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The conversation that Jesus has been having with the disciples takes a turn after today’s verse. Today, we focus on the following verses which have created a very unbiblical theology which I’d like to challenge with a wider, more inclusive view. As we’ve seen over the past seven weeks, the context is everything and restoring this context brings us closer in proximity to the best and most appropriate interpretation. The best interpretations bring the best theologies and practices.
“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” (John 14:30-31)
There is a bit of backstory with this verse. The disciples leave the upper room and according to the book of John, they are reorienting themselves outside as they are walking toward a garden across the brook of Kidron. Matthew and Luke depict Jesus taking the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray and this is the location where he was arrested. It is roughly 1-2 kilometers from the city or about a 20 minute walk. John’s gospel records more of the conversation prior to arriving at the Garden, but it captures a nuance that is expanded in Matthew and Mark where Jesus leaves the disciples to go and pray.
Most scholars agree that the “kósmou árxon” (the ruler or one who governs the world system) is referring to Satan (meaning adversary). This figure is a spiritual force of evil, and is personified throughout scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. This is the spiritual being that recently “put it into Judas heart” (John 13:2, Luke 22:3) causing his betrayal (which is taking place as they walk), and also just prior to Jesus ministry in the desert where he was tempted by Satan with all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5, Matt 4:8).
In the book of Job we see that Satan wanders around the earth walking back and forth in it (Job 1:7). Since most bible translations do not differentiate the various words for world: world system (kosmos), earth (gy) or empire (oikoméne), many interpreters have concluded that Satan is the ruler of the whole Earth and Jesus is the ruler of Heaven and is engaged in the cosmic game of chess for the soul of humanity. Then Jesus message morphs into an evacuation strategy out of the earth and into heaven.
Let this sink in for a minute. How many of us were taught this two-story system where the world is viewed as totally corrupt, ultimately to be destroyed, and is a living cess pool of corruption and filth that God hates? Meanwhile, Heaven is this “other” place where we can get off this God-forsaken planet if we pick the right religion, change our radio pre-sets to K-Love, and put a chrome fish on the backs of our car. Today, this unbiblical cosmology is widespread and has led to an even more elaborate unbiblical eschatology (theory of the end times) which has permeated Christian doctrine for over a hundred years through the unbiblical belief in dispensationalism (Darby) and pre-millennialism.
This cosmology is byproduct of Platonic dualism and was rampant in the early church. In 1 Corinthians 10:25, Paul takes on this perversion of the truth when he quotes the 25th Psalm of David: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Just as the religious mind of Paul’s day was enveloped into Platonic dualism, so the modern religious mind exalts Plato far more than Jesus, Moses or Muhammad or Buddha.
To fix this requires a fairly significant deconstruction project because so many misconstrued doctrines are interwoven here. Here is a LINK if you want to explore this further. Furthermore, modern religion seems to be content with this poor theology and narrative and there are fewer and fewer bible teachers who are able to navigate their way out of this quagmire. Plus, the narrative sells. It promulgates fear and fill coffers and pews.
To set the record straight, Satan is not the ruler of the earth. Satan, or the adversary is the ruler of the world system, (the world systems or kingdoms where his to give in the temptation stories) or put another way: Institutional power is the adversary of the liberating power of the Gospel or Good News. Within the context, Jesus knows he is about to be killed by the alliance of Religion and State, the two greatest world systems in human history.
The biblical narrative is that God created the world and calls it good. Just like Peter, we are not to call what is good, evil (Acts 8). Furthermore, the meta-narrative is that the world is fallen (by design) so that all of God’s attributes (including that of being a savior) can be fully displayed and glorified in the created world. As Richard Rohr teaches, creation is the first “bible” or revelation of God. Thus all things in and of the world, through the world, and despite the world reflect and point to the creator of the world thus ensuring no one can go through life and miss God. The trajectory of the narrative is that all evil things in the world will be restored, transformed, and become ultimately “untrue” as the kingdom of heaven joins (comes down) and the two converge into one and the same thing. The Christ, seen in Jesus, is the example of the divine union of flesh and spirit, and it’s redemptive work in the world. There is no promise of evacuating of the world, only the redemption of it. Christ is not coming back to destroy the world, but to subvert it’s systemic control through love (and thus destroy or render powerless) the world systems which disorient all people by renaming them with a fake ID. His return and his work is you and me living from Divine Union as Christ did.
Now if that biblical narrative sounds new, then my point is proven. Feel free to test the above scenario with the entire corpus of scripture. I have given decades to that very endeavor and have not been able to shake it, though I have unraveled countless themes my Sunday schools and Christian radio stations have promulgated.
This little side tangent is not really so little. What if this is God’s world and all that is in it is beloved. What if the diverse world is not in competition for an escape pod, but merely anesthetized to be oblivious to our Maker and our purpose by an endless train of institutions which lay claim to our identity, ontology, and true name? What if this world system has no claim on what is actually true, authentic, genuine or real? These questions pick the scab off of a festering wound that can heal very quickly if we have the courage to follow in Jesus’ steps and “poke the bears” within our own life. Once we see this, we quickly realize how many three sided prisons in which we voluntarily remain.
Jesus could not have believed that Satan was the ruler of the entire world, not after knowing and doing the work of his Father. Clearly he is referring to the institutional powers of Religion and State as the “world systems” which are powered by his adversary. All institutions have the ability to shape us, define us, name us or give us an identity. Scripture calls this the “pseudo” or falsehood or what I call the “fake ID.” Only by finding ourselves “hidden in Christ and found in God” do we discover our “alethia” or genuine, authentic or true self. The world is good, it is created by a good God with the design and interplay of shadow and light. Jesus is revealing to his disciples that he is empowering them with the same union Jesus has with the father, the same Spirit, and sending them to do the same work of freeing the minds of people trapped and over-identified with the systems or institutions of the world. The Gospel is the greatest subversive message in all of human history, gifted to anyone who has ears to hear it.
The huge message of the gospel emerges even from this little side note at the end of this chapter. If we will hear the voice and follow it, this logos (word or message) will call us out from being over-identified with our institutional powers (kosmos) unto our true name (kardia). To the degree we are able to appropriate this awareness into our life, to the same degree we will become liberated by subverting all the powers which rule over us, by the power of love.
May we be graced with the eyes to capture even a glimpse of this and finally understand what it means to be a Christ follower.