Jesus - The King
Fr. Thomas Hopko · August 5, 2009
The Lord is King and reigns in majesty! Fr. Tom explores the numerous references to Jesus as King in the Scriptures.
Today we’re going to consider the title for Jesus the King, the King, Christ the King. And we know that the issue of kingship is a very central issue in the Holy Scripture. If we go to the Old Testament, we see that God himself is to be the king over his people, “king” being the one who reigns, the one who rules. And very often, in the Holy Scripture, the teaching about God as reigning and Christ as reigning is put in verb form, sometimes even, we might say, more often than in noun form. In other words, instead of saying, “God is king,” it will say, “The Lord reigns” or “God reigns.”
You have a selection of psalms that speak about the Lord reigning. For example, one of the most well known among the Orthodox Christians is the psalm that is used, was used as the Sabbath psalm in the Old Covenant, and then came to be used as the psalm that is the transition from the Sabbath day to the Lord’s day, from Saturday to Sunday in the Christian Church. This, of course, is Psalm 93: “The Lord reigns; he is robed in majesty.” Very often in English we sing:
The Lord is king, and he is robed is majesty. The Lord is robed and girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Thy throne is established from of old. Thou art from everlasting. The Lord is mightier than all the ragings of the seas and the waters. Holiness befits the house of the Lord forever.
All Orthodox Christians are familiar with that psalm. We sing it absolutely every single Saturday of the entire year, with one exception: Great and Holy Saturday, the Saturday before Holy Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ. Then there the vesperal prokeimenon is not sung; you simply have the 15 readings from the Old Testament directly after the evening hymn on the vigil of Holy Pascha.
But this psalm, “The Lord reigns,” it’s connected to a group of psalms that have that very same beginning: “The Lord reigns.” It would be in the fourth book of the Psalms. The Psalms are also, by the way, divided into five books, which kind of pattern them after the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. So the fourth book of the Psalms [has] to do with the Lord reigning. So you have that very, very often in these particular psalms beginning with Psalm 90, about the reigning of the Lord, the Lord being king. And then these psalms, in the New Testament, are applied to the Lord Jesus Christ and connected with that kingship is the issue of judging: “The Lord reigns, and he reigns sitting in judgment,” “Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth.” That’s what you have on Great and Holy Saturday. And we will speak later on about the Lord as the Judge.
But you have in these psalms, “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns. The world is established; [it] shall never be moved. He will judge the people with equity.’ Sing to the Lord a new song. His right hand has gotten victory. The Lord has made known his victory.” And we spoke that victory is the name of salvation, victory over the enemies of God. “All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. The Lord is king before the ages. He has wrought salvation (or victory) in the midst of the earth.”
And these psalms are sung in the Christian Church for Christ’s crucifixion. In fact, the psalm lines for the Cross all have to do with the king reigning, reigning in glory, and we’ll see in a minute how the Cross of Christ is considered to be his throne, that when he’s raised up or lifted up on the Cross, he’s kind of enthroned in order to enter his glory by what he suffers. It’s a very peculiar, particular Christian teaching.
But just again another example in this particular part of the Psalter: Psalm 99:
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble. He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake. Let them praise thy great and terrible name, exalted over all the peoples. Holy is he, mighty king, lover of justice. Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool, for he (or for it) is holy.
That will be applied also to the holy Cross. You have, for example, also in Psalm 101:
I will sing of loyalty and justice; to the Lord, I will sing. But thou, O Lord, art enthroned forever; thy name endures to all generations. The nations fear the name of the Lord; all the kings of the earth fear the glory of the Lord God when he appears in the glory when he comes in order to reign
So you have this Old Testamental teaching that the Lord is the one who reigns; the Lord is the one who is king. He is king over all the earth. But then you have this other part in the Old Testament, where the people want a king. They want to be like other people. And so you have in the Old Testament what in the Greek Bible—and that’s the one that’s used in the Orthodox Church—are called the four Books of Kings. There’s I Kings, II Kings, III Kings, and IV Kings. In the Hebrew Bible, the one that we’re all mostly familiar with, who read in English, they would be the first two Books of Samuel and then I and II Kings. So you have I Samuel, II Samuel, then I Kings and II Kings, whereas in the Greek Bible, it’s I, II, III, and IV Kings are those four books.
