Jewish intellectuals frequently say that the continuing politico-economic oppression on earth is proof that Messiah has not yet come. The meaning of messianic realization is such, they argue, that to dissociate the Gospel from an end to political oppression annuls the case for Jesus’ divine sonship.

Radical activist theologians have insisted that Jesus’ gospel was centrally political, that its very essence is liberation of the oppressed from socio-political injustices. But it is impossible to square this emphasis with the fact that Jesus’ program involved no direct challenge to the political system of the Romans, whose oppression was the source of the social, economic, and political grievances that dominated Jewish life in his day. Moreover, Jesus’ ministry was more concerned with personal spiritual relationships than with any forcible alteration of socio-political structures. Those who consider socio-political liberation to be the essence of the Gospel should ask themselves, furthermore, where and when the proclamation of their message has achieved such utopian results.

The New Testament does indeed emphasize—as in the Book of Revelation—that oppressive powers will ultimately be overthrown. But are we to infer that the real Messiah has not yet come because evil has not yet been wholly subordinated? Does Christianity proclaim messianism wholly without politico-economic liberation?

To make socio-political liberation the criterion of Messiah’s presence blurs the biblical picture of Messiah. Such a criterion is too open-ended, since one can intend the cessation of exploitation and oppression—that is, an improved economic and political outlook—without intending love in community. Even where nourished by noble intentions, revolution ...

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