Kingship

Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king! To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth: everyone that is of the truth hearest my voice.

— John 18:37

Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king. The question is called forth by what the Lord has just said concerning his kingdom, closing with the statement that it is not of this world. He now answers Pilate that he is a king indeed, but shows him that his kingdom is of a very different kind from what is called kingdom in this world. The rank and rule of this world are uninteresting to him. He might have had them. Calling his disciples to follow him, and his twelve legions of angels to help them, he might soon have driven the Romans into the abyss, piling them on the heap of nations they had tumbled there before. What easier for him than thus to have cleared the way, and over the tributary world reigned the just monarch that was the dream of the Jews, never seen in Israel or elsewhere, but haunting the hopes and longings of the poor and their helpers! He might from Jerusalem have ruled the world, not merely dispensing what men call justice, but compelling atonement. He did not care for government. No such kingdom would serve the ends of his father in heaven, or comfort his own soul. What was perfect empire to the Son of God, while he might teach one human being to love his neighbor, and be good like his father! To be lover-helper to one heart, for its joy, and the glory of his father, was the beginning of true kingship! The Lord would rather wash the feet of his weary brothers than be the one only perfect monarch that ever ruled in the world. It was empire he rejected when he ordered Satan behind him like a dog to his heel. Government, I repeat, was to him flat, stale, unprofitable.

Commentary

A King Like No Other
By Dave Roney

From the 13th chapter of John's gospel I find the King issuing His greatest command as the King; He tells his men in vs. 34-35, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  He is demonstrating the nature of His Kingdom and what the rule in that Kingdom looks like; in the following twenty-four hours He will show fully how He deals with subjects and rebels alike.  He is harmless and undefiled—by that I mean to say He does not react to those who hate Him as would any earthly king, but in brokenness of forgiving and all consuming, redemptive, love.  During the next twenty-four hours He will be humiliated, beaten, tortured, whipped, falsely accused, then condemned, and finally crucified.  Never once do we find in Him a shred of bitterness, nor any trace of threat or retribution, but only His allowing and engulfing of all the fiery darts of human wrath to be heaped upon Him: This, this alone, this uniquely, is how the King of kings rules.

The reign of this King is so utterly foreign to that of any and every other ruler who, before or since Him, has governed that to the natural mind the form of His reign is incomprehensible.  Lewis put into words the grand cruciform thought: “He cannot ravish, He can only woo.”  With all the power in the universe His, we cannot imagine the nature and character of a God Who not only refuses to rule by coercion but Who, even more dramatically, has no notion of doing it—this is indicative of God's truly childlike nature.  A kingdom may be defined as all the areas over which one exercises control or influence; thus, within every person, slave or free, there is some area which they control; it may be the space surrounding them; that is a part of their kingdom; it may be in the most abject case that a man retains control over only his will, his body being ruled over by another; that is his kingdom.  Such an impoverished man may not reign, yet still he rules himself.  And there is a difference between reigning and ruling, at least from the perspective of God.

To rule nothing more than superior force is necessary; to reign is to receive the willing allegiance and obedience of subjects.  Pilate ruled over Christ, Christ reigned over Pilate.  But, you say, Pilate had Christ crucified; how was that any allegiance to Him?  It was not—in that moment.  But there is a further factor to be considered; one who rules by force tolerates no challenge to his authority but will crush it, while he who reigns permits it.  Remember, I am speaking not from the perspective of men here, but according to how I understand God.  The tyrant will eradicate all opposition by degrees of force, which tends toward totalitarianism.  The true Monarch will, with forbearing and illimitable patience woo His subjects by love and thus in time, perhaps eons of time, bring them every one willingly to His knee.  He who on a day ruled over Christ has by now, as I suppose, surrendered himself to the reign of our Lord; if not, if after so many centuries he still refuses to surrender to love, then the Lover is not yet done with him; Pilate will in the end be overwhelmed by a force no man can eternally withstand, that of harmless Love, and becomes then the captive of love, the willing subject of his Lover-Lord-King. 

