Jesus, Rebel With A Cause

Jesus was a rebel. But not like James Dean; not a “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Jesus had a cause. Actually, we might say He had a lot of causes. Of course, if we left off thinking Jesus was merely a rebel with a cause we’d be gravely mistaken. He’s much more than that. It is, however, still important that we not forget that He was indeed a rebel. 

How was Jesus a Rebel?

This is an important question to ask, in part, because “People didn’t get crucified for being gentile or spiritual or for saying their prayers. They got crucified for being understood to be rebels.”[1]

Jesus was a rebel because…

First, Jesus said scary things like “The Kingdom of God has come” (Mk. 1:15).[2] If someone walked into DC and taught people that the Kingdom of God had come and he was the spokesperson, people would be concerned. And the CIA would likely monitor that person.

Second, Jesus had many conflicts with the religious leaders. People saw that Jesus was liable to upset both the religious and political order. Thus, He was seen as a dangerous rebel.

Third, as Warren Carter has said: “Empires fear someone declaring, ‘It does not have to be this way; there is another way that is better for everyone.’ Jesus made such a case. He pointed to an alternative way of shaping human community.”[3]

Fourth, Jesus was a rebel but He was vastly different from other rebels and false Christs.[4] “In challenging Rome’s power, Jesus does not, like most of the other rebels…, resort to violence.”[5] This is a very surprising, amazing, and an appealing point. Jesus was rebellious to the rebel norm. And His followers often did not understand.[6] It makes sense that Jesus was not violent, however, because Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world (see Jn. 18:36).

There are other things that we could point to that put Jesus into the category of rebel. Once again, He was more than a rebel but He was not less. Jesus’ ministry was clearly subversive. 

Are Christians called to be Rebels Too?

Jesus created an alternate Kingdom, a counterculture of new creations (2 Cor. 5:17) in which people are controlled by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14). So clearly Christians are to have a remarkable reversal of values to the culture in which they live.[7]

Christians prize what the world sees as pitiable. Christians are not controlled by what the world sees as so critical. Power, success, comfort, control, and recognition no longer (or should no longer) have the control over us that they once did.[8]

“The Cross creates a counterculture in which sex, money, and power cease to control us and are used in life-giving and community-building rather than destructive ways.” And so “Christians look at money as something to give away. They look at power as something to use strictly for service.”[9]

That makes Christians strange. That makes Christians rebellious, utterly rebellious.

And Christians are rebellious with a cause too. We are strangers and exiles (1 Pet. 2:11). And we too have something to live for and something to die for. 

“For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Rom. 14:7-8). 


[1] Warren Carter, Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, 96.

[2] “The noun that we translate as ‘kingdom’ is commonly translated in the biblical tradition as ‘empire.’ It refers to empires like that of Babylon, the Medes, Persia, and Greece (Dan. 2:37-45), Alexander the Great (1 Macc. 1:1-6), Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Macc. 1:16), and Rome (Josephus, J.W. 5.409). That context gives Jesus’s use of the word a very different meaning” (Carter, Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, 97).

[3] Carter, Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, 100.

[4] Theudas (Acts 5:36), the Egyptian (Antiquities 20:169-172; Acts 21:38), and Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37), for example.

[5] Carter, Seven Events that Shaped the New Testament World, 99. “The reason Jesus was so infuriating to both religious and government leaders was not because he was taking up arms and trying to overthrow governments but because his radical teachings were so subversive to society. Jesus was subversive because he sought to reform all sorts of relationships. In his teachings and actions, Jesus continually subverted fundamental values of both Jewish and Greco-Roman society”  (Jonathan T. Pennington, Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life, 172). 

[6] For example, see: Matthew 26:51-54; Luke 22:49-51; and John 18:10–11.

[7] “On the Cross Christ wins through losing, triumphs through defeat, achieves power through weakness and service, comes to wealth via giving all away” (Timothy Keller, Reasonable Faith, 203-04). 

[8] See Timothy Keller, “Life in the Upside-Down Kingdom,” 50, 51.

[9] Timothy Keller, Reasonable Faith, 204. “The kingdom says that what really matters is who I am to Jesus and who I am in my heart, and not whether I look right… That makes Christians radically free. We’re not self-conscious. We’re not scared about our bank account” (Timothy Keller, “The Inside-Out Kingdom,” 48). 

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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