Donald Trump, the Zealot


Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

When Trump first announced his presidential intentions, it seemed to me like a reality show stunt. It was like a distraction from “the real the thing”, the serious business of presidential primaries that will determine the only choices that we have next November.

Now that Trump, the reality show candidate, is increasingly likely to become Trump, the presidential candidate, I have been unsure how to put it in perspective. Trump, the caricature, seems to be Trump, the real deal. Even as he polarizes people who are already quite polarized, he gains in popularity and delegates to the convention where he will likely be the “popular” choice.

I do not need to recount the number of ways that Trump has failed to exhibit the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The stories are now legion. The examples of mocking a disabled man, or cheering while people are forcibly removed from his audience or statements about punching people in the face are played over and over on social media like a parade of “fail” videos.

Meanwhile, Trump is not just polarizing the haves and have-nots and the Democrats and Republicans; he is polarizing Republicans and Republicans. More importantly, and more significantly, to me, Trump is polarizing Christians, even those who call themselves Evangelical Christians.

Some, like Jerry Falwell, Jr., observe that we are not electing a national pastor. It seems that bullying, threats, encouraging violence and even express heresy are no disqualifiers for Evangelical support today.  Even Ben Carson, who was the soft spoken hope of many Evangelicals, exhibiting the patience of Job and modeling a turn-the-other-cheek response to vicious personal attacks, now endorses “the Donald”.

While some Christians are embracing Trump with open arms (in record numbers too), others are recoiling in horror. What accounts for this? How can the people of God be so separated in their responses to this man?

For one thing, it seems that Trump, like Jesus, is a person as to which neutrality is virtually impossible to maintain, at least for very long. Sure people today will list Jesus along with Ghandi, Bob Marley and others as wise teachers, which is the equivalence of neutrality, but that is not typical of the reactions when people met Jesus face to face. Like Trump, people were either drawn to him or repulsed.

But the comparison ends there. Except that people seem to see Trump as some sort of Messiah for the United States of America. Trump says he going to make America great again, and people believe him. They are lining up behind him. He is not to be confused with a pastor; he is a political leader, a zealot for the American ideals.

This Americanism is certainly not new. Not only we, but the world has viewed us a privileged nation. Some love us for it, and some hate us for it. This country has had a sense of destiny and greatness from the start when we were formed as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”.

But now we are divided, and increasingly so. As Abraham Lincoln boldly and challengingly proclaimed: “A house divided against itself cannot stand!” At that time, if you read the accounts of the Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers, they both fought with a sense of destiny and belief that God was on their side. But, whose house were they fighting for? The Union? God?

How ironic, and how like the situation we face today.

Men and women of God up to the highest ranks are divided over this man, Trump – deeply divided. He threatens to undo us. But, this division is not like the Civil War. The issues are not as clear cut. North and south are harder to place on the map of modern American politics. The issues are much more subtle and complex.

Yet, Trump has emerged as a chosen king, rallying the subjects to take over and displace the present occupiers. For what exactly, I am not sure.

To be sure, the present occupiers have overseen a period of time in which prayer has been removed from schools, God has been excluded from the classrooms, Christian values have been replaced by pluralistic and secular values and Christians are forced to pay homage to those pluralistic and secular values by the force of law.

While we still recite “one nation under God”, God is increasingly being forced out of the public square and relegated to the silence of the individual and hushed devotion in huddled places of worship and private homes. Or so it seems.

President Obama declared that the United States of America is no longer a Christian nation. It seems we are living in a post-Christian nation. The occupiers have taken over. It is their nation now.

And Trump is going to change all of that? This man who is no pastor? This man who finds no reason to turn to God for forgiveness of sins is going to usher in the Kingdom of God?

Trump actually reminds me not of Jesus, but of the person many people thought Jesus was. First Century Judea was not all that different from 21st Century America. The political government was loyal to Caesar, while the religious leaders were tolerated by Caesar. There was a tension between Church and State, then and now, but the State governed “the people”.

At the same there was a political movement driven by people of “the Church” (Jews) intent on overthrowing the occupiers and restoring political rule to the people. They were called zealots, and some of those zealots became followers of Jesus, including Simon the Zealot and Judas.

The writings that foretold a Messiah were written about 400 years before the birth of Jesus. The Zealot movement started even before that, and the Zealot were tired of waiting and determined to throw off Roman rule, forcibly if required, to restore the rule of Israel to itself as a nation under God.

The Zealots were a political movement by a people of religious culture, though, according to the Jewish tradition, the Zealot were not particularly religious. They aligned with the Pharisees (religious leaders of the time) and defended the Law (the Torah), but they were boorish, wild and aggressive. (Wikipedia) Sound familiar?

Some scholars believe that Judas was a Zealot because of his name, but other linguistic analyses casts doubt on the name connection. Still, the example of Judas in light of the Zealot movement may be instructive. Jesus would have been seen by the Zealots as the Messiah they hoped for, that was foretold by the prophets who would throw off Roman rule and re-establish the rule of the Israelites over the territory God gave to their forefather, Abraham.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem in what is described as the “triumphant entry”, the Zealots undoubtedly thought that the overthrow was near at hand. Imagine the incongruity: he should have ridden a chariot, but he came on a humble donkey. It was not long thereafter that Judas (and others) likely realized this is not the Messiah they expected!

In fact, some commentary speculates that the turn-the-other-cheek and not returning evil for evil principles Jesus proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount were likely aimed at the Zealot movement, which was violent and aggressive. Jesus was not like that, and that is not what he taught.

Some people liken Trump to Cyrus, the Babylonian king who allowed the Israelites to return to Judea and gave them the funds to rebuild the temple. Cyrus was no saint; he was no lover of God; he was a pagan king. God can obviously use whoever He wants to use for His purposes, even a donkey. But, the USA is not the nation of Israel or the Church. The United States is more like Assyria than Israel, but the Israelites did not vote for King Cyrus’s rule.

Trump is a man, like the other hopeful Messiahs who came and went during the life of Jesus. Two of them are mentioned in Acts 5:33-42 when Gamaliel, a prominent Jewish Pharisee, cautioned the Jewish leaders not to be reactionary to the early following of Jesus, citing the examples of two men who generated a following until they were killed, and their followers dispersed.

Gamaliel said, “if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them [the apostles].” (Acts 5:38-39) I suppose the same can be said of Trump. If he is “of God” he will not be overthrown. If he is of man, he will be just another man who had followers once.

More importantly, though, I am afraid that Donald, Trump, the Zealot, is the Messiah people want. As Israel demanded a king, I am afraid that Christians want a king, and anyone who remotely seems up to the task will be acceptable. I am afraid we have lost touch with the heart of God and are settling on earthly rule, instead of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said, “You will be hated by all men for My sake.” (Matt. 10:22) Paul said to Timothy, “All who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted.” (2 Tim. 3:12) The Church was not meant to rule in this time, but to be the suffering servants of God. The servant is not greater than the Lord; if they persecuted Jesus, they will persecute us. (John 15:20)

We do not need to elect a Zealot King; we need the grace of our Lord Jesus who poured Himself out for us; and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us pour ourselves out in the midst of a world that does not like us. We do not need a political Jesus who will gain a following in this age and then die away, we need the risen Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, who will come again at the end of this age who will sustain us as we follow His example.

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