Whenever we cite Jesus in support of the political causes we care about, let’s do so honestly, in keeping with what he actually said and did in this world. If we give Scripture honest and humble inquiry, the risen Christ may well bless us such that we’re not seeking to sign him up to support us in our activism, but that we become active in supporting his ongoing work in the world.
The first part of such statements denies the core biblical truth that Jesus IS in fact alive today. Though it seems unlikely, perhaps someone saying this simply means, “If he were still in the world today…” but that still presupposes a distance between Jesus and real life, as if to say, “If he could speak from heaven, he’d agree with me on this …” whereas Scripture claims to be the living, active voice of the Lord in and to the world (2 Timothy 3, Romans 10, Hebrews 4).
It’s much more likely that the person claiming Messianic support for preferred political policy means, “hey Christians – you claim to love Jesus. Well, here’s the kind of political policy he would have supported so you should support it, too.” In that case, the person wants it both ways, denying the central truth of the book by which we learn almost everything we know about Jesus and yet claiming such a confident knowledge of Christ that well, of course Jesus would support the policy in question. As if to say, “We reasonable people know that Jesus is dead and that the Bible isn’t really God’s word, but if you claim to love a risen Savior and to believe the Bible, you should agree with our take on him and support our politics.” Of course, there are lots of disagreements about the true significance of what Jesus teaches in Scripture. But that only makes it all the more incumbent upon us to study Jesus’ life deeply, and honestly.
If we’re going to cite Jesus in support of our politics (or personal opinions about anything), we should do him the decency of studying Scripture seriously, of looking deeply into and taking within their own context his claims about himself, the nature of his ministry, and the nature of God’s kingdom and what it looks like lived out in the world. And that inquiry, if it’s honest, involves serious consideration that Jesus’s claims about life and death and resurrection are actually true (John 11) and serious consideration of his call to personal faith in him (John 3).
Some who cite Jesus in support of their politics want Jesus’s moral teachings minus all that stuff about his being God in the flesh and calling the world to conformity to God’s law. But Jesus’ closest friends believed him to be God (John 1) and Jesus grounded all of his ethics in Scriptural doctrine (Matthew 5-7; 22:37-40). Jesus teaches that loving our neighbor as ourselves only happens fully and consistently when we first love and worship the one true and living God, who makes his moral will for us known in his law. Jesus never separated the call for social justice from the call to personal righteousness. Profound anti-Christian thinkers like Nietzsche understood this: You can’t have Christian ethics without Christian doctrine. We Christians need to remember this, too.