Christ the King
Fr. George Mary Claret
Presently we don’t have a king as used to be in the olden days. We can only imagine and get a glimpse of it watching movies and documents on them, especially the ones on the Bible. In all of them, irrespective of the place, language, culture, time, religion, etc, we find them to be monarchs who lived in pomp and wealth, who lived on the goods of the subjects, mostly exploiting them for their selfish living.
In the Old Testament, we find that in the beginning the Israelites did not have a king of their own as had their neighbours. They believed that Yahweh himself was their king. That is why Gideon, one of the Judges in the Israel, said to the Israelites, "I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you" (Judges 8,23). But later the people, being persecuted and attacked by their neighboring kings like the Egyptian and the Philistines. They could no more believe in a King who is invisible to them. That is the reason they ask Samuel, the prophet to anoint a king for them. It is very interesting to note the conversation between the Israelites and Samuel, Samuel and Yahweh:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only - you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your locks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day." But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles." When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to their voice and set a king over them" (1 Samuel 8,4-22).
Thus the Israelites for their own doom demanded and got a king over them beginning from Saul, David, and Solomon who ruled the undivided Israel till 916 B.C when the Kingdom was divided South as Judah and North as Israel between Rehoboam son of Solomon and Jeroboam son of Nebat respectively (1 Kings 12-13). Israel, the Northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC (2 Kings 17) and Judah, the Southern kingdom in 587 by the Babylonians (2 Kings 25).
They returned back to their land after 50 years of exile. They never thought of having a king for themselves after that. The kings in Israel were anointed by Yahweh with the Spirit who led them. The presence of the Spirit is said to be the deciding factor for a king to be the king of Yahweh. This is very clearly seen in the life of Saul, the first king of Israel when he disobeyed Yahweh. “Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Samuel 16,14). When one is anointed king the spirit of the Lord comes on them which is witnessed in the life of kings. This is very clear in the anointing ceremony of David the most successful king of Israel. When David was anointed with oil by Samuel “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16,13). Therefore it can be concluded that it is Yahweh who was the King of the Israelites through the instrumentality of the human kings though the Israelites rejected Him to be so.
The Promise for a Messiah, King
The Jews were under one or the other empire after the division in 916 BC and they wanted freedom from the clutches of the foreign kings. During the exile and after that the prophets foretold of the Messiah who would be a seed of David. It was because of the covenant of Yahweh with David. Yahweh promised David through the prophet Nathan, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7,12-16).
It was this promise of Yahweh to the Israelites through the house of David that kept their hope alive in exile. This promise is very clearly stated in Isaiah: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (11,1-3a). They expected a political messiah, king who would free them from their political enemies. Prophet Jeremiah prophesied regarding the messiah saying, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness." Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, "As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." Then they shall live in their own land” (23,5-8). Prophet Ezekiel foretold of it saying, “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children's children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever” (37,24-25).
Jesus, the Christ
Jesus is king by the mere fact of his being born in the house of David. Matthew wrote the genealogy of Jesus keeping this in mind: to present Jesus as the Son of both Abraham and David (Matthew 1,1) and also of God which is clear from the dream of Joseph (Matthew 1,18-25). The Davidic covenant comes to its fulfillment when the angel Gabriel reveals to Mary about the greatness of the child to be born of her, saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1,30-33). This was the promise made to David by Yahweh through the prophet Nathan (cf. 2 Samuel 7,12-13; Psalm 89,36).
The anointing of Jesus as the king is fulfilled in his baptism at the Jordan. The baptismal account says, “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased” (Matthew 3,16-17). Thus Jesus is king not only because he was born of a seed of David but also because he anointed by the Spirit in his baptism. As David was anointed by Samuel, the prophet, Jesus was anointed by John the Baptist the last prophet. But in the case of Jesus, the Father spoke out certifying that Jesus was his Son, the king. This is the same statement found in the enthronement psalms. For example, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” (Psalm 2,7b).
But unlike the earthily kings and not according to the expectation of the Jews, Jesus is King in a much broader manner and he differs drastically from the earthly kings. Some of the qualities of Christ the King, in contrast to those of the earthly kings, are:
The earthly kings were recognizable with their own appearance itself. They wore glittering clothes, gold crown. They had majestic look that distinguished them different from all others. Jesus, while speaking about John the Baptist, questioned about his appearance, saying, “What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces” (Luke 7,25). But on the contrast the appearance of Christ, the King was too painful for anyone even to look at him.
The Scripture says of his appearance: scarlet robe, crown of thorns, and a reed in his right hand (symbolizing his Cross, the symbol of his Kingdom). Matthew describes about his look and the worship at the hand of the soldiers in the following words: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head” (27,27-30).
2. His Place of Living (Abode)
Kings had their own geographical state or kingdom or empire and a huge palace with all the facilities, including numerous concubines. It is said that king Solomon had almost one thousand women to quench his sexual thirst. The account says, “King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the Israelites, "You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you; for they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods"; Solomon clung to these in love. Among his wives were seven hundred princesses and three hundred concubines” (1 Kings 11,1-3).
But the King of the whole creation had not even a house to live in. He had no abode of his own. That is why he said, “A scribe then approached and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8,19-20). He lived a life of purity, in body, mind and soul. He was, or rather is purity itself. He lived a celibate life by conquering all the desires and lust of the body and mind. He was king in the true sense, first of all king over his very self.
