Romans 13, Part 1
Dec 31, 2010
Keeping in mind that Paul did not divide his epistle into chapters, we must consider Romans 13 to be a continuation of chapter 12. When he speaks of being in subjection to the governing authorities in 13:1, it is simply a further application of what he said in 12:18,
(18) If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
Romans 13:1 is also an extension of the previous verse in 12:21,
(21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Paul was well aware that governments could be quite oppressive. Their laws were often unjust (by biblical definition). Officials could often be bribed. Roman law itself was geared more toward suppressing rebellion and deterring crime than toward justice. "Law and Order" was their prime directive, even as further East the cultural goal was to maintain balance with the natural order of things. So Paul writes,
(1) Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. (2) Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
Considering Paul's early training as a rabbi in Jerusalem, this is a remarkable statement that shows how far he had come. The New Testament as a whole was written in the context of Rome's oppression on one hand and Jewish persecution of Christianity on the other. While Jews generally hated Rome and would have revolted at the first opportunity, the Christians in Paul's day found themselves protected by the Romans. Such protection ended, however, with the death of Paul and Peter just before the Jewish Revolt began.
The deeper problem in Judea was their refusal to submit to the verdict that God had decreed in the days of Jeremiah (Jer. 7:9-16). This is repeated many times throughout his book. The people finally cast him into prison as a traitor for telling the people to submit to God's judgment and to God's "servant," Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Jer. 27:6).
According to the laws of tribulation (Lev. 26; Deut. 28), if the nation persisted in violating God's Law, He would put them into captivity to other nations. In other words, God would give foreign kings the authority to rule over Israel and Judah in order to teach them how oppressive it was to be ruled by the laws of men. And so in the days of Jeremiah, God put Judah under the authority of Babylon.
The people were given a choice. If they submitted to the verdict of the heavenly Court (and to Nebuchadnezzar), they could remain under the "wooden yoke." That is, they could serve their sentence in the land of Judea without further bloodshed. But if they refused, God would send them into exile under the "yoke of iron" (Deut. 28:48; Jer. 28:13). The people chose the latter.
Their sentence under the yoke of iron lasted 70 years (Jer. 25:11), and then they were allowed to return to Judah. Meanwhile, however, it had been revealed to Daniel that this captivity was to be extended for a very long time. Babylon was merely the "head of gold," or the first of four empires that would rule Judah and that part of the world. Hence, when the Judahites returned from exile after 70 years, their captivity continued under the second empire, Persia, though their sentence could then be carried out under lighter sentence of the wooden yoke.
After two centuries had passed, Greece overthrew Persia and became the third empire of Daniel's prophecy. Still later, beginning in 63 B.C., Rome took the land of Judah (or Judea) and became the fourth empire of Daniel's prophecy. By this time the people had grown impatient with God's verdict and gave only lip service to the prophecies of Jeremiah.
The Judeans of the first century chafed under Roman rule. Many false messiahs arose, promising to deliver them with God's help, but all failed. None of them understood that the rule of the iron kingdom of Rome had only just begun. Jesus submitted to Roman rule and taught His disciples to do the same. As a result, the people rejected Jesus as the Messiah, for they desired a great general to overthrow the Romans. Jesus did not meet their expectations.
Every time a new Jewish messiah arose to overthrow Rome, the Romans responded with force and often with brutality in order to instill enough fear that would overpower the Jewish desire to rebel. Finally, from 66-73 A.D. the Jewish Revolt brought about the end of the wooden yoke and the beginning of a second "yoke of iron" which forcibly dispersed the Judeans once again into foreign lands.
Christians and Jews conflicted over the choice of Messiah. The Jews were taught the spirit of revolt against Rome; the Christians were taught to submit to God's judgment and live at peace with all men, if possible. This is the background of Paul's admonition to submit to the ruling authorities in Romans 13:1.
Paul recognized that God Himself had placed Rome into its position of authority over them, for this was prophesied by Daniel. Rome had been given an unknown time period in which to exercise that authority. Where Daniel left off, John's book of Revelation continues the prophecy, giving greater details that Daniel did not know.
Understanding the sovereignty of God, Paul said, "there is no authority except from God." Rome's authority was not based upon their army, but upon the divine mandate. God had raised up Rome as the fourth kingdom that was called to enslave the people of the Kingdom because of the sins of their forefathers. "Therefore, he who resists (Rome's) authority has opposed the ordinance (verdict or decree) of God."
Jeremiah 23 made it clear that there were two kinds of people in the land of Judah. They were pictured as good figs and rotten figs, insofar as God's taste buds were concerned. The good figs were those who submitted to the divine verdict of judgment; the rotten figs were those who did not. Daniel was a good fig, as was Jeremiah. Hananiah was a rotten fig (Jer. 28:10-17).
This same dichotomy surfaced in the first century in the days of Christ and the early Church. The same problem has surfaced in the past century. The Jews again became tired of waiting for God to reverse His righteous sentence, so they took the land of Palestine by force and by terrorism. (See Menachem Begin's book, The Revolt: Story of the Irgun, and Yitzhak Shamir's book, Summing Up.)
God allowed these terrorists to succeed temporarily, because of other prophecies that I have discussed in detail in my book, The Struggle for the Birthright. Yet the Zionists have never fulfilled the terms found in the laws of tribulation (Lev. 26:40-42) that alone could cancel the divine judgment that was decreed through Jeremiah. Their "revolt," as Menachem Begin called it, was really a revolt against God Himself, for they disagreed with God's verdict as much as the Judeans did in the days of Jeremiah.
Hence, the Jewish state will again be destroyed, even as it was destroyed by Babylon and Rome in earlier times. I believe that the third destruction will finally fulfill Jer. 19:11, which tells us that Jerusalem will be destroyed so completely that it will never again be rebuilt or repaired. Hagar-Jerusalem will be cast out, as Paul says in Gal. 4:25-30.
America, too, has been in its own captivity to the financial arm of Mystery Babylon. God in His mercy blinded us to this "secret" captivity so that we would accept it and remain only under a wooden yoke. The day is now drawing near for Babylon's collapse and the emergence of the Kingdom--ruled by the good figs, the remnant of grace.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 13." To view all parts, click the link below.