Any society must have some sort of leadership if it is to function effectively. In primitive societies the heads of families provided that leadership (Gen 14:14; 32:3-6). As societies developed, the leadership came from recognized officials who administered the affairs of the community (Ruth 4:2). There is great variety in the types of rulers who feature in the Bible, but the Bible consistently encourages God’s people to do what they can to cooperate with their rulers for the good of society as a whole (Jer 29:7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14).

Leadership in Old Testament

Israel Even when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and had no government of their own, senior men in the community were recognized as leaders (Exod 3:16; 4:29; 12:21). After the establishment of the Israelite nation under Moses, seventy elders were appointed to share the civil leadership with Moses. In the early days of Israel’s national life, these elders served as judges in matters of civil law (Exod 18:17-26; Num 11:16-17,24-25). As Israel’s administration developed, elders and judges became two separate groups of officials (Deut 21:2; 22:15; 25:7-8; Josh 8:33; 20:4; Judg 11:5; Micah 7:3; Zeph 3:3-4; see JUDGE). Religious affairs, however, were under the control of priests (see PRIEST). God wanted Israel to recognize him as their supreme ruler and to obey his laws. The priests and elders were merely the administrators of those laws. But the people failed to follow God’s laws, and the first few centuries of their national life in Canaan were marked by repeated judgments from God in the form of invasions from neighbouring nations.

In response to the people’s repentance, God raised up deliverers from among them to overthrow the enemy and re-establish his rule among them. But the peace was often followed by periods of disobedience, which brought renewed suffering (Judg 2:13-19; see JUDGES, BOOK OF). In search of stability, the people asked to have a king to rule over the whole nation, as neighbouring nations had. This was a rejection of God, for it was an attempt by the people to correct their problems by changing from one political system to another, rather than by changing from rebellion against God to obedience (1 Sam 8:4-7; see KING). The people got the monarchy they wanted, though even under the new system of government the elders retained considerable influence in the nation (1 Kings 8:1; 20:7; 21:8; 2 Kings 23:1). After the Jews’ captivity in Babylon and return to their homeland, the Persian overlords appointed prominent Jews to positions of leadership in the nation (Ezra 7:25-26; Neh 5:14; 7:2). During this period religious leaders became more and more involved in civil affairs. Their authority grew rapidly through the function of synagogues that began to appear throughout the country, and through the establishment of a national Jewish council called the Sanhedrin (Matt 23:2-4; 26:59; John 7:32; 9:22; see SANHEDRIN; SCRIBES; SYNAGOGUE).

Conditions in New Testament times

In spite of being under the rule of firstly Greece and then Rome, the Jewish leaders were able to maintain firm control over their people in many of the everyday affairs of life. In New Testament times they had considerable influence with the Roman authorities. In fact, the Jewish leaders were the ones really responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:1-2,20; Acts 4:8-10). Jesus recognized the authority of civil rulers, though he pointed out that they were responsible to God for the way they used their authority (Luke 20:25; John 19:11). Although he refused to use force against unjust treatment (Matt 26:52; John 18:36), Jesus showed, by being outspoken on one occasion and defiantly silent on another, his contempt for the misuse of power (Luke 13:32; 23:9).

When the rulers put him on trial, his conduct before them showed them clearly that he saw no justice in their actions. Yet he tried neither to escape nor to retaliate. In the end he was executed (Matt 27:11-14; John 19:9-11; 1 Peter 2:23). Christians likewise must recognize the authority of the civil rulers (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14,17), though they too will at times see the need to speak out against injustice (Acts 16:37-39; 25:8-11). Like Jesus they may suffer at the hands of unjust rulers (Matt 10:18; Acts 12:2-3), but they must not return evil for evil (Rom 12:17-19; 1 Peter 2:20-21; 3:14; see GOVERNMENT; JUSTICE). Because of their loyalty to God, Christians may at times have to disobey laws that are anti-Christian. As a result they may suffer imprisonment and even death (Acts 5:29,40-41; 1 Peter 4:16; Rev 13:6-7; 18:24). Through it all, however, God will be faithful to them, and in the end they will be the victors (1 Peter 4:19; Rev 2:10-11; 20:4; see MARTYR).

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