When died he had no place to be buried. It was an indication that he was poor. For the Jews burial place is a must. Anyone who has no burial place was considered a sinner, rejected by God himself. That was the case of Jesus. He had to be buried in someone else’s burial cave (cf. Mt 27,57-61; Jn 19, 38-42).
Army is a must for any kingdom, even present democratic countries have army to safeguard the country from the enemies. If the present civilized and educated generation feels the need for the army, what about in the time of Jesus. That was a time of monarchy when every king wanted to spread his kingdom and empire. Look at Christ the King, he had neither an army nor any armour either to defend himself or to expand his kingdom. He had only twelve men around him most of whom were illiterate. All of them were cowards. Simon who was named Peter, to be the head the Church was coward number one. He was very emotional and instinctual. He would promise Jesus that he would even die for him, saying, “even though all become deserters, I will not … Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14,29-31). But he could not even acknowledge Jesus to a servant-girl (cf. Mt 27, 69-75).
Judas Iscariot was a thief and greedy man. He was so greedy that he could sell even his master for mere thirty silver coins. The Scripture says that it was Judas himself who went to the chief priests to betray Jesus and not the other way. The Bible says, “Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, "What will you give me if I betray him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver” (Mt 26,14-15). The story of the other disciples is no better. This is the army that Christ the King had chosen to spread his kingdom (cf. Lk 6,12-16).
It is because God does not need strong, intelligent, and perfect people to do his will. He did not depend on the army of Israel to give victory to His chosen People. He chose the weakest to redeem His people. Moses is one of the best known examples in this regard. They were only His instruments. It was Yahweh who worked through them. When Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3,10). God assured him that He will be with him. Moses was a stammerer and so expressed his inability, saying, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex 4,10). The answer of Yahweh is very interesting. He said, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will e with your mouth ad teach you what you are to speak” (Ex 4,12).
Gideon, the judge, was another example of this. He was commissioned by God while he was beating out wheat in the wine press. But he answered saying, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6,15). The response he gets from God is similar. He said, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them” (Judges 6,16). Jonathan, the son of the first king Saul, expressed the truth that it is God who saves, saying, “Come let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will act for us; for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14,6). The genealogy of Jesus shows whores / prostitutes as his ancestors. For God nothing is impossible. It is because power is seen better in weakness as St. Paul says, “For whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12,10b). God purposefully chooses the fools and the weak. St. Paul, once again writes of it very clearly, saying, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1,27-29).
4. Universal King
Kingdom is normally understood to be a geographical area which is ruled by a king or a queen. But Jesus’ Kingdom is not restricted to any geographical area. He is the universal King. He is the Lord of the universe. Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour, the Redeemer, the true King of the whole of the creation. He is King because of two reasons. The first is that He, being God Himself, is the King of the whole universe which was created by the Father through Him (cf. Jn 1,3). Every thing was created by Him, for Him (cf. Col 1,16; Rom 11,36). Secondly, He is the Head of the whole of the creation, as He became a part of the creation through incarnation. Being truly man, Jesus became “the first born from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything” (Col 1,18b). He earned it for Himself through His very life as the hymn of kenosis testifies: “
Though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death –
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and have him the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2,6-11).
The explanation and continuation of this passage could be found in his Letter to the Ephesians that says, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1,20-23). Knowing this, Jesus too spoke of it after His resurrection while commissioning His disciples to preach and to baptise, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28,18).
There are ample prophesies about the indication of the Divine Kingship, the coming of the Messiah, in the Royal Psalms. “You are my King and my God” (Ps 43,4).“The Lord is king forever and ever” (Ps 10,16). He is the King of the universe. That is the very reason that the whole of creation, especially the nature sing His glory. “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the LORD!” (Ps 93,1-4). This glorifying goes on in Psalm 97 as well as it says, “The LORD is king! Let the earth rejoice; let the any coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth…” (Ps 97,1-5).
The whole of the nature is aware of the kingship of God as He has put it in them since they are not rational. But human beings, being rational and having the ability to reason out, must do it using the capacity God given us. There human beings too must glorify Lord, their King as the Psalmist sings, “The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! Might King, lover of justice, you have established justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!” (99,1-5). These prophesies are fulfilled in the Person of Jesus the Christ, the King.
That is the reason Jesus is called Lord, a title used only for Yahweh in the Old Testament. He is the Messiah of the whole of the universe. Messiah comes from the Hebrew term masiah, meaning “anointed one”. “Messiah” is the title used to address the king of Israel and of the anointed priest. This Hebrew term is translated as “Christos” in Greek and Christ in English. This Messiah is the Saviour who comes to save the whole world from the clutches of sin, law, and death. His kingship is acknowledged by many starting with the annunciation by the angel Gabriel as he said, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1,32-33). His disciples too acknowledged His kingship and one such case is of Nathanael who said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (Jn 1,50). When the people witnessed His works, they wanted to make Him their king. The Fourth gospel says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus relaised that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (6,14-15).
This happened this way, because He is not enthroned as King by the people rather by the Father Himself. His Kingdom is not of this world, restricted to a particular geographical area, time, and people. He is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19,16).
Christ is definitely King. But his Kingdom is not restricted to any geographical boundary. He is the King of everything that is. But He is King in a different sense and His qualities are very different from those of the earthly kings as already seen. The most obvious of them all is that He is the King who goes ahead in the battle and dies to save His subjects. He gives his life freely for His own. He loves them to the end. St. John writes about His love for His own, saying, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (13,1c). He expects that all who accept Him to be their King must become like Him in everything. As the King is holy so must we, His subjects, must become holy, worthy of Our King and Lord.