Can Political Enemies Be One in Christ? (Zealots & Tax Collectors)

Tim Arndt

“I don’t know how you can be a Christian and a Democrat.”


“I can’t understand why any believer would vote for Trump.”



The political landscape is more divided than ever and Christians on different sides feel increasingly separated by the political chasm between them.


Most Christians feel their faith is guiding their political views, so it comes as a shock to see other Christians take sides with an opposing party.



With such strong disagreement, it can be hard to believe this command is even possible:


“Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ… standing firm in one spirit, with one mind” (Philippians 1:27).



So here’s the question:


Can Christians really be of one mind if they are in opposing political parties?



The answer is...


Yes!


In order to explain, let’s take a look at two political enemies in Biblical times.



Zealots and Tax Collectors

A few facts about Zealots

Zealots in the Bible Zealots had a violent reputation

The Holman Bible Dictionary says,


“The Zealots were the extreme wing of the Pharisees. In contrast with other Pharisees they believed only God had the right to rule over the Jews. They were willing to fight and die for that belief. For them nationalistic patriotism and religion were inseparable."


Fact #1: The Zealots were an extreme, politicized wing of the Pharisees who didn’t believe anyone was fit to rule the Jews besides God.



Easton’s Bible Dictionary says,


“They refused to pay tribute to the Romans, on the ground that this was a violation of the principle that God was the only king of Israel.”


Fact #2: The Zealots were not willing to pay taxes to the Romans.



The ISBE says,


“According to Josephus, they resorted to violence and assassination in their hatred of the foreigner.”


Fact #3: The Zealots were willing to kill their political enemies.



A few facts about Tax Collectors

Tax Collectors in the Bible No one likes paying taxes, especially to invaders.

The Holman Bible Dictionary describes tax collectors saying,


“Political office created by the Romans to help collect taxes in the provinces."


Fact #1: “Tax collector” was a political office.



Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary says,


“These greedy and cruel profiteers made their profit by collecting much more than they spent for their contracts (cf. Luke 19:2-8). The system allowed constant abuses of the public. We have evidence from Egypt that occasionally the publicans [tax collectors] were accompanied by the military or police to extort money from the public."


Fact #2: Tax collectors extorted money from the Jews and were protected by the Roman military.



GotQuestions.org says,


“These individuals were seen as turncoats, traitors to their own countrymen. Rather than fighting the Roman oppressors, the publicans were helping them—and enriching themselves at the expense of their fellow Jews.”


Fact #3: Tax collectors were viewed as traitors to the Jews since they aided the foreign, oppressive government of the Romans.


Zealots and Tax Collectors were political enemies

Let’s compare and contrast Zealots and tax collectors.


In summary the Zealots:


  1. did not accept Roman rule,
  2. did not pay Roman taxes,
  3. and were willing to kill their political enemies.



The tax collectors on the other hand:


  1. sided with the Romans,
  2. collected taxes for the Romans,
  3. and became political enemies of their own people.



Zealots and tax collectors were natural enemies.


While Zealots hated the Romans, tax collectors sided with the Romans.


While Zealots refused to pay taxes to the Romans, tax collectors literally collected taxes for the Romans.


While Zealots were willing to kill the enemies of their people, tax collectors were willing to become enemies of their own people for their personal prosperity.


The conflict between these two groups of people was so intense, it makes American politics look like a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos in comparison.



So what do Zealots and tax collectors have to do with political enemies being one in Christ?


It’s this shocking fact:


Jesus called Zealot and tax collector alike to be his apostles.




United under Jesus' banner

simon the zealot matthew levi the tax collector jesus apostles disciples bible

It is well know that Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9).


However Simon was a Zealot (Luke 6:15).


We know that both of these became Jesus’ disciples, but more than that, they actually cooperated together in ministry.



Right after Jesus ascended into heaven, Acts 1:13-14 describes the Apostles saying,


...Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.



Here we see two men who should hate each other in "one accord".


We see two men who should be fighting actually praying together.


Their unity is a powerful testimony to Jesus' power that transforms the greatest of enemies into partners in the gospel.


A Lesson for Christians Today

If we let political differences divide the church, the church loses.


If we let political agenda distract us from the great commission, we are missing the point.



As long as we are on this earth, Christians will disagree about many things, including politics, but Jesus unites us under his banner.


He bring us together at foot of the cross.


He adopts us into God’s family and commissions us to spread the good news.



So don’t let your political beliefs keep you from loving others.


Don’t let your political fervor compete with your passion for the gospel.


As Christians, we answer to a higher power.


We have a very great savior, and a very great God.


And he calls his people to unity.



Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Philippians 1:27).



See other posts by Tim (Bio below)

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Tim is the senior editor for the ABC Voices blog. He is the director of the Michigan Apologetics Network and is the chapter director of Ratio Christi at Grand Valley State University. Tim and his family worship with Allendale Baptist Church where Tim serves as an Assistant Pastor. Anyone who meets Tim easily remembers him as the tallest Filipino they've ever met.