NEW KIND OF KING – NEW KIND OF KINGDOM
“Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Mark 15:2)
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:33-37)
The events of the Easter story are the culmination of a long journey. When the Son of God quietly appeared out the back of a Bethlehem motel, nothing was happening to herald its significance. Even when the angelic choir appeared it was witnessed only by shepherds. When a particular star was noticed by some Persian astrologers, their journey didn’t really bring the brass bands into the streets for a parade. In spite of this, the reality was that more than two thousand years of history was waiting for this moment. Every book in the Old Testament contained mysteries that would only be revealed when Jesus came.
The journey from Bethlehem to Calvary was similarly a somewhat mysterious affair. Jesus was the Messiah but the only people who were willing to acknowledge this was a motley crew of individuals with questionable credentials by any standard. But the cross and the resurrection to follow were the events that separated history and changed the world. Looking back through the window they provide, we can see a clear and consistent storyline where the small events that happened over three years of Jesus’ ministry lead very clearly to his appointment with Calvary.
I am convinced that Jesus is the rightful King of the universe. The world as we know it and the people who inhabit it were created to be part of the realm over which he ruled. I believe that what we should be celebrating each year is the coronation ceremony of our king. What was a symbol of fear and shame in the eyes of the world was actually the accession of our king to his rightful throne. If it is hard to think about the cross as a rite of passage to the throne, then perhaps it is because we have not fully realised that Jesus is a very different kind of king from any we may be otherwise aware and he rules a very different kind of kingdom than any other. It will be vital for us to understand the differences lest we end up trying to build the kingdom of God as an earthly kingdom rather than one that represents the culture and glory of heaven.
It is clear that there was contention from the very beginning. You can’t imagine a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem being a threat to anything; nor can you believe that the son of a carpenter from a no-name place like Nazareth would amount to much. But as the old man Simeon said of him, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against….” (Luke 2:34) The fact was and is that the presence of Jesus on the earth was always going to threaten the incumbent illegitimate rulers. We can see through the course of his ministry that he didn’t walk up and down outside the temple with placards, nor did he abuse the authority of Rome, but his life, ministry and message posed a direct threat to each of them. If we can gain an understanding of why this was so, we will better understand how the cross and resurrection stand as ultimate signs of the battles that go on in every generation. We might, then, be better placed to know how we should engage with the illegitimate kingdoms of our own day.
The first of those authorities was the ruthless domination of Rome. Rome’s presence in Judea and Galilee was represented by various officials (including Pontius Pilate) and the Herodian kings (Herod the Great and Herod Antipas). Jesus was born during the last decade of the rule of Herod the Great, and it was this old Idumean puppet ruler who had ordered the children from Bethlehem to be killed when informed by the Persian magi that the signs told them of the birth of a king. Jesus had experienced a period of exile in Egypt as a result of Herod’s paranoid ruthlessness. It was his son, Antipas who arrested and beheaded John the Baptist and the same ruler to whom Jesus was sent, at first, by Pilate on the night of his arrest. The passage we are looking at today records the final encounter between Jesus and the Roman authorise as Pilate tries to find a way to avoid trouble and avoid sending Jesus to the cross. Pilate’s primary concern is to find out whether Jesus is some kind of “king.” Rome either made you a vassal or a victim. Kings needed to be appointed by Rome or be executed.
The second group of having adversarial authority during the life and ministry of Jesus was the various groups recognised as governing the religious life of Israel. They had the scriptures, they governed what happened in the temple, celebrated the festivals, policed the rabbinic traditions based on various interpretations of the Scriptures. Their power base was vested in the Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. This Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of Israel and exercised immense authority within the Jewish communities of Judea and Galilee. Their fierce determination to protect their heritage from Abraham and Moses was the stand out reactionary group within the whole of the Empire. The Romans tried to find a way of working with them without relaxing their hold on power, but it was an unholy alliance from both points of view. The groups involved under this umbrella include the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and Teachers of the law. They are all represented throughout the gospel accounts and are ubiquitous opponents of Jesus and his ministry.