But we know how Samuel begins, at the very beginning in Samuel. First of all, you have this marvellous birth of Samuel, and Hannah, Hannah sings her song, which becomes one of the canticles in Orthodox worship, canticle number three: “There is none so holy but thee, O Lord.” But the reason that we have this wonderful teaching in the Bible about the birth of Samuel has to do with, of course, the first king of Israel, because it’s Samuel who’s going to anoint Saul, and then Saul will be replaced by David, and you have this whole history of Saul and David, which by the way now is being studied. I’m reading a book at the moment by a couple of Jewish authors, archaeologists who are studying the kingdoms of David and Samuel, and giving very interesting archaeological and historical perspective on that whole story, which we can’t go into now.
But what is really certain, whatever happened historically, this kingship story in the Scripture is very crucial to the understanding of the Christian faith, because what you have is the people wanting to have a king, that they want to have a king; they want to be like other people. And God originally says to them, “Listen. I’m your king. You’re not like other people. Other people may have kings or princes or rulers and judges, but I am your king, I am your ruler, I am your shepherd, I am your governor.” And by the way, this very term, “shepherd, pastor,” in the Old Testament, it’s synonymous to being the king. The king is the one who shepherds his people. So we will see in due time how the kingship of Jesus is connected with his being the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep.
But in the eighth chapter of Samuel—it’s worth reading if you’re interested in kingship; you should know the Samuel story, certainly the eighth chapter on—where Samuel judges Israel all the days of his life; he is kind of a ruler, but when Samuel becomes old and he made his sons to be judges over Israel according to the Scriptural story, it says:
The elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel and they said to him, “Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to govern us like the nations.”
See, we want to be like the other people.
And Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds which they have done to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt, even to this very day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.”
And this will be the story. Throughout the entire [Books] of Kings, [there’re] practically no kings who are really totally faithful to God. All of them are sinful in one way or the other. David, the quintessential king, and the one from Bethlehem who was promised that of his seed, of his child, will be the King whose kingdom will have no end, but even David himself, he sins, he repents, he’s kind of a mountain bandit. He goes around and does all kind of things. But the claim is that David really never [apostatizes] against the Lord. He may have done sins and wickedness, adultery, murder, but he doesn’t [apostatize].
But then you have Solomon, and one wonders even why Solomon… Just recently one young Orthodox high school student asked me, “Why is Solomon’s image put in our churches? He was a horrible guy!” And in the end, he really was. He not only had all these wives and all these concubines and all these riches, but he also was not faithful to the Lord God even from the point of view of worship. But according to the biblical story, he’s chosen. He’s chosen that through David, Solomon, and their descendants would then come the Christ, the one who really is the King who sits upon the throne by what he suffers, as we’ll see, of his kingdom which will have no end.
But the kings are basically not following God, even those who were somehow upright. According to the Scripture, if you read the Books of Kings, the several books, you’ll see that even though they were considered to be somehow upright and doing well for the people, they never really totally suppressed idolatry. They did not suppress completely the idol worship. There’s only two who are really considered to be really great in having performed that function. They would be Hezekiah and Josiah. They are the ones who really followed, strictly speaking, the commandment of Moses relative to idolatry and so on.
Basically speaking, the kings were basically following their own minds, doing their own will, walking in evil, worshiping idols, doing all kinds of horrible things that [were] not at all according to the way of the Lord. So we see that right from the beginning, God says, “I want to be their king, and even these judges and even these people, they do not follow me.” So as we just read, it said:
From the day I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you now, Samuel. Now then, hearken to their voice only. You shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you. He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, some to plow his ground, to reap his harvest, to make his implements of war, the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his servants. He will take your menservants and your maidservants and the best of your cattle and your asses and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks and you shall be his slaves. And that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
In other words, you’re going to have your king, all right, because I’ll give you what you want. And this is a very Semitic view: what people want, God gives them. If they want to go to hell, he sends them to hell; if they want to do sin, he hardens their heart so that they would sin. That’s a very Semitic way of speaking, which led to many theological troubles later on, as we know.
But in any case, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel. They said, “No! We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Hearken to their voice; make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go, every man to his city.”
