KING, CHRIST AS [ISBE]
KING, CHRIST AS
- || I. THE REALITY OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP
1. The Old Testament Foreshadowings
In the Psalms and Prophets
2. The Gospel Presentation
(1) Christ's Claim to Be King
(2) Christ's Acceptance of the Title
(3) Christ Charged and Condemned as King
(4) The Witness of the Resurrection and of Apostolic Preaching
(5) The Testimony of the Epistles and Apocalypse
II. CHRIST'S TITLE TO KINGSHIP
1. By Birth
2. By Divine Appointment
3. By Conquest
4. By the Free Choice of His People
III. THE NATURE OF CHRIST'S KINGSHIP
(1) Kingdom of Grace, of Power
(2) Kingdom of Glory
I. The Reality of Christ's Kingship.
There can be no question but that Christ is set before us in Scripture as a king. The very title Christ or "Messiah" suggests kingship, for though the priest is spoken of as "anointed," and full elucidation of the title as applied to Jesus must take account of His threefold office of prophet, priest and king, yet generally in the Old Testament it is the king to whom the epithet is applied.
1. The Old Testament Foreshadowings:
We may briefly note some of the Old Testament predictions of Christ as king. The first prediction which represents the Christ as having dominion is that of Jacob concerning the tribe Of Judah: "Until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be" (Gen 49:10); then kingly dignity and dominion are suggested by the star and scepter in Balaam's prophecy (Nu 24:15-17). As yet, however, Israel has no king but God, but when afterward a king is given and the people become familiar with the idea, the prophecies all more or less have a regal tint, and the coming one is preeminently the coming king.
In the Psalms and Prophets
We can only indicate a few of the many royal predictions, but these will readily suggest others. In Ps 2 the voice of Yahweh is heard above all the tumult of earth, declaring, "Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." So in Psalms 24; 45; 72; 89 and 110 we have special foreshadowings of the Messianic king. The babe that Isaiah sees born of a virgin is also the "Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6,7), of the increase of whose government there shall be no end, and as the prophet gazes on him he joyfully exclaims: "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness" (Isa 32:1). Jeremiah, the prophet of woe, catches bright glimpses of his coming Lord, and with rapture intensified by the surrounding sorrow cries: "Behold, the days come, saith Yahweh, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land" (23:5). Ezekiel, dwelling amid his wheels, sees in the course of Providence many revolutions, but they are all to bring about the dominion of Christ: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn .... until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him" (21:27). Daniel sees the rise and progress, the decline and fall of many mighty empires, but beyond all he sees the Son of man inheriting an everlasting kingdom (7:13). Hosea sees the repentant people of Israel in the latter days seeking Yahweh their God, and David (the greater David) their king (3:5). Micah sees the everlasting Ruler coming out of Bethlehem clad in the strength and majesty of Yahweh, who shall "be great unto the ends of the earth" (5:4). Zechariah, exulting in His near approach, cries: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee" (9:9), and he follows His varied course through gloom and through glory, until the strong conviction is born in his heart and expressed in the glowing words: "Yahweh shall be King over all the earth" (14:9). The more extreme higher critics would, of course, deny that these are direct predictions of Jesus Christ, but most, if not all, would admit that they are ideal representations which were only fully realized in Jesus of Nazareth.
2. The Gospel Presentation:
The Gospels present Christ as king. Matthew, tracing His genealogy, gives special prominence to His royal lineage as son of David. He tells of the visit of the Magi who inquire for the newborn king of the Jews, and the scribes answer Herod's question by showing from Micah's prophecy that the Christ to be born in Bethlehem would be a "governor," and would rule, "be shepherd of my people Israel" (Mt 2:5,6). Luke's account of the Nativity contains the angel's declaration that the child to be born and named Jesus would occupy the throne of David and reign over the house of Jacob forever (Lk 1:32,33). In John's account of the beginning of Christ's ministry, one of His early disciples, Nathanael, hails Him as "King of Israel" (Jn 1:49), and Jesus does not repudiate the title. If Mark has no such definite word, he nevertheless describes the message with which Jesus opens His ministry as the "gospel" of "the kingdom of God" (1:14,15). The people nurtured in the prophetical teaching expect the coming one to be a king, and when Jesus seems to answer to their ideal of the Messiah, they propose taking Him by force and making Him king (Jn 6:15).
