Tuesday, June 27, 2017

An Everlasting Kingdom

Westminster Shorter Catechism #26
Q. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

The terminology of the kingdom of God does not appear at the beginning of the Bible.  While God gives man the dominion over the creatures at creation, the kingship language does not appear for quite a while.  The process of gradual revelation of the plan of redemption requires this to a point.  We begin with a family, that turns into a nation, a nation overseen by God, and Moses.  From this origin the Bible begins creating an identity of the king.

The King Promised

The promise and laws for the king actually appears in the words of Moses.  The Lord anticipated the need of the nation to have a king, but ordered the regency in submission to His law.

When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.  But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.     Deuteronomy 17:14-20

The surrounding nations become the impetus for the desire of the king.  The king represents not foreign power, but the desire for a divine representative to the people of God's care for them.  The king must be a member of Israel.  The king must not rely upon military might (horses) to protect the people.  The king must not take the nation back to Egypt, the place of bondage.  To do so would indicate a rejection of the grace of God who rescued them from Egypt.  Even in the early days of the nation, the Lord foresaw the dangers of multiplying wives.  Even then a king multiplied wives to form alliances between countries, a practice that persisted to the early modern age.

The majority of the law of the king involved his relationship to the law of God.  This law was to be the king's constant companion.  First of all to remind him that as powerful as he was, the Lord gave him the office and could remove Him.  The king ruled under God.  Second, the law reminded the king of his position as one of, not greater than, the rest of Israel.  The king served for the benefit of the nation, not the nation for the king.  Finally, the king read the law daily to keep him obedient to God, not merely the law of the king, but all the law of Israel.

The King Needed

This promise and law of the king lay dormant for a long time in Israel's history.  From the day Moses spoke it at the end of His life to the close of the life of Samuel, the promise of the king remained unfulfilled.  One of the oddest books in the Old Testament appears during this period.  The book of Judges was included in the Old Testament to express this simple message.  Israel needed a king.  The book begins in the aftermath of Joshua.  In chapter 2, the so-called "Judges cycle" appears in descriptive terms. (Judges 2:6-23)  During the life of Joshua, the people obeyed the Lord.  After the death of Joshua, they went after other gods.  The Lord responds by "selling" them into the hands of their enemies.  Israel would then cry out for deliverance.  The Lord would raise up a judge to deliver the people.  While the judge lived, the people would obey.  Once the judge died, they returned to idolatry, and the cycle began again.

Toward the end of the book at its most putrid, this refrain appears.  "In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6)  The lack of the king also appears in 18:1 and 19:1.  The last verse of Judges copies 17:6.  The problem with the judges was the lack of dynasty.  There was no ruler to keep the nation on track once the judge died.  The book anticipates the coming king and notes why the nation thinks he is needed.  This crisis appears at the end of the last judge's life.  Samuel is aging and his sons are not spiritually qualified to succeed him.  This impels the elders of Israel to demand a king, thinking that his dynasty will do what the judges had not, bring stable consecutive government to the nation.

The People's King

Little did they understand. Notice their demand for a king. "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles." (I Samuel 8:19-20)  In their previous demand, they had echoed the promise of Moses.  Now, in their rejection of Samuel's God-given warnings, they reveal what is at the heart of their demand.  Instead of the nations being the impetus for the king, the nations become the example for the nation.  Instead of seeing the advantage of the king, they want to be like the pagan nations.  The heart of the judges has not left the people.  Also, notice the other problem.  They want the king to fight for them.  Instead of seeing their military failure as evidence of their spiritual failure, they blame their failure on lack of leadership.  The need a standing military with a leader, at least in their mind.  Instead of trusting God with their protection, they want a human warrior.

God gives them what they want.  He gives them Saul.  He was the biggest, strongest, and most equipped person in Israel.  He was the warrior that the people wanted.  But he shared their failings.  His heart was far from God.  He took upon himself the work of the priest, which he was forbidden to do, not being a levite.  He failed to obey God in eradicating the Amalekites.  Following this failure, the dynasty of Israel's first king was over.

The Lord's King

We know the rest of the story.  The Lord sends Samuel to anoint a king "after His own heart." (I Samuel 13:14)  This king comes from the sheep, a lad who plays the harp to soothe the spirit of the king.  He cannot match Saul for might, height, or equipment, but he trusts the Lord and represents what Israel ought to be: failing but faithful.

The great test between the two kings appears in the valley of Elah.  Goliath in some way represents what Israel wanted as king, a big warrior.  Their big warrior, Saul, wimps out.  The biggest, strongest, and best equipped Israelite offers gifts to anyone who will take on the Philistine champion.  Instead of the people's king, it is the Lord's king that walks into the valley, without sword, without armor, a little man, with a stick and stones.  This lad has nothing but one truth. "And all this assembly shall know that the LORD saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give you into our hands." (I Samuel 17:47)  The Lord's king wins because the battle is the Lord's.  David walks into the valley representing the true victor over Goliath.

The Dynasty Promised

David's winning streak continues with only a few bumps along with quick repentance.  After the Lord makes him king, David sees a troubling contrast.  "[T]he king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains." (II Samuel 7:2)  The desire to build a temple for God opens a dialogue where the Lord makes an important promise for the unfolding of the plan of redemption.  "Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom." (II Samuel 7:11b-12)  Instead of David building a house for God, the Lord would build a house for David, a dynasty that would last forever.


