Sunday, March 3, 2013

Become A Christian? (part 3 of 3)

In attempting to understand the wider implications of this package, Christians, or “kristianos” in the Greek, were being identified as such, in contrast to those that were identified as “kaisarianos,” or “Caesar-people.”  In that day, “Christian” was every bit as much a religious title as it was a political identification.  Naturally, there were no delineations between “church” and “state,” and one’s religion was not a private matter of personal conviction.  A Christian was somebody that looked to Jesus of Nazareth, the One that had been crucified on a Roman cross, as Messiah and Lord and King and Son of God. 

Not only was this contrary to all reason (crucified Jews are most assuredly NOT the messiah), but even more importantly, especially as it relates to Paul’s query and Herod’s response, “Lord” and “King” and “Son of God”  were all titles of Caesar, as the Caesar-cult held him up and worshiped him as the son of god (among other things, including master, savior, the one who brought light into a dark world, and order into chaos).  In this situation, it is highly probable that Agrippa’s statement to Paul should be understood along these lines.    

It is quite likely that Agrippa would have been more than aware that proclamations concerning Jesus, by His followers, included the claim that He was the true King and Ruler of the world, and that even Caesar was subject to Him.  It was counter-imperial and subversive statements such as these that would and did get people crucified or thrown to the lions.  At the same time, this also causes the reader to reflect on Paul’s statement about the Messiah being a light to both Israel and the Gentiles, as Caesar Augustus was hailed as the man who had brought the world out of darkness, while the darkness was kept at bay by the “pax Romana” (Roman peace) that was presumed to continue to suffuse light through the world under the dominion of the Caesar’s that followed. 

This created dangerous territory for Agrippa, as he sits here next to the Rome-appointed governor as the Rome-appointed, Rome-supported client-king (one of three in the land of Palestine).  A confession by Agrippa of anything that remotely resembled a belief that what Paul was saying about Jesus was true, was going to be very bad for him, as it could be looked upon as treasonous.  Agrippa could certainly not afford to be identified as a Jesus-person, in contrast to a Caesar-person.  Paul, in what appears to be an understanding of Agrippa’s situation, responds by saying, “I pray to God that whether in a short or a long time not only you but also all those who are listening to me today could become such as I am, except for these chains” (26:29).  “Yes,” Paul says, “I believe everybody should submit to this message of the Gospel, recognizing Jesus as Lord and King.” 

As this story comes to an end, “the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them” (26:30).  Understandably, this engagement has given them much to ponder, so “as they were leaving they said to one another, ‘This man is not doing anything deserving death or even imprisonment’.” (26:31)  In this, and in what follows, as “Agrippa said to Festus, ‘This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar’” (26:32), one can almost hear a tacit agreement, from the mouth of Agrippa, with the claims that Paul has made.           

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