So then God relents to the desires of the people, and he has Samuel anoint Saul as the first king of Judah, of Israel. Saul is generally in the northern kingdom; David is in the southern. David is a Judaite; [Saul] is an Israelite. And then you have this whole biblical story about the kingships: the northern kingdom, the southern kingdom, and all the troubles that take place. And then, of course, there is a kind of a rivalry between the two: between the Judaites and the Israelites, between David and Saul, and that goes through the history of the Bible.
In any case, the first one is Saul, and then, of course, there is the problem that Saul doesn’t do well. Saul is a troubled man. Saul even is somehow mentally off. He’s depressed and he’s difficult and all this kind of thing. And God tells them, “Write down how the man who is king should behave.” Even Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, wrote them in a book, laid it out before the Lord, to try to see how the king ought to behave, but basically to make the complicated story very quick and very simple, what happens, of course, is that Saul and David really get into it, and then ultimately it is David who emerges as the paradigmatic king, and it’s of David’s seed that the ultimate anointed one of God will come, the one of whose kingdom there will be no end.
If we just look again at Samuel a little bit, we’ll see here how, when they desired their king, God says to them:
“And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked. Behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandments of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reign over you will follow the Lord, it will be well; but if you will not hearken to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandments of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and against your king.”
So there’s a conditional, this kingship is conditional; they have to follow the commandments of the Lord. And as we already said, most of these kings did not do so. They did not do so. When we look at David the king, then we know—and this is certainly a teaching of the Holy Scripture—that David does become the kind of paradigmatic king. David is the one who is always remembered as that one who is connected with Jerusalem, who is the one who is connected with the writing of Psalms, who is the one to whom God made the promise, that from the seed of David will [come] the king, of whose kingdom there will be no end, the one who will reign forever and ever.
Very quickly, we can just remember these particular promises that God has given. You find them in the Psalms; you find them in the Prophets; you find them in the Book of Kings, that David is the one. And that’s why, when the Christ is coming, Jesus is coming, you have him born in Bethlehem, which was the city of David, and that he is born to be king.
Let’s just take a look at a couple of the Old Testamental sentences about this prediction of the son of David being the one who would reign forever. For example, you have in the Psalter that… In Psalm 89, for example, it says, “Thou hast said, O Lord, ‘I have made the covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne to all generations.’ ” So you have that sentence in that Psalm 89. Again in the same psalm it says:
Of old, thou didst speak in a vision to thy faithful one and say, “I have set the crown on one who was mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him so that my hand shall ever abide with him. My arm shall also strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him. The wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him. And in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the seat, his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘Thou art my father, my God, the rock of my salvation.’ I will make him the firstborn.”
A firstborn is the one who inherits everything, so the firstborn is the one who gets everything from God, the prototokos.
“I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever. My covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his line forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.”
So you have all of this. He says, “I have not lied to David. I will not violate my covenant. His line shall endure forever.” But then the Lord goes on and says, “However, but now the children of David are sinning again.” They’re sinning again, and God is wrathful against his anointed, against his christs, those kings who are not following his way. But there will be that King who will keep the commandments of God, and of his kingship there will be no end.
This issue of the firstborn, of course, is very important in the New Testament, because it does say that Jesus Christ himself is the firstborn of creation and the firstborn from the dead. The prōtotokos tēs ktiseōs and the prōtotokos ek nekron, the firstborn from the dead, the firstborn of the kingdom. You have the same thing about David reigning forever in the Prophets. I’ll just give one example. In Jeremiah 23, when God is inveighing against the shepherds—we’ll see this when we speak about the shepherds, the pastors—where God is really angry with the shepherds and says that he himself will come to be the shepherd of the people. But he says:
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord. “When I will raise up for David a righteous branch. And he shall reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: The Lord is our righteousness.”
Now, of course, a lot of these promises to David were understood to be maybe connected to some of the righteous kings, like Hezekiah, or like Josiah. But then there was this idea of this ultimate King, the one literally whose kingdom will have no end.
So let’s get to the New Testament now, and we will see how all of this is applied to the person of Jesus Christ. If we take Matthew’s Gospel—this is the Judaic Gospel, the one that is definitely connected to Judah, to David, to kingship, more than any of the others—you have already in the second chapter… Well, first of all, in the genealogy of Matthew, which begins the Gospel—and the same thing is in Luke, but Luke is more universal; it takes the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam—but in Matthew you have the genealogy going to David and to Abraham.
