Jesus The King In The Gospels

Brian Kirkland (Community Groups Pastor)

Back in 1979 Bob Dylan penned the famous lyrics, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody”. While many folks only recall Dylan when they want to do their best folk singer impression, the reality is that with these words he touched on something pretty insightful: Regardless of race, gender, family of origin, geography, bank account, station in life, or era, somebody or something is going to demand allegiance from every one of us. Somebody’s gonna be our king.

This spiritual reality was just as true 2000 years ago as it is today, and we see it communicated loud and clear as we read the four gospels. In fact, first-century Jews understood this probably much better than us, because for most of their history, their search for a true leader and king had come up short. For century upon century the Jews had lived under oppression, whether it be the Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans. The Old Testament is chock full of stories describing different Hebrew leaders rising up to deliver them at different times, and while some were moderately successful, no king was powerful enough to consistently liberate Israel from their slavery and exile. At the time the gospels are written the Jews are under the thumb of the Romans, and it is within this context that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all make the compelling argument that only one king is powerful enough to rescue them: God Himself.

Extensive books have been written and seminary classes are taught on the subject of Jesus as king, but for the remainder of this post, I’d like to spend time on one verse from these gospels that captures this idea:

Mark 1:1 – The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark cuts to the chase. Right out of the gates he lets his readers know why he’s writing. For us it’s a simple introduction, but to first-century ears, his statement is a daring pronouncement that Jesus is the true divine king who has returned to establish His kingdom. But how so? First, he states that Jesus is the ‘Christ’. For many of us, we tend to think of ‘Christ’ as Jesus’ last name, but the truth is that ‘Christ’ is not a name at all, but rather a title. It was Greek for ‘royal anointed one’, and it was the term used by Jews when referring to the Hebrew ‘Messiah’, the one who was to come and restore God’s rule on earth while rescuing His people. In those days kings would be anointed with oil as part of their coronation, and as such the word ‘Christ’ had come to mean the king of kings who would set the world to rights. But Mark doesn’t just stop there. He calls Jesus “the Son of God”, an even bolder statement that meant that He wasn’t just a good and wise king; He was Divine. The implications of this are astounding, because this meant that Jesus was somehow one and the same with God Almighty, or to put it more bluntly, Jesus was Lord.

Here’s the catch though: the Jews had a certain expectation on how the inauguration of this kingship would manifest itself, and these ideas typically included military power, a political overthrow, and the devastation of the oppressing party. Even those closest to Jesus had their own ideas on what it meant for a king to come and establish His reign. For example, in Mark 8, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you think I am?” Peter rightly responds with “You are the Christ”. However, as Jesus begins to explain to him what this means, specifically that the Christ must suffer and die, Mark tells us that “Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him” (Mark 8:32). In another scene from Matthew 11, John the Baptist (who Scripture refers to as the holiest person to ever live besides Jesus) sends messengers from his jail cell to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or should I look for another?” To paraphrase, John the Baptist is saying, “I’m about to get my head cut off, so before I do, I need to know that you are the true king, because your kingdom is not looking like anything I expected”. In other words, a suffering Messiah made no sense at all – the Messiah was tasked with defeating evil and injustice, not succumbing to it.

Throughout the gospels the writers make it clear that Jesus’s kingship will be different; it will not initially come like a human one. Instead of influencing through coercion and force, it wins people over through service and humility (Luke 6:17-19). The power of Christ’s rule is present here and now whenever Christians gather, rescuing people from their sins and setting people free from the idols that formerly enslaved them.

The fact is, Dylan is right. We all gotta serve somebody. Whatever we worship we serve (see Rom 1:25), and since everybody worships something, we are all enslaved to a variety of forces in this world. Stay tuned this week as we discuss more about the things that compete for our allegiance and the ramifications this divine kingship has for us and our society.

Post Series: Advent 2015

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  1. Pingback: Jesus As A Priest In The Gospels | RADIUS Church

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