It was not easy to trap Jesus in ethical or theological dilemmas. But that did not stop the Jewish leaders from trying. Jesus made it clear that His kingdom is not “of this world” (John 18:36). His kingdom, which properly belongs to the age to come, was breaking into this world and this present age. So how, the Jews wondered, did His kingdom relate to the institutions of our time, such as the family and the state?
In Luke 20, the Sadducees pushed the family question on Him, constructing a thought experiment about the nature of marriage in the resurrection for a widower who remarries. Jesus responded, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (vv. 34–35). Family is an enduring creation ordinance, but the kingdom of the age to come operates in a different way.
When the Jewish scribes and elders asked Jesus whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, Jesus asked them to show Him a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription was on it? When they responded, “Caesar’s,” Jesus drew His conclusion: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (vv. 22–25). In a subversive way, Jesus radically limited the authority of Caesar and showed the unlimited authority of God. The likeness on the denarius meant they owed tribute to Caesar, but the image of God, stamped onto our human nature, means we owe our very lives to the maker of heaven and earth. Government is an enduring creation ordinance, but the kingdom of the age to come operates in a different way.
The City of God and the City of Man
In the fifth century, Augustine wrote The City of God, his magisterial work of political theology wherein he contrasts the civita Dei (city of God) with the civitas terrena (literally, city of the world). In popular circles, Augustine is widely misunderstood to have been talking about the City of God as life in heaven versus the City of Man as life on earth in the material realm. In that understanding, we are members of both the City of Man and the City of God. But in reality, Augustine was talking about two communities or groups of like-minded individuals with competing visions of both heaven and earth. The City of Man begins—and this is crucial—not with creation but with the fall. Its desires and agenda are deeply disordered, driven by love of self and not of God, and operating according to the standards of the flesh and not the Spirit. The redeemed, who make up the City of God, seek God as the highest good and orient everything around love for Him. As Christians, then, we live among the City of Man but belong to the City of God.
In but Not Of
Augustine’s paradigm has deep biblical roots. As we live in this world, we recognize that “here we have no lasting city” (Heb. 13:14); like Abraham, we look “forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:10). And yet, even though we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) who call no place on earth our permanent home, we are also commanded to “seek the welfare of the city . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf” (Jer. 29:7). We are not to be “of the world” but are irreducibly “in the world” and sent deeper “into the world” as ambassadors and emissaries of Christ (John 17:15–16; see 1 Cor. 5:9–10). We are to be transformed by the Word instead of conformed to the world (Rom. 12:2). We are to keep ourselves “unstained from the world” (James 1:27)—and yet we must taste like salt and shine like light (Matt. 5:13–16) to a dark and rotting culture around us (see Phil. 2:15).