These are the two great promises of the Old Covenant: God promises Abraham that in his seed—and St. Paul insists in the Letter to the Galatians that that should be singular: in one of [Abraham]‘s descendants—all of the families of the world, all the nations will be blessed. That’s the promise to Abraham.
Then you have the promise to David. So Jesus is the son of David, the son of Abraham, and then, of course, the promise to David the king is about his descendants: “One of the sons of your body,” as it says in the Psalm, “I will set upon the throne.” When speaking about the psalms we should have mentioned that psalm as well, when you have in the gradual psalms certainly the teaching about, literally about, the sons of David being set upon the throne.
In the Orthodox Church, we sing these psalms at the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. It’s the famous 18th kathisma that you have connected with the person of David, that “one of the sons of his body I will set upon the throne,” and of his kingdom there will literally be no end. So this is definitely the teaching of the Scripture.
Now when we come to the New Testament again—we’re going to get back there—you have in Matthew’s Gospel, the second chapter, simply written the following words:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men came from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him.”
So right from the beginning, you have the one being born called the Christ. He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born, Herod asked these wise men, and they tell him:
In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the Prophet: In you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people.
So Herod and the wise men have this encounter where the wise men are claiming, by their understanding of the stars, that there was one who was born King of the Jews. Now, it’s interesting that that’s exactly the charge that’s going to be [made] against Jesus when he is crucified, that he is nailed to the Cross as King of the Jews, Vasilevs tōn Ioudaiōn.
In the four Gospels, the titulum on the Cross all have that expression. They have different words; each one has different words. It’s not all the same, but each of the four Gospels has the words “King of the Jews.” Mark simply says, “The King of the Jews”; Matthew and Luke say, “This one is the King of the Jews” or “Jesus, houtos estin, this one is the King of the Jews”; John has, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” But they all had that expression: “King of the Jews.” And in Matthew, that’s already there from the beginning.
The English writer, Dorothy Sayers, she wrote a kind of a play about Jesus, and it was called “Born to be King,” but she also pointed out that he was born to die. And that point is made—certainly it’s an evangelical, New Testamental point that Jesus is the King, who is not only the King of the Jews, but he is, in the words of Psalm 24, “the King of Glory, who actually [has] his throne established in the heavens. He reigns forever.” All the psalms about the kingship of God are applied now to the risen Christ in the New Testament.
He is the Lord who reigns. He is the one who arises. He is the one who judges the earth. He is God’s very Son, the one to whom God says: The Lord says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, till I put all the enemies under your feet.” The king reigns over all the enemies. He defeats all the enemies for his subjects. And all this is applied to Jesus in the New Testament: King of the Jews, King of Glory, King over all creation—but it’s through what he suffers.
So as Dorothy Sayers says, Jesus of Nazareth: he’s the only one who is literally God’s Son, God is literally his Father, born of the Virgin, God is literally his Father. He is the only one who was born in order to die, and he enters his glory and his kingship by suffering, by dying. And you have that already in the first chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, because [he] not only said, “Born king of the Jews,” but immediately Herod tries to kill him; the other kings of the earth try to kill him. Everybody tries to kill him, right from the very beginning.
And then you have, in Matthew’s Gospel, the story of the slaughter of all the innocents, the male children in Bethlehem in so on: the voice in Ramah, weeping in lamentation, where they try to kill Jesus right from the very beginning. So this intention to kill the King, to kill the King of the Jews, that is from the very beginning. And of course, that’s the ending of all of the four Gospels. The four canonical Gospels end with the Passion of Christ, his crucifixion, his death, his execution in the most vile, degrading way that a human being—and particularly a Jew—can possibly die, outside the city of David, outside the walls of Jerusalem, at the hands of Gentiles, among thieves, rejected by his own people, rejected by his disciples, abandoned by everyone—this is what the King does! The king gives his life for his people, and all humanity are his people. This will be the good news of the Gospel.
When Jesus comes right from the beginning and his proclaimed king—and you find the same thing in the infancy narrative of Luke. Luke does not use the term “king.” You don’t find it in the stories of the birth of Jesus in Luke. The term “vasilevs” or “king,” you do not find in Luke, but what you do find in Luke is that the exact reference to the Old Testamental prophecy, where the angel says to Mary:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, 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.
