Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Jesus is King of His Church
(He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:11-13NKJV
Question 45 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How doth Christ execute the office of a king?” It gives the answer, “Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.” Last week we looked at the divine nature of Christ’s kingship and kingdom. That Jesus is the conquering king who establishes His kingdom by converting the hearts of rebels into His willingly obedient servants. This week we consider the earthly manifestation of Jesus’ kingship: the visible church.
Last time we saw how the supernatural power of Jesus creates His kingdom among men. By His sovereign Spirit, God effectually calls His people out of the power of darkness and conveys them “into the kingdom of His beloved Son,” (Col. 1:13). This divine and heavenly kingdom of Jesus Christ has its earthly and human manifestation in this world. As the Catechism states it, when Jesus calls a people out of the world to Himself, He gives them “officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them.” Until the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom had its typological rulers. The kingdom was organized as a family under the headship of Abraham and the patriarchs, then as a confederation of tribes under Joshua and the judges, then as a nation-state under David and his successors. However, once Christ came, all of those temporary forms gave way to the rightful king of God’s kingdom. With His ascension into heaven, Jesus sat down at the right hand of God and began to personally rule His kingdom. Thus, the text at the beginning of this article declares that it was when Jesus ascended that He, by virtue of the infinite merit that He acquired during His earthly life, “gave gifts to men,” (Eph. 4:8).
The gifts mentioned in this list all have to do with the government of the visible church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Furthermore, the text teaches that these God-given offices exist for the purpose of building up the body of Christ in unity and maturity. In other words, Jesus rules over and provides for His kingdom through His giving of certain officers. Jesus the king brings His subjects into the blessedness of Christian maturity and corporate unity for His glory and their good, yet He does this work, not directly and immediately, but indirectly and mediately – by His Spirit as He operates in and through the officers called and gifted for that purpose. These officers are to administer and enforce His laws to His people, so that His kingdom would have one and only one ruler, lawgiver, and judge. Matthew 28:18-20, spoken to the eleven disciples (v. 16), directly confirms that Jesus commissioned His officers to teach and enforce “all” of His laws: “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.’” Moreover, in Matthew 18, which is an extended teaching about “the kingdom of heaven” (see verses 2-3, 23), Jesus sets forth the censures of His kingdom (especially verses 15-20). Hence, according to the Bible, the church clearly is the visible manifestation of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Jesus the king raises up and gifts officers to apply the laws and censures of His kingdom to its subjects, the ones who have sworn fealty to Him. If Jesus is your king you will be in submission to Him. Therefore, you will be in submission to His officers which He appointed, through whom He rules over His kingdom for His glory and all of our good!