Theology

Christ the King Sunday: What Does It Mean that Jesus is King?

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The Lord is King forever and ever (Psalm 10:16).
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth (Psalm 8:1, 9)!

God is Creator and Ruler, sovereign Lord and King forever! [1]

If this is true, then we do not have to fear, deny, or disengage from the world.
If this is true, then his reign extends over science and art, work and play, leisure and culture, hearts and hands, neighbourhoods and nations.

Likewise, if “the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth,”[2] then we cannot declare that this world is evil and far from God.

And furthermore, we cannot claim, as so often it seems is done today, any sovereignty or ownership of our own. And that reality—that this world does not belong to us and we are not her rulers—will shape our identity, attitude, and practices as God’s people seeking to live under and alert others to the reign of her King!

In fact, it means that we are created ones, subjects in and of his kingdom under his power and authority.

On Christ the King Sunday, we proclaim Jesus is sovereign Lord and King forever. If that is true, then we do not have to fear, deny, or disengage from the world. Click To Tweet

We are Stewards

Scripture identifies the role of human beings as that of stewards.[3]

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10).

Stewards act on behalf of the owner. Stewards seek, serve, and work for the upkeep and betterment of that which they are stewarding.[4] They do so from amongst and within. Our postures and practices as church would surely shift if we lived into this conviction. Those seeking to acknowledge his reign would be the best recyclers, citizens, and neighbours. They would seek “the peace and well-being of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) by employing all of their gifts and talents, time and treasures, relationships and resources for the sake of his kingdom. They would welcome the stranger, come alongside the sick and hurting, embrace the broken and abandoned. They would do as their Master does and bids.

Sin Swiped It All

We know that the whole creation has been groaning (Romans 8:2).

Yet as soon as we declare and seek to practice God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, we come face to face with the lack of heaven on earth in every creature and sphere of life. As we step up and step out to be good stewards bearing his image in such a way that we participate faithfully in his will and work, we realize not only that this is a daunting mandate but that it is, by our own power and wit, an impossible one. Sin has tainted us and the whole of creation. Since the fall by which Satan persuaded humankind that he and she could be her own ruler and assume lordship over others, God’s image bearers have not only abandoned their intended role and relationships in God’s kingdom, but been incapable of restoring them.

God made the whole world and is King over all—but His subjects and stewards chose not to submit to, indeed, to disregard his rule and reign.

Goodness by Grace

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).

Nonetheless, God in his grace prepared a way for his image bearers, marred as they may be, to first of all continue in his kingdom and secondly to be the instruments through which all things would be redeemed, restored, and reconciled. The former, God’s providential preservation of goodness in creation in spite of the fall, is often referred to as “common grace.”

The sovereign God:

…graciously rules and preserves the fallen world in order to renew it. He upholds the normative order and the natural abilities of fallen image bearers. As a result, there is still much (non-redemptive) good in nature, individual humans, society, and culture. By God’s providence, unbelievers love their neighbors, are conscientious workers, discover lifesaving medicines, produce beautiful art, and promote justice.[5]

The church, then, is sent to partner with God and others, to participate in society and culture as Jeremiah instructed (while not being absorbed by it), praying for and promoting its welfare just as Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Cornelius did.[6]

Not There Yet

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples (Psalm 96:3).

While common grace sustains the universe, invites our participation in the world, and empowers all wise and good human efforts, these contributions and improvements are never complete. Opposition to the sovereign God has been evident on earth ever since that treasonous day in the garden. God, however, whose very nature is love, was never without a plan nor an intention to establish and renew his kingdom reign, restoring right relationships between Creator, humankind, and the rest of creation.

He chose to do that in and through his image-bearers, whom he calls out, equips, and empowers to bear witness to his name among the nations. God made a covenant with Abraham promising to bless him that he might be a blessing.[7] The ancient stories tell of how the Lord sought to form a people who knew, loved, and obeyed him by his faithful, merciful presence with them—in the wilderness, in the promised land, and in the city.

Though set apart, sent and so blessed, this holy nation nonetheless repeatedly broke covenant with her king and failed to live under and witness to the goodness, love, and power of the Lord’s gracious reign. So at the right time, the Father sent the Son to do the will and work of the Missio Dei, proclaiming, demonstrating, and embodying the kingdom of God come near.

Jesus does what God’s people failed to do:

…”finishing the work” [through] his sacrificial death on the cross (“It is finished” in John 19:30) and [accomplishing] the eventual total triumph of the kingdom of God (“It is done!” in Rev 21:6). The church now lives between that first and second “It is finished.”[8]

Living Between

The kingdom of heaven is like… (Matthew 13:24, 31,33).