So you have that reference to David and reference to the kingship that is there: “The Lord will give him the throne of his father David; he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingship (or of his kingdom) there will be no end.” And here we should note is that the term “vasileia” in Greek can be translated kingdom and it can be translated kingship or reign, and we should keep that in mind when we read the Holy Scripture. For example, on the Cross, in St. Luke’s Gospel, one of the thieves who is crucified with Jesus will say to him, “Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come as king, when you come in your kingdom.” Well, that can also be translated, and sometimes it even is, in the Revised Standard Version: “Remember me when you come in your kingship,” in your reign, when you come as king, when you come being king, and we will see that this is the main theme of the Gospel.
The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingship of God, the reign of God, the kingdom of God. And here you find this in all four Gospels. You find it from the very beginning in all four Gospels. Now, in Matthew, you have John the Baptist starting the preaching: “Repent, for the kingship of heaven (or the kingdom of heaven) is at hand!” And then he announces, of course, the coming of Jesus. After Jesus is baptized, to show that he is going to die, is going to identify with the sinful people, when Jesus begins preaching, he says also the same words as John: “Metanoite. Change your mind. Change your outlook. Change your way of seeing reality. For the kingdom of heaven is at hand; the kingdom is coming.”
You find the same thing in Luke. It’s put a little bit more explicitly in Mark. In Mark, you have it in the very first chapter, the 14th verse of the very first chapter: “Now, after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’ ” So you have the Gospel of God, which is the Gospel of the kingdom of God, which is, of course, the Gospel of Christ himself.
In the Gospels—and this is also, of course, in John, the kingship in John—you have the whole of the New Testament Gospels being the Gospel of the kingdom. And the teachings are all about the kingdom. The parables are the parables of the kingdom. For example, we mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel how Matthew’s Gospel is divided into five books to kind of pattern the Pentateuch as a kind of a new Law of God in the New Testament, the Law of Christ. But you have the beginning with the Sermon on the Mountain, which is kind of the torah, the instruction of the Christian. Then you have Jesus instructing his twelve disciples. Then you have the parables of the kingdom. When Jesus begins speaking to the crowds, he gives them the parables of the kingdom. He does it first in Galilee, then he does it in Judea, then he gets himself killed.
So you have Jesus preaching all these parables of the kingdom of God: the kingdom of heaven is like this, the kingdom of heaven is like that. We can’t go into them now, but anyone familiar with the Gospels knows how much this language of kingship and the language of the kingdom of God or the kingship of God or the reign of God is in the very teaching of Jesus. In fact, it even says that Jesus came forth in order to announce the kingdom of God, the kingship of God.
And when he’s teaching, it’s not only in the parables, but it’s in the positive teaching as well. For example, when they say to him [things] like, “What’s the greatest commandment in the Law?” and they say, “It’s to love God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength; love your neighbor as yourself.” He will say, “Very good. You are not far from the kingdom of God! You are close to the kingship of God.” Or when he speaks about children. He says, “Truly, I say to you: whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall never enter into it.”
When he speaks about the judgment, he has Christ enthroned on a throne and then all the peoples of the world are gathered in front of him like the subjects would be before the throne of their king. So you have just this: this theme of kingdom and kingship throughout the entire teaching, throughout the entire teachings of the four Gospels, that the kingdom of God has come to the world in this person of Jesus.
When you get to the Passion narratives specifically, then it becomes very specific. It becomes very, very specific that Jesus is put to death by claiming to be the king. And they mock him as a king. They put a crown of thorns on his head. They clothe him in a purple cloak—that’s a royal type of garment. They put a reed into his hand, to mockingly symbolize a scepter. So the purple cloak, the thorn, the reed in his hand, and they make fun of him and they ridicule him and they shame him, claiming that he is claiming to be a king, claiming even to be God’s Son, in John’s Gospel.
And even at the Supper before the Passion, Jesus speaks about not eating and drinking again with his disciples until they eat and drink again in the kingdom of God, when the kingdom comes. So the whole Passion of Christ has to do with his kingship. And if you take Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that’s exactly how Jesus finally gets himself arrested, that’s finally why they take him.
