Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Jesus is the King
Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up.” Acts 15:14-16NKJV
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 time we saw how Jesus was and continues to be our priest. This week we will begin to consider how Jesus is our king.
Of His three offices, the kingship of Christ is probably the most misunderstood. No doubt most Christians know and confess Jesus to be their king. Yet, His kingship is too often pictured more in terms of a modern head of state, than in the Biblical notion of a monarch. Whereas, today, we more and more conceive of a ruler as responsible for providing monetarily for the poor – and that his honor is determined by how well he performs this task – historically, a king’s honor consisted in the obedience of his subjects to his laws. The king was majestic, the king was royal. He was to be obeyed because he was greater than any of his subjects. His kingdom and his people existed by, and as a tribute to, His splendor and majesty. In fact, the greatest honor a subject could hope to achieve was in rendering honor to his sovereign by his own obedient and faithful service. Good kings were praised for acts of mercy, magnanimity, and graciousness precisely because the individual recipients were understood to be unworthy of their regal attention.
The Catechism is entirely free from the corrupt modern notion of the duties of a head of state. From the Scriptures it presents Jesus’ kingship in the historical sense of a sovereign, royal monarch. First, Jesus is the conquering king who gathers His subjects out of the enemy’s kingdom, when they were not able (or willing) to deliver themselves: “Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself.” Jesus is king over His people by His own sovereign rescue of them out of sin and slavery, into His righteousness and liberty. The Scripture cited at the beginning of this article teaches this truth. James is speaking at the “Jerusalem Council” (or, as Presbyterians like to call it, the first General Assembly!), when all the elders and apostles gathered together to solve the controversy of Gentiles and Jews in one universal church. James summarizes Peter’s prior statement, with a declaration that the gentiles joining the church were to be seen as God visiting foreign lands “to take out of them a people for His name.” Then he quotes how the prophets foretold this very event, by citing a Scripture that predicted the reestablishment of the Davidic kingship. God declared, “I will rebuild the tabernacle of David … I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up.” Jesus fulfilled this prophecy of the reestablished kingship of David, when the gentiles responded to His gospel call to come out of the world and into His kingdom, the church. The Catechism, thus pictures Jesus actively ruling over and building His kingdom through the preaching and the receiving of His gospel.
Herein lies another very significant difference between the kingship of Christ and all other ideas of human kingship – be they ancient or modern. Whereas human kings can coerce with physical power, and even attract or persuade through greed, desire, or fear generated by earthly rewards and punishments, only Jesus can actually rule over the sinful hearts of men and convert them to truly and unselfishly love and serve Him. Therefore, when the Catechism proclaims Jesus exercising His kingship in “calling out of the world a people to himself,” it is not teaching a change of physical living space for Christian converts! Jesus calls us spiritually out of the world, which means that the Christian no longer seeks or wants to live for the things of this world (though his old nature does), but His treasure is now in heaven, for that is where his heart is!