The third group is a little harder to define but very easy to identify: I am referring to the Satan and the powers of darkness. This group has two distinct roles. The first is to empower and manipulate the people groups mentioned above and the second is to be directly involved in killing, stealing and destroying the lives, vocations, hopes and futures of people in all walks of life through indiscriminate acts of violation. We are told later in the New Testament that Satan uses four different weapons to usurp the authority that belongs to Jesus: control, manipulation, deception and direct destructive force (Ephesians 6:12). The first time we get a clear picture of demonic activity follows the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan. Jesus is strategically led to the desert to confront the devil in a direct series of encounters. Jesus successfully repels the Satanic suggestions (unlike the first Adam who succumbed). We are told the “devil left Jesus until an opportune time”(Luke 4:13) If you have any familiarity with the stories in the gospels you will notice that Satan shows up frequently: in the form of demonised people and through demonically concocted natural and human circumstances (storms on the lake). At the end when Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the last time, we are told Satan enters Judas (Luke 22:3) and tries to sift Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31).
I would love you to think with me as to when Jesus became King. I am aware that some will want to point out that Jesus was always a king and that what was happening from Bethlehem to Calvary was the king taking back territory that was rightfully his. Of course, that is true. The “when” question for you is to ask “When did Jesus take that rule back?”
Another group of people might want to tell me that even though Jesus has appeared as Saviour and Lord, his kingly rule waits for his second coming. I think the traditional way of saying this is, “Jesus, Saviour, Lord and soon-coming King,” or the Aimee Semple McPherson version, “Saviour, Baptiser with the Spirit, Healer and Coming King.” This, of course, has truth at its heart as well. Jesus final coming will be the consummation of the ages and will see satanic presence in the world completely destroyed. The question for this group is going to be, “When did Jesus begin to take up his rightful rule of the universe?”
My own view is that, just as Jesus was the “Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world,”(Revelation 13:8) we all know that the “slaying” took place at a particular time and in a specific place. It is that time-and-place event that we celebrate at Easter. It is important. No, it is the very core of everything about our faith. No cross, no Christianity. No resurrection, no Christianity. No cross, no kingdom of God. No resurrection, no kingdom of God. As Paul tells us, it is the bottom line. (1 Corinthians 15). But it is not the bottom line for religious or ceremonial reasons. It is not just to keep the paperwork right. It is because of what was happening through the cross and what happened at the resurrection that makes it the bottom line.
My proposition goes like this: Jesus became king on the day we call “Good Friday.” Isn’t it amazing that the cross is the pinnacle of the glory of Jesus Christ, like one of the old song declares:
“This is Jesus in his glory,
King of heaven dying for me.
It is finished he has done it.
Death is beaten; heaven beckons me.”
In the eyes of this world’s kingdom, it is a symbol of failure and the worst kind of shame. It was designed by the Romans to be the ultimate deterrent. Less than a hundred years before Jesus, the famous slave/gladiator, Spartacus had rallied thousands of other gladiators to oppose Rome. After a few successful battles (The Third Servile War) Crassus was dispatched with eight legions. When the rebels were defeated, 6,000 of them were crucified along the Appian way as a symbol of Rome’s attitude to rebels. It was so with the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The charge sheet was nailed above his head. The words were written in three languages, Greek, Latin and Hebrew: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
I know there have been many theories about Jesus going to hell and taking the keys from Satan and all of that. Some of it has modest Biblical warrant. What we know for sure is that it was Jesus’ death that defied the power of sin and death.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
So, the cross of Jesus Christ was the event that declared his victory. It was his version of a triumphal march into the city. Funny that he had experienced a prophetic event less than a week before as he entered the city on the colt of a donkey. Brian Zahn has recently made a compelling connection between the coming of Jesus to the city about the same time as Pontius Pilate came to the city from the base of his operations in Caesarea. He came to personally supervise things during the most volatile time of the year, at the feast of the Passover. Zahn points out that Pilate entered the city riding on a horse – may be a white horse, who knows. The symbols of Rome’s power accompanied him: enough soldiers to quell any riot that might occur and enforce any order Rome might feel like imposing. It was a preliminary show of force designed to warn everyone to behave. He represented the most powerful ruler in the world at that time.