Because when they’re asking him all these questions, he says to them, “Let me ask you a question: When the Messiah comes, the Christ comes, whose Son is he going to be?” And they say, “David’s,” because they know he has to be the son of David; he has to be the king from David’s line. And then Jesus says, “Why, then, does David call him ‘Kyrios, the Lord,’ when he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put all the enemies beneath your feet” ’?” He said, “If David calls him ‘Lord,’ why do you call him David’s son?”
But that expression, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit on my throne till I put the enemies under your feet,’ ” that is definitely the imagery of kingship. He reigns. He reigns on the very throne of God himself. He sits on the throne of God himself. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it’s that particular sentence: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I put all the enemies under your feet, make them your footstool.’ ” This is considered blasphemous, that he would relate this verse to himself. And as we’ve mentioned many times, I believe, on the radio already, this is the most-quoted Old Testamental verse in the New: “The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand. Reign with me. Be king with me, on the throne.’ ”
And then you have also in the Passion narrative of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, what actually gets the high [priest] totally wild and say, “This man has to die,” is when Jesus refers to that line in Daniel about the Son of Man coming on the clouds in great power and glory, with all the angels and all the elect, and they will see him coming. It says, “Then the high priests rent their garments and said, ‘This man has to die,’ ” because Jesus says, “You will see the Son of Man, seated at the right hand of power, coming with the clouds of heaven.” The high priests tore their garments and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?”—I’m reading from Mark now, but that’s in Matthew, that’s in Luke.
So you have these two things: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand.’ ” and then you have “the Son of Man coming on the clouds with all the angels in the whole power and glory of God himself.” Well, that’s all the language of reigning. That’s the language of kingship. That’s what he is. And that’s what gets him crucified.
And that is why, on the Cross of Christ, you have the inscription reading, “The King of the Jews.” In all four Gospels, he is crucified for claiming to be the King of the Jews, and he’s mocked as King.
Now, in St. John’s Gospel, which is the theological Gospel, it’s very interesting that Jesus’ crucifixion will almost be presented—in fact, it will be symbolically presented in St. John’s Gospel—like enthronement. It’s speaking about being “lifted up”: “When I am lifted up and all the people will look upon [him] whom they have pierced,” that this is a kind of enthronement. And in St. John’s Gospel, you have the lifting up on the Cross connected to the lifting up and being enthroned at the right hand, in power in heaven. And as I already mentioned, that psalm, “Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool, for he is holy” or “for it,” meaning the footstool is holy, in the Christian, Orthodox Church, is applied to the Cross of Christ, that somehow when he’s nailed at the Cross, that’s a sign of his enthronement. That’s the sign of his glory, and in St. John’s Gospel, that’s certainly the sign of his glory.
When the Passion begins in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him, and when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.” That’s how the Passion Gospels begin on the Matins of Great and Holy Friday in the Orthodox Church. It begins with “Now is the Son of Man glorified.” It’s John 13:33, that’s how it all begins: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”
If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and glorify him at once, he says. So this is the glory, and that’s why, in Orthodox churches, very often on the crucifix in church, the liturgical cross, it’s not written “King of the Jews, Vasilevs tōn Ioudaiōn.” It’s written: “The King of Glory, Vasilevs tēs Doxēs, Tsar Slavy, the King of Glory,” because Jesus is connected with the King of Glory, but he enters his glory by being crucified; that’s the theology of John.
And in John’s Gospel, the whole Passion of Christ takes place together with the Passover of the Jews, so that the victory of God in Moses over the Egyptians and the killing of the Paschal lamb and so on, in St. John’s Gospel, that is all directly applied to the crucifixion of Jesus. So it’s very interesting that in St. John’s Gospel, you have the same type of mocking and ridicule that you find the same kind of mocking and ridicule that you find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. You have them putting on the purple robe; you have them putting on the crown of thorns.
Then you have this touch in St. John’s Gospel, where Pontius Pilate actually brings Jesus out and seats him on the judgment seat, and he cries out to the people, “Behold your king!” and it was the day of the preparation of the Passover, when the time the Paschal lamb was killed. They put Jesus out there and said, “Behold your king!”
They cried out, “Away with him, away with him; crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar,” and he handed him over to be crucified. So Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Same thing as in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: the King. But in John, you have a little bit of a commentary. It said:
Many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the title was written in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek. The chief priests of the Jews then said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather write, ‘This man said, “I am king of the Jews.” ’ ” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
And so the titulum, the inscription, remains, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” So he is killed as king.