(1) Christ's Claim to Be King
Christ Himself claimed to be king. In claiming to be the Messiah He tacitly claimed kingship, but there are specific indications of the claim besides. In all His teaching of the kingdom it is implied, for though He usually calls it the "kingdom of God" or "of heaven," yet it is plain that He is the administrator of its affairs. He assumes to Himself the highest place in it. Admission into the kingdom or exclusion from it depends upon men's attitude toward Him. In His explanation of the parable of the Tares, He distinctly speaks of His kingdom, identifying it with the kingdom of God. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity. .... Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt 13:41-43). He speaks of some seeing "the Son of man coming in his kingdom" (Mt 16:28), of the regeneration, "when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory" (Mt 19:28), of Himself under the guise of a nobleman who goes "into a far country, to receive for himself a kingdom," and does receive it (Lk 19:12-15).
(2) Christ's Acceptance of the Title
When the mother of John and James comes asking that her two sons may occupy the chief places of honor in His kingdom, He does not deny that He is a king and has a kingdom, while indicating that the places on His right and left hand are already determined by the appointment of the Father (Mt 20:21-23). He deliberately takes steps to fulfill the prediction of Zec: "Behold, thy king cometh," and He accepts, approves and justifies the hosannas and the homage of the multitude (Mt 21:1-16; Mk 11; Lk 19; Jn 12). In His great picture of the coming judgment (Mt 25), the Son of man sits upon the throne of His glory, and it is as "the king" that He blesses and condemns. The dying thief prays, "Remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom" (Lk 23:42), and Jesus gives His royal response which implies full acceptance of the position.
(3) Christ Charged and Condemned as King
His claim throughout had been so definite that His enemies make this the basis of their charge against Him before Pilate, that He said that "he himself is Christ a king," and when Pilate asks, "Art thou the King?" He answers, "Thou sayest," which was equivalent to "yes" (Lk 23:2,3). In the fuller account of John, Jesus speaks to Pilate of "my kingdom," and says "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end have I been born" (Jn 18:37). His claim is perpetuated in the superscription of the cross in the three languages: "This is the King of the Jews," and although the priests wished it to be altered so as to detract from His claim, they yet affirm the fact of that claim when they say: "Write not, The King of the Jews; but, that he said, I am King of the Jews" (Jn 19:21). The curtain of His earthly life falls upon the king in seeming failure; the taunt of the multitude, "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross" (Mk 15:32), meets with no response, and the title on the cross seems a solemn mockery, like the elaborate, cruel jest of the brutal soldiers clothing Him with purple, crowning Him with thorns and hailing Him King of the Jews.
(4) The Witness of the Resurrection and of Apostolic Preaching.
But the resurrection throws new light upon the scene, and fully vindicates His claims, and the sermon of Peter on the day of Pentecost proclaims the fact that the crucified one occupies the throne. "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (Acts 2:36). The early preaching of the apostles, as recorded in the Acts, emphasizes His lordship, His kingship; these men were preachers in the literal sense--heralds of the king.
(5) The Testimony of the Epistles and Apocalypse.
We need not consider in detail the testimony of the Epistles. The fact that Christ is king is everywhere implied and not infrequently asserted. He is "Lord of both the dead and the living" (Rom 14:9). He is risen "to rule over the Gentiles" (Rom 15:12). "He must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor 15:25). He is at the right hand of God "above all rule, and authority," etc. (Eph 1:20-22). Evil men have no "inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph 5:5), and believers are "translated into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col 1:13). He has been given the name that is above every name "that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow," etc. (Phil 2:9-11). Those who suffer with Christ are to "reign with him" (2 Tim 2:12), at "his appearing and his kingdom" (2 Tim 4:1), and He will save them "unto his heavenly kingdom" (2 Tim 4:18); "the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:11). Of the Son it is said: "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever" (Heb 1:8), and He is a King-Priest "after the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 7:17). In the Apocalypse, appropriately, the predominant aspect of Christ is that of a king. He is the "ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5), "King of the ages" (Rev 15:3), "King of kings" (Rev 17:14; 19:16), "and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev 11:15). The reality of Christ's kingship is thus placed beyond all doubt.
II. Christ's Title to Kingship.
1. By Birth:
After the analogy of earthly kingships it might be said that Jesus Christ is a king by birth. He was born a king. His mother, like His reputed father, "was of the house and family of David" (Lk 2:4). The angel in nouncing His birth declares that He will occupy the throne of His father David. The Pharisees have no hesitation in affirming that the Christ would be Son of David (Mt 22:45; Mk 12:35; Lk 20:41). Frequently in life He was hailed as "Son of David," and after His ascension, Peter declares that the promise God had made to David that "of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne" (Acts 2:30) was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; while Paul declares that the gospel of God was "concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3). So that on the human side He had the title to kingship as son of David, while on the Divine side as Son of God He had also the right to the throne.