Jesus came differently. He came on a small colt. It might have been so short that Jesus had to drag his feet along the ground. He came with no soldiers. He came with no preparations for any kind of fanfare. The closest thing to weapons on display were palm branches being laid out on the road in front of him. There was no kind of coercion at all, but the people began to shout out the messianic greeting from Psalm 118, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” This was brought about by a different presence than that of the Roman provincial governor. When the religious authorities berated Jesus and told him to stop the people from making a messianic claim, Jesus could only reply that if they were stopped, the stones would cry out in their place. Such was the presence of a very different kind of coming King. The promised Messiah (which means ‘King’ of course) was the Son of David promised through the pages of the Scriptures. There was another significant difference between the Roman ruler and Jesus. When Pilate arrived in the city, he would have gone to his lavish well-guarded quarters and rested, away from the troublesome belligerents. When Jesus came to the end of his parade, he fell down and wept for love over the resistant stubbornness of people whom he wanted to protect and nurture.
This king’s coronation was celebrated differently. This King was laying down his life to defeat the very powers of sin and death. He was declaring the universal advance of the kingdom of God. It began through his own ministry and then through the 120 who would remain in Jerusalem. The church would be become the body of Christ in every part of the earth to make known to earthly and the heavenly authorities that the rule of God was not by intimidation and control. It was not by manipulation or by deceit. This power would not be accessed by destroying what was innocent and good. It would be the power of sacrificial love. It was the power of redemption. Jesus coronation trumpeted a sound that few people at the scene understood. Sin and darkness were held up to ridicule. They were publicly shamed by divine love and the offer of free and full pardon and redemption to every person. This kind ruled through that very love. It is the only mark of his rule. The justice he brings is not about winning or losing. It is about redemptive purpose. The coronation of this king heralds the opportunity for people to be reconciled to God and to their vocation as children of God. It is an opportunity for individuals to celebrate the fact that they bear the image of God. They are designed to carry his presence and to fulfil his purpose. He is the king of that kind of kingdom.
When Jesus uttered the words “It is finished,” we have to be clear about exactly what was finished. If you read through the sermons in the Book of Acts and the references to the cross in the letters it is clear that the power of sin and death were defeated. Satan’s weapon for keeping people separated from God was unforgiven sin. The death of Jesus on the cross, as told by Jesus and the apostles, was a “ransom for many.” I am not going to pour through the atonement theories. I am more interested in outcomes than theories. All I know is that all of us now have access to God. Our sin has been carried where we can never find it. Satan’s basis of power is broken. Jesus has assumed his place as King of his Kingdom and Head of his Body, the church. It is his resurrection that declares the ultimacy of a new life. We are raised with him. This is a present reality as well as a future hope. We get the chance to live a new life with new citizenship (of heaven) and a new mission – to finish the job.
When Jesus came back to Galilee from the wilderness, his agenda was obvious: “The times have been fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:16) If the kingdom of God was “at hand” it is logical to assume that the presence of Jesus represented such a kingdom. When you have a few hours free to do something important, I suggest you read through one or other of the gospels and see precisely how that was worked for Jesus. It is the presence of Jesus himself that makes the kingdom of God near. As you come to each story, notice how Jesus turns each incident into a manifestation of the kingdom of God. You should also see how different the kingdom of God is and how differently Jesus models it. I dare you to remain unchanged in less than three chapters. More to the point, Jesus was the King doing royal kingdom of God works all the way to the cross. When he healed the king of health exercised the will of heaven over another ‘king’ (Satan) who wanted to steal that person’s health. When he cast out a demon, it was the king of freedom exercising his will over the ‘king’ (also called the ‘prince of this world’) of oppression and bondage. When an adulterous woman was brought to him on the assumption that she should be punished, it was the king of forgiveness ruling over the king of guilt and shame.
