Jesus’ reign as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Rev. 19:16) is an essential aspect of the gospel we believe. He is the God who has come with might to reign for the Lord and satisfy the deepest needs and longings of his people (see Isa. 40:9,10). Throughout redemptive history, the Messiah was revealed as the promised Savior-King who would rescue, govern, and from the throne of David defend the people of God (see 2 Sam. 7:12’13). His reign marks the fulfillment of Israel’s monarchy, the true purpose of every good and legitimate kingship throughout salvation history.
When we confess Jesus as the Christ, we confess that he is that promised king, whose reign means eternal life and peace for the people of God and eternal judgment for the enemies of God. He is called the Christ (the anointed one) in part because he has been ordained, empowered, and accepted by God to reign as the eternal king over the creation and especially over the church. This article seeks to address three aspects of Jesus’ glorious kingship: (1) how Jesus is a king; (2) how Jesus’ kingdom is already and not yet; and (3) how we can participate in Jesus’ kingdom.
How Jesus Is a King
As with his priesthood, Jesus Christ did not take upon himself the honor of becoming king (see Heb. 5:5). Rather, the Father appointed and declared Jesus to be king. God has ordained, empowered, and accepted him as supreme ruler over all creation, particularly the church. This means that the Lord appointed Jesus to be the king over his people. Although this can be seen in many places throughout Scripture, it was especially revealed at his conception and baptism.
In Luke 1:32, the angel Gabriel announces Jesus’ kingship to the virgin Mary saying, ‘And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.’ At his baptism, the Holy Spirit visibly descended upon Jesus to publicly anoint him as the Father pronounced the words of coronation over him, ‘You are my beloved Son’ (Mark 1:11). These words fulfill Psalm 2:6’7, which says, ”As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
The Lord also empowered Jesus Christ to fulfill his duties as king, some of which include governing, protecting, preserving, enabling the people of God to enjoy the blessings of his kingdom and conquering the enemies of his kingdom. Not only has the Lord ordained and empowered Christ as king over the church and over creation, but he has promised to accept Christ’s labors in that office by granting him supreme authority now and forever. This eternal reign as king is a divine gift given for the glory of God and for the benefit of the church (Eph. 1:21’22).
How Christ’s Kingdom Is Already and Not Yet
Christ’s reign has an already-and-not-yet aspect to it. Ephesians 1:22 emphasizes the ‘already’ aspect by telling us that ‘God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.’ God has already appointed Christ as ruler over all things he is king over all right now, and this reign has been established for the benefit of the church. However, there is also a sense in which Christ’s universal kingship has yet to be fully realized.
1 Corinthians 15:25 says that ‘he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. This indicates that in some way, there are enemies whose defeat has not been fully realized. In this case, 1 Corinthians is speaking of death as an enemy whose complete subjection has yet to be fully revealed. Christ already abolished death through his righteous life, atoning death, and justifying resurrection (1 Tim. 1:10), but the universal effects of this victory are not yet fully seen. Death has already been stripped of its power to permanently hold the people of God in its icy grip, but it has not yet been permanently done away with.
We still weep at the funerals of the saints who have been separated from us through death. But on the last day, Christ’s decisive victory will swallow up death and his reign over it will be fully revealed (1 Cor. 15:54’55). Death’s effects will be completely subsumed by Christ’s glorious reign of eternal life.
Similarly, the other enemies of the people of God namely, sin and Satan have also been conquered, stripped of their power to do any lasting harm to Christ’s flock. The serpent has been defanged, and through his saving work, Christ has indeed destroyed the works of the devil. He has liberated his people from the bondage of sin, but Christians (through the Spirit) must continue to resist and mortify these already defeated foes. This period of not-yet is the outworking of Christ’s already reign.
Until he returns, King Jesus gathers, justifies, and sanctifies more of his kingdom citizens by the Holy Spirit. He displays his authority through the preservation and protection of his people as their king and, in so doing, is glorified by them. However, God promises that when Christ returns in his kingly glory, not only his own people but every person’s knee will bow in submission and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10’11).
How We Can Participate in Jesus’ Kingdom
At his ascension, Jesus announces his kingship to his disciples, telling them of the universal authority that has been granted to him by the Father. It is by this authority that Jesus commands his disciples to spread his kingdom throughout the nations by baptizing and making disciples (Matt. 28:18’20). He tells them that there are three primary ways people participate in the kingdom, ways in which his reign of redemption will come to the ends of the earth.
1. By faith
They are to preach the gospel because people participate in the kingdom by faith (Mark 16:15). By faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we come to belong to King Jesus as his people and to enjoy the blessings of his reign. Faith in Christ means entrusting oneself in loving submission to the kingship of Christ as he presents himself to us in his word. Rather than using sociopolitical or military means to establish his reign, Jesus established his kingship through perfect obedience to the Father, faithfully loving, serving, and giving his life as a ransom for his people.
As the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the glory of Christ’s reign of redemption, we embrace him and submit to him as our Lord. At present, Jesus exercises his lordship in our lives by the Spirit of Christ through the proclamation of the word and partaking of the sacraments. He uses both to transform our lives in conformity to his will. Even unbelievers submit to Jesus’ universal reign, whether they know it or not! According to Colossians 1:16, ‘all things were created through him and for him.’ But they don’t participate in his reign of redemption unless they repent and believe the gospel.
2. By Obedience
Jesus tells his disciples not only to teach his commands but also to teach others to obey his commands (Matt. 28:20). Obedience is an essential aspect of participation in the kingdom of Christ. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks a crowd, ‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?’ According to King Jesus, participation in his kingdom means practical obedience to his commands by continual repentance from sin in submission to his lordship.
The Bible reveals Christ’s commands so that we might obey him. Therefore, we must study and obey Scripture in submission to Jesus’ lordship and teach others to obey for the furtherance of the kingdom. Obedience here assumes the context of faithful participation in the life of the local church. As we are reminded and challenged by the gospel witness of the local church, we spur one another on in obedience and hence greater submission to the lordship of Christ.
3. By the Sacraments
Baptism marks a person’s entrance into the church, the visible expression of the kingdom of God. Anyone who seeks to participate in the kingdom should bear the visible sign of the kingdom. Baptism is Christ’s mark upon his citizens, which visibly distinguishes them from the world. By faith, it strengthens them in their warfare against sin and Satan by reminding them of their union with King Jesus as one of his people. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of Christ’s public victory over evil, sin, and death at the cross. But it also unites us across ethnic, class, national, and gender lines as citizens of one kingdom under the reign of Christ.
Adapted from Mika Edmondson, “The Good News of Christ’s Kingship,” Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2015. Used by permission.