Kenneth Bailey identifies this “living between” in terms of three kingdom paradoxes that are found in Jesus’ teaching.

The kingdom has already come in the person of Christ but that same kingdom is still in the future; the kingdom is near and yet far off; there are signs but the timing of the fulfillment of the kingdom is to us unknown and unknowable.[9]

This is where the church lives, for it is in this…

…“in between time” [that] the Spirit is at work both generally in the world as the manifest work of Christ’s lordship over the whole world, yet equally at work particularly in the social embodiment of Christ and his lordship in the church, these two movements working together as one to usher in the consummation of the Triune drama to reconcile the whole world to himself (2 Cor 5:16-22). The church as Christ’s social body always lives among the world and what God is doing. It is the extension of the Incarnate Christ sent by the Father to join in with what He is already doing by the Spirit. As such the church is inextricably part of the triune mission already ongoing.[10]

This ongoing triune mission toward the redemption of all things[11] gives the church her direction—she is moving towards the new heaven and the new earth. It also determines her purpose here and now. She is to bear witness to the reign of God as a light to all nations by making disciples and obeying everything he commanded (i.e. submitting to his reign).[12] Because of Jesus, she can now do and be what Israel failed to do and be, by the presence and power of the Spirit.[13] The victory has been won! She is following Jesus who continues to will and to work his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, until it is done.[14]

As Jesus’ missional community, the church has been given the exquisite privilege and high honour of participating, as Jesus’ servants, friends, and co-workers, stewards in the mission of the Triune God. We are sent by the Father to be Jesus’ ministers through the work of the Holy Spirit—agents of reconciliation and new creation.”[15]

The church, therefore, as Craig van Gelder asserts:

…exists in the world as a “sign” that the redemptive reign of God’s kingdom is present; it serves as a “foretaste” of the eschatological future of the redemptive reign that has already begun; and it serves as an “instrument” under the leadership of the Spirit to bring that redemptive reign to bear on every dimension of life.[16]

In other words, the mission and kingdom of the Triune One now defines the very essence of the church. The church is not the kingdom but re-presents her king and his reign as the ecclesia.

The church is distinct from the kingdom of God. The church is the foretaste, vanguard and agent of the coming Kingdom.[17]

The question is, as we celebrate God’s reign this Sunday, how will we also be foretastes, vanguards, and agents of the Triune One’s coming kingdom?

The mission and kingdom of the Triune One now defines the very essence of the church. The church is not the kingdom, but re-presents her king and his reign as the ecclesia. Click To Tweet

Endnotes:

[1] Genesis 1, 2, 15:28; Exodus 9:29, 23;17, 34:23; Deut. 3:24, 9:26; Joshua 7:7, 24:4; Judges 6:22, 16:28; 2 Sam. 7:18-29; Psalm 8, 24:1; Proverbs 8:26, Psalm 24:1, 29:10; Jeremiah 10:12, 32:17, 51:15; Ezekiel, Zech. 9:9; Daniel 4:17, 25, 32; 5:21; Micah 6:2; John 1:10;

[2] Acts 17:24, see also 4:24;
[3] Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 8…
[4] E.g. Luke 12 and 16.
[5] Romans 1, 2. John W. Cooper, Church, Kingdom, and the Great Commission CTS Forum Fall 2013, 3-5. http://calvinseminary.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Forum-10-13.pdf
[6] Jeremiah 29:4-7; John W. Cooper, Church, Kingdom, and the Great Commission CTS Forum Fall 2013, 3-5. http://calvinseminary.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Forum-10-13.pdf
[7] Genesis 12:2, 17.
[8] John 4:34, 5:36, 17:4. Howard Snyder, The Mission of Jesus Missio Dei Tyndale Seminary’s Journal of Missional Christianity November 2009 Volume 2. http://www.missio-dei.ca/2009/11/the-mission-of-jesus/
[9] Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008), 114, 115.
[10] David Fitch, The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 170.
[11] Matthew 19:28. See also Luke 10:22, John 1:3,13:3.
[12] E.g. Isaiah 42:6, 43:10,12;44:8; Matthew 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:9,10. Matthew 28:19, 20.
[13] Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus and Community, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).
[14] The Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:10, Luke 11:12. Revelation 21:6.
[15] Howard Snyder, The Mission of Jesus Missio Dei Tyndale Seminary’s Journal of Missional Christianity November 2009 Volume 2. http://www.missio-dei.ca/2009/11/the-mission-of-jesus/
[16] Craig Van Gelder, The Missional Church and Denominations: Helping Congregations Develop a Missional Identity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 3.
[17] Jul Medenblik, What Difference Does This Make? CTS Forum Fall 2013, 6-7.
http://calvinseminary.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Forum-10-13.pdf

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