On all of these were occasions, the kingdom of God was advancing. Jesus told a crowd that this kingdom had been happening since the time of John the Baptist. (Matthew 11:12) There can be no kingdom without a king. Otherwise, it would have to be an ‘earldom’ or a ‘dukedom’ or, more commonly a ‘selfdom.’ This is more important than it may look. Cultures like my own (Australian) are heavily weighted toward self-centeredness and self-determination. As such, we tend to preserve our own ‘selfdoms.’ As a result, we like the idea of building communities based on kingdom values just so long as the idea of serving the ‘King’ is conveniently set aside. This is a problem in the church. We have churches that are profoundly committed to espousing kingdom values -e.g. providing amazing and heartfelt care for the poor. They are willing to suggest that the work of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked is a kingdom work of and by itself. And there is no doubt; it is wonderful work. My issue is that it is not necessarily kingdom work. Jesus, himself, tells us how to distinguish a kingdom of God work:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
When people glorify the God, we serve because of what he has done through us, we can be assured that it is a kingdom of God work. Jesus made it quite clear and public that he was acting only on the initiative of his Father. He constantly pointed people to his Father and not to himself. When people saw the kingly works in operation, they praised God for what they saw. Our culture loves people who do good works as long as they are detached from any association with King Jesus. As a result, we have been too willing to oblige them. As I said before, Jesus was very up-front about his relationship to the Father. Numerous times in the gospel of John he is recorded as saying, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” The work of the kingdom is to follow this model explicitly. We are to live the whole of our lives out of this relationship and do the works that flow from it. Just think for more than two seconds what is happening when we offer people some good works that might well cause people to say nice things about us, but to deny the Person to whom they belong and to suggest that they should happen without such a relationship. At best we are stealing his glory. At worst we are refusing to proclaim a gospel that has the power to change lives forever.
So, the church is to continue the ministry of Jesus – i.e. of living as servants of the kingdom and allowing others to know the good news that it is accessible. The church is meant to be the people living on the earth who, by the presence and power of the Spirit, give this kingdom tangible and visible form – everywhere. It means we will be challenging every other kingdom that happens to be operating in its place. I don’t know whether you are aware of it or not, but there is no space on or around the planet that doesn’t have some kind of incumbent ruler. Something or someone will always be exercising transcending influence. You have to read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians about ten times to get a feel for this. I would suggest you read it in two parts. Read 1:1 to 4:16 ten times. Make some notes. Tell the story it is telling in your own words and then make a summary of what it would look like if what you have been reading was happening. Then read 4:17 to the end the same number of times. Try not to get bogged down in detail. Try to catch the flow of what is being said. Then do the same as before: tell the story it tells and then figure out what it would look like if that stuff was happening. And if you still have the inclination at the end of all that, figure out what steps need to be taken to get from here to there. Among other things, the Ephesian letter gives a consummate picture of how the church. In my way of thinking, it is an apostolic view of the church in the real sense. Here are three mountain peaks on the horizon of Paul’s letter:
ONENESS “Heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promised in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2
INTIMACY “We can all approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3/4
FULNESS “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.” Ephesians 4
This is the way Jesus will make his kingly rule known. People who live in the communities of which this kind of church is a part will get to see the Jesus of the gospels. They will see it only if the church makes it tangible. He must be the tangible head, and the church must be his tangible body. There are a thousand ways this can be made known, and we have to learn to excel in them. It’s simple, but not easy. But it is the only thing worth pursuing for every church everywhere.
Why is it essential that we recognise the cross as the coronation ceremony for our King? I think there are two things to be said. The first is written about in Ephesians chapter three and the beginning of chapter four. The church is to make known the mystery and plan of God. That mystery is the fact that a new kind of humanity has been invented: people in Christ – not Australian people, or Chinese people – just people in Christ. When Paul prayed for this group of people, he prayed that they would know the love of Christ and the unity of the faith. Love and unity are the markers of a new kingdom. When this kingdom fully comes, we will have become the new heaven and the new earth spoken about in Revelation 21 and 22. That’s what we are supposed to be prophetically foreshadowing. We are meant to be the living testament to that ultimate reality. It is not about an event where those of us who are in Christ will have the pleasure of seeing all the terrible people burning in hell – as some preachers would like to paint a picture. Yes, there will be a final judgment and a separation, but the consummation of the ages will be the completion of what Jesus began. It will be completed as the church fulfils is calling on the earth. We are already part of a city God is building, not made with hands, eternal in the heavenly realm. It is an operation that runs on love and unity because that’s how heaven works. God’s kind of love displayed by Jesus and commissioned for the church is the sacrificial Calvary kind of love. It is the combination of John 3:16 and 1 John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.