According to the Holy Scriptures, it is befitting and proper that he die as being king, because the king must do two things: He must give his life for his subjects; he must totally be ready to sacrifice himself unto death for his subjects, for his people. And Jesus does that. But the other thing, even more amazingly important, is that the king must destroy the enemies. The whole point of the king is to destroy the enemies, and if you read the psalms, you will see how many times the enemies are mentioned. I would suggest, if you have the inclination and the energy and the time, get a Bible, take a pencil, and read the psalms about how many times it says the enemies have to be destroyed by the Lord, by the king, and he reigns over his enemies, and he puts the enemies under his feet and he subdues the enemies and subjects the enemies, all the enemies of God.
In the New Covenant, the enemies of God are not the nations; the enemies of God are not even any people at all. The enemies of God are not even the sinners, in a technical sense. The enemies of God are sin, not the sinners. God dies for the sinners. The king gives his life for the sinners. He comes for the unrighteous. He comes to save the sinners. So the enemies of God that Christ as the King has to destroy [are] sin and disease and injustice and impurity and unrighteousness and wickedness and evil. And as the Apostle Paul will say in I Corinthians, “And the last enemy to be destroyed, the eschatos echthrous in Greek, the last enemy to be destroyed is death itself.”
So the king must destroy the enemies, and the enemies are all that is contrary to God, and the final enemy is death, because the wages of sin and unrighteousness and [injustice] and evil and wickedness and disease and suffering and sickness is death. So the king has to die, because that’s how the king is victorious. That is the Gospel. That is the Christian faith, that the King must die for his subjects. Why? Because he’s got to defeat the enemies, and that’s the whole Christian faith.
You could just put it in the lines of the Paschal troparion: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down Death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” Or the Paschal psalm: “Let God arise; let his enemies be scattered. Let those who hate him flee from before his face. As wax melts before the fire, as smoke vanishes, so God is going to destroy his enemies.” How does he destroy them? He destroys them by dying. Then he rises from the dead, so you have the psalm: “Arise, O Lord, and judge the earth. Arise, O Lord, and be enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Arise, O Lord, and reign over all creation.” And that is, of course, exactly the teaching of the New Testament.
So you have Jesus as King. And even here, there are other touches, of course, in the Gospel. One would be the singing of the victory psalm to Jesus on Palm Sunday. He enters Jerusalem before the Passion, as a King: “Behold, you will see your king, meek and lowly, riding upon the foal of an ass.” It’s Zachariah 9:9, the prophecy about Jesus coming. The Lord is the one who reigns, but the Lord who reigns is the one who comes into Jerusalem on that day. And it’s interesting that in John’s Gospel it says that the disciples had hardly even remembered that that happened. It said only after he was raised and glorified did they remember that prophecy about Jesus, that he would actually come into the city, meek and lowly, riding on the foal of an ass. And, of course, that is in all four Gospels. That’s something that gets recorded in all four Gospels, that triumphal entry into the city of the King, and it’s got to be Jerusalem, it’s the city of the great King. It’s David’s city; that’s the whole point.
So this is what you have in the Holy Scripture. Now, of course, the rest of the entire New Testament after the Resurrection of Christ is proclaiming the kingship of God in Jesus as the Lord, the Savior, and the King, that God makes Jesus Christ and Lord through what he suffers and in being Christ and Lord, then he is enthroned together with God in majesty, and he reigns forever. And probably the most amazing insistence upon this would be in the Apocalypse, in the Book of Revelation, where, as we will see when we meditate on the “Lamb of God,” which is used over 30 times in the Apocalypse, the Lamb who was slaughtered, the Lamb who was slain, because the King as the High Priest who offers himself, is also the Lamb who was slain. The Good Shepherd, who is the King, is also the one who lays down his life and is slain.