2. By Divine Appointment:
David was king by Divine choice and appointment, and this was the ideal in the case of his successors. The figment of "Divine right"--by virtue of which modern kings have claimed to rule--was, in the first instance, a reminiscence of the Biblical ideal. But the ideal is realized in Christ. Of the coming Messianic King, Yahweh said: "Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Ps 2:6), and the great proclamation of Pentecost was an echo of that decree: "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified" (Acts 2:36), while the apostle declares that "God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:9), and again and again the great Old Testament word of Yahweh is applied to Christ: "Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet" (Heb 1:13).
3. By Conquest:
Often in the olden times kingship was acquired by conquest, by superior prowess. According to one etymology of our word "king," it means the "able man," "the one who can," and everyone remembers Carlyle's fine passage thereon. In the highest sense, this is true of Christ, who establishes His sway over men's hearts by His matchless prowess, the power of His infinite love and the charm of His perfect character.
4. By the Free Choice of His People:
Except in the most autocratic form of kingship, some place has been given to the suffrage of the people, and the other phases of the title have been confirmed and ratified by the voice of the people as they cry, "God save the king!" and no king is well established on the throne if he is not supported by the free homage of his subjects. Christ as king wins the love of His people, and they gladly acknowledge His sway. They are of one heart to make Him king.
III. The Nature of Christ's Kingship.
We know that the Jews expected a material kingdom, marked by earthly pomp and state; a kingdom on the lines of the Davidic or Solomonic kingdom, and others since have made the same mistake.
The Scriptures plainly declare, Christ Himself clearly taught, that His kingship was spiritual. "My kingdom," said He, "is not of this world" (Jn 18:36), and all the representations given of it are all consistent with this declaration. Some have emphasized the preposition ek here, as if that made a difference in the conception: "My kingdom is not of this world." Granted that the preposition indicates origin, it still leaves the statement an assertion of the spirituality of the kingdom, for if it is not from this kosmos, from this earthly state of things, it must be from the other world--not the earthly but the heavenly; not the material but the spiritual. The whole context shows that origin here includes character, for Christ adds, "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews." Because it is of an unworldly origin, it is not to be propagated by, worldly means, and the non-use of worldly means declares it to be of an unworldly character. So that to assert that Christ means that His kingdom was not to arise out of this world, but to come down from heaven, is not at all to deny, but rather, indeed, to declare its essential spirituality, its unworldliness, its otherworldliness.
Throughout the New Testament, spirituality appears as the prevailing characteristic of Christ's reign. Earthly kingdoms are based upon material power, the power of the sword, the power of wealth, etc., but the basal factor of Christ's kingdom is righteousness (Mt 5:20; 6:33; Rom 14:17; Heb 1:8, etc.). The ruling principle in earthly kingdoms is selfish or sectional or national aggrandizement; in the kingdom of Christ it is truth. Christ is king of truth. "Art thou a king then?" said Pilate. "I am," said Christ (for that is the force of "thou sayest that I am a king"). "To this end have I been born, and to this end am I come into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth," and He adds, "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (Jn 18:37). Elsewhere He says: "I am the .... truth" (Jn 14:6), and at the head of the armies of heaven He still wears the title "Faithful and True" (Rev 19:11); but if righteousness and truth occupy such a prominent place in His kingdom, it follows that it must be distinguished by its spirituality. His immediate subjects are spiritual men and women; its laws are spiritual; its work is spiritual; all the forces emanating from it, operating through it, centering in it, are spiritual.
The Jewish idea of the Messiah's reign was a narrow national one. For them it meant the glorification of the sons of Abraham, the supremacy of Judaism over all forms of faith and all systems of philosophy; the subjection to Jewish sway of the haughty Roman, the cultured Greek and the rude barbarian. The Messiah was to be a greater king than David or Solomon, but still a king after the same sort; much as the limits of the kingdom might extend, it would be but an extension on Jewish lines; others might be admitted to a share in its privileges, but they would have to become naturalized Jews, or occupy a very subordinate place. The prophetic ideal, however, was a universal kingdom, and that was the conception endorsed and emphasized by Christ. (For the prophetic ideal such passages may be noted as Psalms 2; 22; 72; Isa 11:10; Dan 7:13,14, etc.) Of course, the predictions have a Jewish coloring, and people who did not apprehend the spirituality might well construe this amiss; but, closely examined, it will be found that the prophets indicate that men's position in the coming kingdom is to be determined by their relation to the king, and in that we get the preparation for the full New Testament ideal. The note of universality is very marked in the teaching of Christ. All barriers are to be broken down, and Jews and Gentiles are to share alike in the privileges of the new order. "Many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 8:11), and stranger still to the Jewish ear: "The sons of the kingdom shall be cast forth into the outer darkness" (Mt 8:12). In the parables of the kingdom (Mt 13), the field, in which is sown the good seed of the kingdom, is the world, and the various other figures give the same idea of unlimited extent. The same thought is suggested by the declaration, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold" (Jn 10:16), also by the confident affirmation: "I, if I be lifted up, from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (Jn 12:32), and so with many other statements of the Gospels.
