A revolution is commonly viewed as an attempt to overthrow an unjust and oppressive system. Many times revolutions are ignited by acts of violence perpetrated by those seeking power or liberation.
Jesus ignited a revolution unlike any other catalogued in the chronicles of human history. His gospel revolution seeks a renewed world liberated from the oppressive tyrannies of sin, Satan, and death. Jesus sought to establish justice and overthrow those oppressive forces not by immediately seizing power but by surrendering power. He willfully endured a violent act perpetrated against Him in order to inaugurate His kingdom’s presence in the world. In so doing, Jesus not only ignites His gospel revolution but invigorates our participation in it.
One of the most moving passages in English literature comes toward the end of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, a story of the French revolution. Each day a grim procession of prisoners traced the streets of Paris on their way to the guillotine. In one of the processions was Sidney Carton, a brave man who took his friend’s place in the procession. Beside him there was a young girl. They had met before in the prison, and the girl noticed his substitutionary sacrifice as well as the gentleness and courage of the man’s countenance. She said to him “If I may ride with you, will you let me hold your hand? I am not afraid, but I am little and weak, and it will give me more courage.” So they rode together, her hand in his; and when they reached the place of execution there was no fear in her eyes. She looked up into the quiet composed face of her companion, and said “I think you were sent to me by heaven.”
Jesus is the One sent from heaven to serve as our substitutionary sacrifice. After taking our place on the cross, He then takes our hand and leads us through the world as we find ourselves swept up as both beneficiaries of and participants in His gospel revolution.
Aside from Jesus’s resurrection, only one miracle appears in all four New Testament gospel accounts—The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Mk. 6:30-44, Jn. 6:1-13; Mt. 14:13-21; Lk. 9:10-17). Popular understandings of this story rightly emphasize the compassion and provision of Christ found therein. This popular miracle story also frames the nature of Jesus’s gospel revolution—particularly as it is found in Mark’s account.
Several features merge in support of the story’s revolutionary element. For starters, Jesus performs the miracle in rural Galilee, which was as stronghold for the Zealot movement. The Zealots were a militant group of Jewish nationalists. Their founder, Judas the Galilean, was born and raised in the hills of Bethsaida. They desired and conspired to liberate Israel from Roman oppression. Many zealots hoped the Messiah would be a strong military figure sent by God to lead such a revolution. Moreover, as Jesus ministered throughout Galilee, “many were coming and going” to Jesus (Mk. 6:31). The language suggests a clandestine rhythm of people scoping Jesus out perhaps hoping he was the highly anticipated, military-minded Messiah.
Moreover, when Jesus saw the great crowd, we are told that He viewed them as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mk. 6:34). New Testament scholar James R. Edwards writes,
“Although this image elicits pictures of Jesus helping weak and helpless sheep (Mt. 9:36), a pastoral connotation is not its primary connotation in Jewish tradition. As a metaphor, the shepherd of sheep was a common figure of speech in Israel for a leader of Israel like Moses (Is. 63:11), or more often a Joshua-like military hero who would muster Israel’s forces for war (Numb. 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; 2 Chr. 18:16; Jer. 10:21; Ezek. 34:5; 37:24; Nah. 3:18; Zech. 13:7; Jdt. 11:19). It is, in other words, a metaphor of hegemony, including military leadership and victory.”
Perhaps the most poignant sign of the story’s revolutionary element occurs at the end of the miracle. John writes, “When the people saw the sign they had done, they said, ‘This is indeed, the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (Jn. 6:14-15). The crowd of people clamored for a revolution. They hoped Jesus would be a militant messiah who would lead the charge against Roman oppression and occupation of Israel.
Jesus is the Messiah. He certainly entered the world intending to ignite a revolution– just of a different sort. He established His kingdom in the world; yet, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 19:36), meaning His kingdom is an alien kingdom characterized by alien values. His revolution, then, would be a gospel revolution unlike anything the world had ever seen.
A revolutionary ethos permeates the story of Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand. A close examination of the story discloses three utterly unique characteristics of a gospel revolution.
A gospel revolution is . . .
. . . a compassionate revolution of word and wonder.
. . . a powerful revolution of participation and provision.
. . . a subversive revolution of sacrifice and service.