How do we, then, understand Him dealing with the godless?  Those living when He returns, and all those now dead?  Do we think of Him then as the god of retribution, of damnation, of terror and unmitigated wrath?— God has those qualities to be sure; but does He point them at His children, or at their sins?  Is He bound to destroy His sinful children by damning them, or is He bound to destroy their sin in order to reconcile them?  Or do we understand Him as the crucified King, still and forevermore wooing, still harmless, still loving, as He suffers to fulfill love's end—the reconciliation of all things or, contrariwise, do we see Him some divine Jekyll and Hyde character?  Do we see Patience exhausted or that it will continue through the coming ages, relentless as is His love, pursuing the errant children of His Father, their Father Who loves them though they be estranged from Him?  Let us be most careful not to accept the teaching of some, though their theology be common to men, when laid over against what is clearly evident in our Lord.

Do you interpret Christ by what you find in Scripture?  Interpret your Scripture by what you detect in Christ; He is not to be interpreted but understood, to be understood only by what He said and did, straightforwardly, apart from doctrines or traditions or imaginings; there is no legitimate hermeneutic for Christ Jesus, only the childlike acceptance of Him as He is for what He is.  Pilate that day tried to interpret our Lord's meaning concerning His kingdom; had he but paid heed to what was in Christ, as Christ had been unequivocally showing for three years, then he would have known.  When He said His kingdom was “not of this world” He meant “not like any kingdom of this world.”  He did not intend that His kingdom had nothing to do with the world, for His is the only true kingdom of the world; it is a kingdom He will, in God's fair time, return to claim.  And in that Day will all the kingdoms of Caesar, in their various forms, collapse; the impostors will be swept aside as the True comes into its rightful place among the children of the Father.

“Pilate asks Jesus if He is a king.  The question is called forth by what the Lord has just said concerning His Kingdom, closing with the statement that it is not of this world.”    

I think the Greek, lacking punctuation, may appear ambiguous here; men can make the Lord's reply to be sheepish or bold, vague or direct, or see the dagger-like thrust of love into the prefect's heart.  No such ambivalence can exist, though the very words of the Lord, as written down for us, do not clearly reflect His meaning, His tone, or the weightiness of His words; our Lord has come to His hour and knows it well; Pilate has questioned Him at length and found Him innocent yet condemns Him to excruciating Romish death.  When Pilate finally asks Him pointedly “So you are a king?” Jesus replies, according to my understanding, straightforwardly; "I AM a King indeed!”  There is no equivocation in His answer, no trembling in His voice, no wavering of His confidence with the prefect.  He states the fact, the truth, categorically.  His answer might even be, for meaning; “You, Pilate, of all men by now know that I am a King!”  And know it true Pilate did; He knew without interpretation that our Lord was a king, a King nothing like his Caesar, an innocent man whom he condemned to death—he washes his hands of the criminal offense but cannot cleanse his soul of it.  All which was in his mind that day I will not presume to imagine, but of one thing I am certain; in his heart he knew, beyond any doubt, that this King was a far better man than was his Caesar.

This intercourse shows me not only the unflinching Christ, as He ever was—without resort to fearful flight, or antagonism's fight, but harmlessly standing both for and as Truth in the face of opposition; it shows me also the nature of the King and His rule, shows Him utterly consistent; had He not, concerning the events in which He was presently embroiled, declared (John 10:18) “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father?”  Now He stands on the threshold of laying down His life willingly; do we suppose this great power which is His is being held in check by Him, as though by discipline, that He was stifling some desire to call upon legions of angels?  Again, if that is what we suppose, it is to have learned Christ wrongly; for He does not subordinate what He would prefer to do in light of what He must do:

“The rank and rule of this world are uninteresting to Him.  He might have had them.  Calling His disciples to follow Him, and His twelve legions of angels to help them, He might soon have driven the Romans into the abyss, piling them on the heap of nations they had tumbled there before.”