God’s kind of unity is declared openly by Jesus in John 17 where he prays for the disciples of every generation, asking that they may experience his indwelling presence in such a way that they will become one after the relationship between Jesus and his Father. Because God’s kingdom is love-based oneness, it can only happen through free-will choosing. There is no love without free-will. It’s the same as the love that causes a man and a woman to stand somewhere before God and commit their lives to one another because of love that has come from their choosing. Its the same as the love we have for our children – who have their own free-will. We love them freely and wonderfully. Hopefully, they grow up loving us because they choose to. This new heaven and new earth will be comprised of people who have made that choice about Jesus. Because it is a matter of free-will, then it is possible for us to choose not to love and to choose not to pursue oneness. The resurrection of Jesus declares this calling valid. His presence and the Holy Spirit power that has been poured out makes it possible.
Let’s agree that these must be the things that shape us and our mission on the earth.
CONCLUSION: VICTORY is through DEATH and RESURRECTION
Jesus’s accession to the throne of the universe was through death leading to resurrection. The cross can only be associated with death. Everyone who went to a cross went to a horrible death. No one survived the cross. Jesus not only rose from the dead but pioneered a way of life that was going to celebrate both cross and resurrection. Death now becomes the doorway to a new life. This is the new principle. Paul was clear enough about. He said he faced death every day in some way. And so do we. There are all kinds of things that happen in our lives where we experience the pain and suffering of ‘death:’ when a marriage fails, when we suffer some sort of debilitating sickness when someone close to us dies – and a million other ways.
We are the people whose life is defined by the resurrection from the dead. We need to have no fear of death, not in the metaphorical sense nor the literal. Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee of a new life following death. It is weird to the cultural sensitivities of the kingdoms of this world. In those kingdoms, death either rules (as it does in some cultures where they are shaped by death) or it is avoided. Christians are the only ones who can face death with all of the sadness that it may bring, but with hope. That hope is the new life that Jesus walked out of the tomb to proclaim. It is our heritage, our privilege and our hope.
We need to become the people who have twenty stories to tell of resurrection. Sadly, so many believers are still locked into the pattern of this world. They remain imprisoned by some death they have experienced but have not embraced the resurrection from death that Jesus will always offer. Our Christian lives begin with this kind of experience: we commit to Christ and are baptised. That baptism is a burial ceremony of our former life, and it is the sign of rising from the watery grave to a new life – totally free from any obligation to our old “master” and freely bonded to our new master, Jesus. The rest of our Christian life ought to boast of similar experiences as we “put to death” things that need to die and “bury” things that have died. It seems that we are more likely to dwell on the death when we should be celebrating the resurrection. And by the way, that process is called “redemption.” It is a new life, a better life, renewed life is given in the face of death. When we face our physical death, it should be nothing more than a macro-version of what we have known in many foreshadowing experiences throughout our lifetime.
So, Jesus has become the king. He
is a different kind of king than any we have seen or will see among the samples
of human kingdoms. The realm it creates operates through the same kind of
self-giving love to build a new heaven and a new earth ruled by this kind of
love. You can see the battle lines being drawn even as we say this. Just think
about a few community spheres where you spend regular time and realise how they
are built on ego, power and manipulation. This is radical but has the power to
transform darkness into light, death into life, despair into joy and
imprisonment into freedom. In this kingdom, the King is present all of the
time. His presence is accessible and his power available – resurrection power.
Let us pursue resurrection through death and make this kingdom and its King,
Jesus, visible to the people who have no other way of seeing other than
 John 5:14 see also the following
John 5:30 I can do nothing by Myself; I judge only as I hear. And My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but to do the will of Him who sent Me. John 8:28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing on My own, but speak exactly what the Father has taught Me. John 12:49 I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it. John 12:50 And I know that His command leads to eternal life. So I speak exactly what the Father has told Me to say.” John 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The words I say to you, I do not speak on My own. Instead, it is the Father dwelling in Me, performing His works.