These thoughts come primarily from insights given by Jeff Meyers in lectures on the book of Acts at Cornerstone Reformed Church, March 22-23, and a follow up conversation with my pastor, Burke Shade and friend Nathan Brunaugh. These men would likely credit their insights back to the work of James Jordan.
What should a Christian’s involvement with the state be (at any level of government)? It is certainly not wrong for a Christian to enter public service and work within the system to bring about positive change. However, the Bible presents a slightly different role, that of an advisor to the king or any other authority. One that councils the leaders of the community, state, or nation in matters of justice, equity, wisdom, and righteousness in accordance with God’s law. This could even go down to the family government level, with faithful Christians counseling and advising those who comes to them with questions about their different way of life. This is the role of a prophet.
The biblical role of prophet is actually something of a council member to God. The prophet speaks to God, and because of his standing, God actually listens. For example, Abraham (Genesis 18 with regards to Sodom) and Moses (Exodus 33 among others) were prophets. But prophets not only act as advisors to God, they carry God’s messages and act as advisors to lesser world rulers. There were also prophetic phases at several points in biblical history, which follow a priestly and then kingly stage. For example, Joseph was the prototypical prophet of pre-Mosaic history, and Daniel was one of the representative prophets of Israel’s history as a nation. Jesus is of course the fulfillment of all prophet typology, and according to pastor Jeff Meyers, Paul is presented as the representative of a prophetic phase of early Church history in Acts. Prophetic phases in the Bible pertain to a period of being forced out of the land and having a broader impact on the world as a whole.
Check out these interesting patterns that give a lot of insight into the role of a prophet. Because Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophets and Christians live in union with Jesus, this also gives us insight into the Christian’s role with regard to government leaders. I am not providing scripture references for each event, as I think Christians that know the Bible will have a pretty good idea of where these occur.
Joseph → Sold into slavery in Egypt → Faithful (avoids Potiphar’s wife) → Cast into/saved from prison → Rises to chief advisor to Pharaoh, who listens to Joseph
Daniel → Taken as slave to Babylon → Faithful (refuses to be defiled with King’s food) → Cast into/saved from death (figuratively by King’s decree of death for wise men) → Rises to chief advisor to Nebuchadnezzar, who listens to Daniel → Transferred into Medo/Persian Empire → Faithful (continues to pray to YHWH despite King’s decree) → Cast into/saved from lion’s den → Rises to chief advisor to Darius, who listens to Daniel
Jesus → Taken wrongfully as prisoner in Jewish/Roman legal system → Faithful → Cast into/saved from THE GRAVE (death/resurrection) → Ascends into Heaven as chief advisor to God the Father
Paul → Taken wrongfully as prisoner in Jewish/Roman legal system → Faithful (declares gospel to each successive ruler) → Cast into/saved from the sea (in transport to Rome) → SHOULD rise as chief advisor to Caesar, however it appears that Caesar did not listen to Paul
BUT Paul was still deeply influencing the empire, even while imprisoned (Philippians 1:12-14, 4:22).
There are other similarities. For example, Joseph and Daniel were both saved from their initial death/resurrection experiences by interpreting dreams.
Also, take the fascinating counter-example of Elymas (or Bar-Jesus) in Acts 13. This man was in some sense doing what prophets were supposed to do: he was an advisor to a civil ruler, the proconsul Sergius Paulus. However, he was giving evil advice; he was a false prophet. As a Magus (wise-man or potentially magician) he falls into the same category as the magicians that advised Pharaoh against Moses and the wise men that conspired against Daniel.
The Bible is an awesome book. The message of salvation and right standing with God is given plain meaning. It is not hidden from us. However, there is also amazing depths to the Bible. Recognizing these kinds of patterns lends brilliant color and depth to every story in the Bible. I’m sorry, but if you don’t think that is cool, I’m worried about you!