When we observe a tension between Jesus and Caesar, we acknowledge that a fundamental tension remains at the heart of Christianity. When this tension is poorly understood, Christians face disastrous consequences. The tension is not between religion and atheism or secularism. Nor is it between organized religion and personal spirituality. The tension is located within the heart of Christianity itself because it is a radical conflict between true and false forms of Christian faith. Jesus embodies and exposes this tension in ways that illuminate both how God is with us and what must change for a world that participates in God’s life. This book serves as an indictment of the pieties of empire, whether government, corporate or any other forms of the faith that dominate and exclude. One form of Christian faith (Jesus) versus another form of Christian faith (Caesar). Whom and what will we trust and serve? What did Jesus disclose to the religious, economic, and political worlds of Israel and Rome?
This tension between true and false forms of religion is also deeply rooted in the Jewish traditions. The Hebrew prophets were gravely concerned about established forms of Jewish religion that appear to be respectable but result in oppression. The prophet Isaiah hears the voice of God pronouncing judgment: “You serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers” (Isaiah 58:3). True religion loosens “the bonds of injustice” (Isa 58:6) while self-serving religion is false religion.
This tension between true religion and false religion is a critical opportunity for those who would follow Jesus instead of “Caesar.”