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Is the Bible against or for Political Liberation?

30 Nov. 2017 11:40 PM IST

The Prophet Isaiah prophesied about the coming of an “Anointed Ruler” whose mission was “to preach good news to the poor, … to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isa. 61:1). The political implication of the text here is obvious in view of the fact that this prophecy was given against the backdrop of Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Even the literary contexts suggest that this was primarily about Israel’s ultimate freedom under the Messiah who would deal with other human rulers and other nations in favor of His people at a future time (Isa. 60:1-22; 61:4-11). Thus, liberation, according to Isaiah, is not merely a spiritual experience. Rather, it has much to do with social, political and economic freedom on earth.
Jesus quoted this prophecy of Isaiah two thousand years ago (Luke 4:18-19). Now, the question is, did Jesus strip off all earlier political implications found in Isaiah’s prophecy and make it a purely spiritual thing, such as the deliverance of our souls from Satan?  Does the fact that He did not overthrow the Roman Empire and set up a literal kingdom on earth at His first advent imply that He has annulled the political implications in Isaiah’s prophecy?
My contention is that Jesus had not annulled or altered the political implications in Isaiah’s prophecy. Allow me to explain my reasoning: 
First, Jesus came to fulfill the Scriptures, not to annul or alter them (Matt. 5:17). So, He could not have changed the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Second, Jesus came as God’s anointed King. As such, He presented Himself as King and inaugurated the kingdom of God. In preaching about the kingdom of God, He affirmed His rule as a present reality, although that was very different from the way the world would have it. In a way, He sowed the “seed” of the kingdom at His first coming. The full manifestation of His rule still awaits a future time. To put it another way, what Jesus did in His first coming was a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in a limited sense.
Third, Jesus’ words on bringing hope to the poor, proclaiming freedom for the captives, and releasing the oppressed are all subjects of God’s kingdom politics. There were not just some theoretical subjects for talk. According to the Bible, Jesus literally identified with the poor, physically healed the sick, spiritually released the demon-possessed, and socially lifted up the status of the downtrodden. He went further: He opposed certain social groups (the wealthy, Pharisees, scribes, priests, and civil rulers) for oppressing the masses and producing victims in the society. In other words, Jesus’ kingdom is about the utopia of the poor, good health, spiritual wholeness, and liberation of the oppressed.
The fourth point is this: Jesus was opposed and killed because He was proclaiming the kingdom of God with the purpose of transforming the society in every way. To His opponents, He represented a threat to their established power systems. He was accused of seeking the subversion of the Jewish society. In His political trial, He was accused of offering a distinct alternative to the Roman Empire. As a result, the Jewish and the Roman authorities felt politically threatened. Even at His death, Pilate put an inscription on the cross that read “The King of the Jews.” Thus, from the standpoint of humanity, He died a political death. Although false accusations were many, even His opponents did recognize the political implications of His words and activities which radically affected their politics to the core. Likewise, those Jews at Nazareth who heard Him read from Isaiah’s prophecy clearly understood the political statement Jesus was making – that He was the Anointed One who would bring the promised socio-political liberation of God’s people on earth.
Now, what does all this mean for our Naga people? It means that our aspiration for political freedom from India, or from any other power, is in line with God’s idea of human liberation. As a matter of fact, the Nagas wanting Jesus as their King, despite our many shortcomings, seem to be part of God’s higher purpose. Even our desperate conditions as a suffering people under various oppressions seem to perfectly reflect the conditions of those described in Isaiah’s passage. In light of all these applicable truths, perhaps it won’t be presumptuous to pray that God would fulfill Isaiah 61:1-3 for us and manifest His reign through us in the world.
In my opinion, the Naga aspiration to be an independent nation-state was God-inspired. The movement started with a deep longing for freedom from the British Colonial Power and later from India’s neocolonialism, which is a reconstitution of previous colonial subjugation by new forms of political/economic dependency on the newly created Independent India. In addition, we have the Indian imperialistic tendency to establish and extend its subjugating control to the farthest reaches of the peripheries that were previously not her own. Having lived under this sort of political arrangement for seven decades, the Nagas of today seem to be totally confused and despondent. Amidst all this, the talks in our public squares are all about reaching an agreement, whatever it is, with India, as long as that is “honorable and acceptable” to all Nagas. Some others only want to see a complete closure to our Naga movement. That’s why they keep insisting on making a “final and permanent settlement,” possibly even if that means burying all the achievements we have made so far in our journey of becoming a nation among other nations.
So, could we pause to ask, what is really an honorable solution?  Is selling our God-given birthright to be a free people honorable? Also, think about this: The past generations offered their lives and everything they had for the Naga future; yes, for us they suffered and died in hunger, in thirst, in water, by sword and bullet. Now, would forgetting their sacrifices be considered honorable?

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Mazie Nakhro, PhD