Mennonite theologian Ted Grimsrud, in the upcoming Cascade book Instead of Atonement, writes about how the Powers, such as the state, are put in the proper place by Jesus’s confrontation of them. Here’s an especially pertinent passage:
On the one hand, as with his call to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s, Jesus seems to allow for a legitimate role for human government. There are things we do rightly give to Caesar, though our ultimate loyalty belongs to God. And Jesus did have had some positive encounters with members of Rome’s occupying military forces.
On the other hand, the Gospels generally speak negatively about human government. They link Satan with political power in the story of Jesus’s temptations in the wilderness and label the state’s typical style of leadership as a type of “lording it over” that is forbidden to Jesus’s own followers. Most seriously, government leadership as characterized by Pontius Pilate treated Jesus with disdain and issued the orders to put Jesus to death.
So, for Jesus not to stay dead serves to rebuke those forces that killed him. They were not all-powerful; more importantly, they actively rejected God’s Son. The alternative type of politics Jesus embodied, to practice servanthood rather than to lord it over and to treat each person with respect rather than disdain, highlights the flaws in authoritarian politics. “That God had vindicated Jesus by resurrection . . . was empowering evidence that God was indeed engaged in the broader agenda of judging the empire,” writes Richard Horsley.
The ultimate rebuke toward the empire, the state turned authoritarian, came with the endorsement of Jesus as true king (Messiah) and true lord (Caesar) at the end of his life. God’s raising Jesus from the dead definitively challenges those who trust in God to turn from giving higher loyalty to human kingdoms. The nations lord it over others and kill prophets. They tend to be Powers run amok that go far, far beyond their legitimate role of providing for the order and justice necessary for all human societies to function.
Rome exercised its “almighty” power in ending Jesus’s life, just as it did with countless others crucified as political offenders. However, in this case the power turned out to be limited. Rome cannot keep Jesus dead. The most extreme act of violence the empire could take was unable to defeat God’s purposes. As Warren Carter notes, “Even soldiers and stones (Matt 27:62–66), lies, imperial propaganda, and bribe money—a veritable catalog of elite manipulative strategies—can not do it (Matt 28:11–15).” The empire’s governor, Pontius Pilate had the power to bring about death. In this case, though, that power was not allowed the final word.