During the last three years of his life Jesus was very cautious to label himself as messiah, or even as Son of God, which would have received immediate stoning to death. His political allegiances are ambiguous and he is sometimes thought to be affiliated with a sort of Leninist-style anti-Roman imperial group known as the Zealots. But his politics was certainly more spiritual and guided by less pragmatic concerns than those of the Zealots. many of his followers were certainly Zaealots, but we know his own political theology differed a great deal.
Jesus’ popularity in Cavalry most likely came from the poor, who associated him with a Jewish Davidic Messiah who would come to restore justice, and who was furthermore a warrior mythical figure to the common people. Jesus was arrested essentially to quell a larger uprising which would put the Roman principality in instability, a risk that could not be taken, especially during Passover.
Jesus came to be known as a false-prophet to his Jewish detractors. In fact, Jesus’ message was very against established religion as we know it today. He asked his followers to avoid temple, to observe the Sabbath but to break from common practices associated with it, and he would commonly grant miracles to the sinners, to the worst of the underclass, the dejected and to outcasts.
It is unknown exactly which subset of the Jewish populace assisted in his silencing and arrest. Of course the most blatant and potent crime he was accused of was his threat to tear down the Temple in Israel which was the most direct threat he waged to the established order.
Jesus’ trial was certainly a hung jury, in that his verdict was relatively light, compared to John the Baptist who was decapitated. Crucifixion was reserved for political crimes. Killing Jesus in a public and torturous way was also designed to send a strong message to his followers, that the kingdom he was pronouncing was not possible.
The metaphysics of the coming kingdom as outlined in the Gospels also correspond to the centrality of the crucifixion. The notion that true power flows from powerlessness was the central idea behind Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus was known to be with the poor at nearly all times, which reaffirmed his deep eschatological mindset – the poor were the chosen ones as when the Day of Judgment comes to repair society, it would come to first restore the poor’s place in the world, as it is they who symbolize the emptiness with which the New Jerusalem will come to repair. It is this promise to the poor, it is they who will inherit the earth, and it is they who will take over the new world order.
Yet even in Jesus’ time the notion of a “prophet” was not a magical conjurer of tricks but rather someone who delivered warnings to those in the present; that if they did not change their ways the future would be very much worse for them. This is no different really from a populist moralizer that we have come to see today albeit in totally different forms.
Perhaps the social justice legacy of Jesus Christ was really the idea that in order to prepare the world for peace and justice it comes first through human action. The very fact that humans could kill the Son of Man meant indicates that human action is the most potent message we get from both the Gospels and from Jesus’ teachings. The failed physical return of Jesus was the simultaneous proof that God works through human practice, through history first. Indeed, Jesus was said to have considered himself the Son of Man on more occasions than the Son of God. His message almost seems more rooted in a call to humanity first and second to God?
His message to the community is where Jesus’ ethics resemble that of Dionysius, his love for food, wine and celebration, encouraging men to release of their anxiety and live in the present. His celibacy was of course a sacrifice to the elite order elected to preserve the coming kingdom. In fact the notion of a hyper schizophrenic eschatology is far from the truth; the fact that the kingdom is coming enables a calming to overcome the body-politic, to be content with one’s daily bread. Indeed, Terry Eagleton argues that the turning of one cheek, the ardent love for the neighbor is rooted in a sort of eschatological security in the coming kingdom, which the world as we know it is always close to an end.
His hold over the community is precisely where the paradox of Jesus’ message rings the loudest, “do not think that I came to bring peace to the earth; I did not come to bring peace, I came to bring the sword.” The sword to cut down the social bonds and ties between those with faith and those without, this rugged political theology is the guiding message of Christianity.