The Anti-Imperial Message of the Cross

Neil Elliott, in an essay in Richard Horsley’s Paul and Empire entitled “The Anti-Imperial Message of the Cross,”[1] suggests that Jesus’ death on the cross was a message of the impending defeat of all earthly empires through Christ’s exaltation and coming kingdom. He argues this based on the fact that the cross was a weapon of Roman imperial dominance (citing Martin Hengel’s masterful Crucifixion) used to subjugate people groups and to continue the oppression of these same people groups. (Note that only Roman non-citizens, except for those Roman citizens accused of treason, could be crucified.) Rome is part of (and perhaps, to some extent, symbolic of) the “powers” that Paul says were defeated in Christ’s Resurrection, pointing ahead to God’s final triumph.

“It is the resurrection of Christ the crucified that reveals the imminent defeat of the Powers, pointing forward to the final triumph of God.”[2]

It’s very thought-provoking. In general, I don’t believe that we should use anti-imperialism as the lens through which we read all of the NT, but I find it hard to believe that there is no anti-imperial message in the NT at all.

[1] Neil Elliott, “The Anti-Imperial Message of the Cross” in Paul and Empire: Religion and Power in Roman Imperial Society, Richard A. Horsley (Trinity Press International, 1997), 167-183.

[2] Horsley, 181.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
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