The terms of the commission are enough to show the universal sovereignty which Christ claims over men: "Go ye therefore," He says, as possessing all authority in heaven and on earth, "and make disciples of all the nations" (Mt 28:19), coupled with the royal assurance, "Ye shall be my witnesses .... unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The Book of Acts shows, in the carrying out of the commission, the actual widening of the borders of Christ's kingdom to include believers of all tions. Peter is taught, and announces clearly, the great truth that Gentiles are to be received upon the same terms as the Jews. But through Paul as the apostle of the Gentiles this glorious truth is most fully and jubilantly made known. In the dogmatic teaching of his Epistles he shows that all barriers are broken down, the middle wall of the fence between Jew and Gentile no longer exists. Those who were aliens and strangers are now made nigh in Christ, and "are no more strangers and sojourners, but ye are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph 2:19). That household, that commonwealth, is, in Pauline language, equivalent to the kingdom, and in the same epistle, he describes the same privileged position as being an "inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God" (Eph 5:5). The Saviour's kingdom cannot be bounded by earthly limits, and all attempts to map it out according to human rules imply a failure to recognize the true Scriptural idea of its universality.
(1) Kingdom of Grace, of Power.
Most of what we have said applies to that phase of Christ's kingdom which is generally called his kingdom of grace; there is another phase called the kingdom of power. Christ is in a special sense king in Zion, king in His church--that is universal in conception and destined to be so in reality--but He is also king of the universe. He is "head over all things"; Eph 1:22; Col 1:18, and other passages clearly intimate this. He rules over all. He does so not simply as God, but as God-man, as mediator. It is as mediator that He has the name above every name; it is as mediator that He sits upon the throne of universal power.
(2) Kingdom of Glory.
There is also the phase of the kingdom of glory. Christ's reign now is truly glorious. The essential spirituality of it implies its glory, for as the spiritual far surpasses the material in value, so the glory of the spiritual far transcends the glory of the material. The glory of worldly pomp, of physical force, of human prowess or genius, must ever pale before the glory of righteousness, truth, spirituality. But Christ's kingdom is glorious in another sense; it is a heavenly kingdom. It is the kingdom of grace into which saved sinners now enter, but it is also the kingdom of heavenly glory, and in it the glorified saints have a place. Entrance into the kingdom of grace in this earthly state secures entrance into the kingdom of glory. Rightly does the church confess: "Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ." The kingdom is yet to assume an externally glorious form. That is connected with the appearing of Christ (2 Tim 4:1), the glory that shall be revealed, the heavenly kingdom. The kingdom in that stage cannot be entered by flesh and blood (1 Cor 15:50), man in his mortality--but the resurrection change will give the fitness, when in the fullest sense the kingdom of this world shall have "become the kingdom of our Lord,, and of his Christ" (Rev 11:15).
It would be easy to multiply quotations in proof of this. The great passage in Dan 7 emphatically declares it. The echo of this is heard in the angel's announcement: "He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Lk 1:33). The reign of 1,000 years which so greatly occupies the thoughts of so many brethren, whatever we may decide as to its nature, is but an episode in the reign of Christ. He is reigning now, He shall reign forever. Rev 11:15, above quoted, is often cited as applying to the millennium, but it goes on to say "and he shall reign (not for 1,000 years simply, but) for ever and ever." So, many of the glowing predictions of the Old Testament, which are often assigned to the millennium, indicate no limit, but deal with the enduring and eternal.
The difficult passage in 1 Cor 15:24-28 must be interpreted in the light of those declarations concerning the eternity of Christ's reign. It is evidently as mediator that He delivers up the kingdom to the Father. The dispensation of mediator comes to an end. All has been done according to the purpose of redemption. All the ransomed are finally gathered home. He sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. Obdurate enemies are subdued. God's glory has been fully vindicated. The Son becoming subject to the Father, God governs directly and is all in all. But the Son in some sense still reigns and through Him God's glory will ever shine, while the kingdom eternally rests upon redemption.
We may summarize by saying that Christ is king of truth, king of salvation (Mt 21:5; Zec 9:9); king of grace; king of peace (Lk 19:38; Heb 7:2); king of righteousness (Heb 1:8; 7:2); king of glory (Mt 25:31-34); king eternal; king of saints, king of the ages; king of kings (Rev 19:16). "Upon his head are many diadems" (Rev 19:12).
See also CHRIST, OFFICES OF.