct answers were offered. This chapter reminds Christians to be faithful to God within their own faith community, but it doesn’t really engage the original question. I suppose I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

The main point of this chapter is a lesson that I and all pastors need to take to heart. Effectiveness doesn’t matter. Faithfulness does. Jesus gave up his claim to effectiveness when he emptied himself—obedience to his Father was what mattered.

I think the modern church would do well to focus on faithfulness and leave the matter of effectiveness to our Father.

< Ch. 11: Justification by Grace through Faith

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2 Responses to The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 12)

  1. Harald Solheim March 16, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    “One of the questions that has confused me over the years is, what right do Christians have to expect the state to enforce Christian morality on the public?”

    Yoder discusses this question in the book The Christian Witness to the State.

  2. Stephen Barkley March 18, 2014 at 10:51 am #

    Thanks Harald, I’ll add that to my “to read” list.

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