The rest of the story doesn't exactly match our expectations.  Solomon, David's son does build the first temple, but also commits every sin forbidden the king.  He accumulates to himself both horses and wives.  The wives draw his heart away from God and leads to the split of the nation, civil war, and eventual exile.  The kings, the hope of the nation for consecutive stable government fail to accomplish their purpose.  The exile finally seems to cure Israel of its addiction to idols.  They return seeming to understand that their problem was never an outward one, but an inward problem.  Or so it seemed.

The Final King

In the ruin of David's immediate dynasty, Israel learned that the promise of an everlasting kingdom looked forward to a final king of the lineage of David.  Under the dominion of Rome, again, the attention of the nation focused outward.  Secure in their rejection of idols, they saw their problem as the pagan nation instead of their new idol, their own "righteousness."  Is it any wonder then that the officials in Israel rejected the final king when he arrived.

The gospel according to Matthew was written to prove that Jesus fulfilled the promises to David as the new and final king of Israel.  The rejection of the king appears in the gospel accounts as well.  The people so fixated on Roman paganism, could not see their own idolatry, even when the Lord sent the forerunner to remind them.  What was the message of John the Baptist?  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." (Mark 1:3-4)  The parallel passage in Matthew as well reflects the mission of John.  He was the one preparing the way for the Messiah.  He preached that what the nation needed was repentance, a turning from their sins.  What sins?  Listen to what he tells the religious leaders.  "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matthew 3:7-9)  John points to their serpentine way, though outwardly obedient.  Their faith rests in their conception of themselves, their works, and their heritage.

The rejection of the people of their king appears in the trial of Jesus.  "[Pilate] saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!  But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:14-15)  An astonishing statement from a people historically violent against Roman culture and rule.  Pilate has politically and masterfully turned their pressure on him, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend," (John 19:12) to an admission of submission.  Spiritually, this statement is a rejection of the Lord's final king.

The resurrection and ascension established the everlasting kingdom of Christ Jesus.  He rules and reigns even now from the throne in heaven.  He waits until the Father makes all His enemies His footstool.  The kingdom exists now and continues forever.

Over what does Christ reign?  Over all things.  There is not one atom of the created order over which God does not say, "Mine."  To Jesus as the second Adam, He has given the dominion.  As He gave it to Adam, wherein he failed, so He gives it to Jesus, who evermore obeys.  This dominion over all things some have separated from the rule over the church.  This division does not appear in Scripture.  As Adam had dominion over all things, so does our Lord.  There is a special regard for the place of the church in this dominion, but as shared rule and not separate rule.  The rule of Christ over the church is a rule over co-regents in training, younger siblings, spouses, not inferiors.

The Present Kingdom

What does this mean for our life as Christian in an unchristian world?  As regents in training, we occupy this earth as its rulers under Christ.  This gives us a new way of thinking about this world.  One pastor put it this way.  We are hosts of this earth rather than guests.  Think of the difference between being in your own house and being in the house of another.  In your own house, you are host and have certain rights and responsibilities.  In the house of another, you are a guest and nothing around you is yours.  This demands of us a new way of thinking.  We do not flagrantly act as owners of all.  The Bible gives no warrant for such arrogance.  Christ gives us in this life as He pleases for our regency in training.  We are to be content.  However, the kingdom reminds us that this world is for us to enjoy.

What about being Pilgrims and strangers?  This statement is true, for we find it in Scripture.  What does it mean?  Are we strangers to the creation made for man?  This cannot logically be true.  God made the world for man and therefor for His people.  What then are we alienated from?  We are strangers in the predominant world system that surrounds us.  This world, the world stained by sin, the world rejecting Christ, the society of unbelief, is not our home.  Earth is.  It constitutes part of the kingdom of God.

As a member of the kingdom, our citizenship is in that kingdom and not here.  We participate in this nation's government because it has given us the ability to.  We have a privilege that most Christians before us were denied.  The government listens to us, barely.  If we have this blessing, should we not use what God has ordained the government give to us?

Though we may participate in the earthly kingdom, we are not ultimately bound by them.  We are citizens of heaven and that law must reign over the law of man.  The heavenly law requires us to obey the earthly governor so long as we can without violating the moral law.  The moral law binds our conscience and our activities within the earthly government.

Finally, as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, we serve king Jesus in His work of kingdom expansion.  We are presently regents in training, await our full rule when Jesus returns.  Until then, we are to see our gifts and calling as advancing the kingdom.  Bringing order to this earth is kingdom work.  Whether that work is raising children, writing code, managing a business, teaching, manufacturing, repairing, or governing, what we do is for the kingdom of God and the glory of God first.  Our decisions about our occupation ought to be based on this reality.  We ask the question, what has God gifted and given me to do to glorify Him and advance the kingdom.  More on this later.

Living Christian in an unchristian world requires seeing ourselves as citizens of Christ's heavenly kingdom, awaiting until that kingdom becomes a reality upon earth when He returns.  Until we have that citizenship before our eyes, we will face the confusion of temptation to follow the unchristian world.  With this understanding firmly in mind, God grants us the vision to see clearly how to live in His kingdom, though treading within the fallen world.

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