But in the Apocalypse, in the Book of Revelation, you have Jesus Christ, who was dead and is alive again, seated on the throne with God, and in the Book of Revelation, it’s the God who is seated upon the throne, that’s how God is called: “the one who sits upon the throne,” but it always says, “The one who sits upon the throne and the Lamb,” and Jesus Christ, and the Son who was dead and is alive again. And then, in the perspective of Kingship, or the King, then you have, of course, this claim that not only God—he who sits upon the throne—is King of kings and Lord of lords, but the Lamb, Jesus Christ who was crucified, is the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
For example—just one quotation here I could make; there are several—but in the Apocalypse you have this. It says that
The beasts and the evil and the wicked will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, for he is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those who are with him are those who are called and those who are chosen and those who are faithful.
So those who are called, those who are chosen, those who are faithful, they reign together with Christ, together with God, and both God and Christ are called the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Then it says in the Apocalypse that all the kings of the earth will have to bow down and worship the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And the King of kings and Lord of lords is both him who sits upon the throne and the Lamb. So another example from the Apocalypse would be this: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” So the kingdom of the world is now the kingdom of the Lord and of his Christ, and his Christ reigns forever and ever.
And then in Revelation, as we’ll see when we speak about the Shepherd, which is a synonym for king, it says in the Book of Revelation: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be the Shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of the living water.” So the Lamb becomes the King; the Lamb becomes the Shepherd, in the Book of Revelation. So again you have another example: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” Those are words that very much sound like Daniel 7, the Son of Man who is enthroned together with the Ancient of Days.
And then it says, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might, forever and ever.” And all the presbyters, all the elders, fall down and they worship him. So you have, definitely the singing of “Holy, holy, holy!” to him who sits upon the throne and to his Christ, and to his Lamb. And so in the Book of Revelation, there is just no doubt at all, but that the King of kings and the Lord of lords is Jesus Christ himself, together with God the Father. So you have even, it says, all the people will become the subjects, and the apostles and the priests and the prophets of God and of his Christ, and that Christ reigns forever and ever, as the Lord of lords and the King of kings.
This is our understanding of Jesus as the King. This is the teaching of the Scripture, and we see that the New Testament claim is very simple: God is the King; the people want their own king; God relents; then you have the kingship; and then the ultimate conclusion of the whole story is: the Man, Jesus of Nazareth, is the King, the son of David, the one who sits upon the throne forever, but that King is the Son of God who has become human in order to die for his subjects, to be raised and to be glorified, and to sit together on his throne with his Father, and St. John’s Gospel will even say, “As he did from before the foundation of the world.”
You have in Jesus the divine King and the human King in one and the same person, that the divine Son of God becomes the Lamb who is slain, and the suffering servant, and the one who dies for his people, and then is raised and glorified to become, humanly speaking, the King, so that the divine King becomes the human King, and the human King dies and becomes killed and murdered in order to save his people. Then he is raised and glorified and sits upon the throne together with God his Father, with whom he was co-enthroned in the Holy Spirit—Father, Son and, Holy Spirit—from before the foundation of the world.
This is the Christian worldview. This is the Gospel. This is the understanding. So we could actually say—I think it would not be wrong to say—that perhaps the term “the King” is probably, biblically, the most—I wouldn’t say it’s the most important title for Jesus, because it’s synonymous with “God’s Son” and it’s synonymous with “Lord” and it’s synonymous with “Christ.” God’s Son, the Lord, the Christ, is the King and has to be the King. And then the King has to be the Savior, which is why Jesus is named “Jesus,” which means “Savior.”
In other words, it all comes together. It all fits and comes together. In using these various names and titles, as probably we are all very well aware of, they all ultimately result to the same reality. They are different ways of speaking about the same reality, different ways of declaring the same Truth. But what we have seen today is that the title “King, Vasilevs”: God is our King before the ages. He has established salvation in the midst of the earth. But he makes the salvation in the person of his Son who has become Mary’s child, Jesus of Nazareth, and he is the King.
And as St. Athanasius said in his letters to Serapion—and St. Basil says the same thing, following Athanasius—he says, “You have the Lord God who reigns; the Vasilevs, the King of God’s kingdom is Christ; and the kingship itself is the power of the Holy Spirit.” So it’s a very nice understanding of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
But the King, personally, of the kingdom of God, is Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, raised, and glorified, enthroned with the Father as King of kings and the Lord of lords, the King over all creation, together with God his Father, and the power of his kingship is the very Spirit of God, that is the power of truth, the power of life, the power of beauty, the power of God himself.
We say, “Blessed is the kingdom, of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And it is the Son of God, Jesus, who is personally our King.