Had that been His will, then why not have taken the opportunity afforded Him by the prince of this world, when Satan offered Him those kingdoms?  What easier thing for Him, Who has the power of life and death, to issue irrevocable death upon His enemies: For any lesser than Him it would have been the easiest thing in the world to bring brute and overwhelming force to bear and destroy His enemies—for Him it was impossible.  As impossible as had it been for Him to lie, or steal, or deceive; impossible because there was nothing of that, of bringing the world under His rule by force of arms, within Him.  He must be understood as the cruciform Christ ere He was ever nailed to His cross, and forever thereafter; He was and is and shall ever be the cruciform Christ in His relations with mankind.  Think of Him, brothers and sisters; is there any thing in Him at all which suggests He would force every knee to Him to bow?  It is as alien to Him as death is to life:

“He might from Jerusalem have ruled the world, not merely dispensing what men call justice, but compelling atonement.  He did not care for government.  No such kingdom would serve the ends of His Father in heaven, or comfort His own soul.”

Nay, never at any time did He by force cause any man to follow after or submit to Him—He has not done so with you, He has not done it with any other, neither by force and power to rescue Himself from that cause for which He entered the world, nor will He in the hereafter in any manner at all change in the method by which He addresses the sons of men.  It is the absolute truth and not any pithy saying to bandy about that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  How He worked for redemption from His cross is how He is working today, and for all future days.  And that every knee shall one day bow down before Him is not by the sword, as though He were become a latter day Roman conqueror, but those knees shall drop down in loving admiration for the One Who died loving them, Who took His life back from the tomb to redeem them, and Who will one day reign over them in the bliss of reciprocating affection, devotion, unity and unimaginably deep and intimate relational love.  He is the King above all kings because He alone is a Servant to and for His subjects:

“To be Lover-Helper to one heart, for its joy, and the glory of His Father, was the beginning of true Kingship!  The Lord would rather wash the feet of His weary brothers than be the one only perfect monarch that ever ruled in the world.”

St. Matthew writes in the 21st chapter of his Gospel, quoting from Zechariah, of the King as He came into His capital:

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Let Pilate be representative of the kingdoms of the world, let him enter the City on his white stallion, armor gleaming, sword at side, followed by his lusty soldiers and ruling through intimidation, overpowering force, as a terror and by death; let our Christ enter from the other side of the City through His gate, humble and harmless; this is our great King, Who will reign in His Kingdom even as He so lived and died.  I believe He shall wear His crown through the coming ages but that there will come a Day when time shall end; at that moment, known to His Father, He shall remove His crown, its purpose served, and sit down among the children of the Father forevermore.  For, He did not come to redeem subjects but sons of His Father:

“For it was fitting that He, for Whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He Who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have One source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of Your name to My brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing Your praise.”  (From the 2nd of Hebrews)

We are to one day reign with Christ.  Far beyond, eternally before as well as after, outside of any permanency of thrones and crowns is the reign of Love and the only rule of that reign is that of Love.  In the above quote from the Epistle to the Hebrews our Lord calls us brothers (vis a vis sisters) and not subjects; He wears no crown and sits no throne, but has entered in among the glorious throng of the children of their Father, One among them, and with them sings praise to God.  The text continues, saying; “Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect” because, by this, shall have all men by then be made like Him in every respect.  God did not create our kind to be ruled over but to be enjoyed within in the fellowship of deepest familial relationship, that of children with their Father and their Elder Brother and one another, all in the bonds of Love.

Did you suppose that the Son of God endured His humility only in order to win His preeminence?  As though His humble nature on earth were but a stepping stone for Him to a higher and more noble position and rank, after which, having obtained, He then became somehow different than before?  Nay; in His earthly form He was showing us what is eternally in Him, and in His Father, and that upon which all the goodness in the world, in time and in eternity, exclusively depends.  The simplest and least adorned robe in Heaven will be the one worn by our Christ; even as He spurned pomposity on earth, so also in His great ascendancy to Kinghood.  As He was in this life, so is He in all of time and eternity.  He sought no rule in this world save that of Love, seeks none other than that in the forthcoming world without end:  

“It was empire He rejected when He ordered Satan behind Him like a dog to His heel.  Government, I repeat, was to Him flat, stale, and unprofitable.”

The question returns: How have we learned Christ?  If we see Him any differently than what has been exposed to us concerning Him in the Gospel accounts, as though He could in any manner be different on one day from what He is on another day, then we have learned Him wrongly.  And by that, since “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being,” to know Christ wrongly is also to know our Father wrongly.  Let us rethink, if necessary, what it is we have come to believe and accept concerning our Lord.  The Kingship of Christ is unlike any earthly example, is unique because He is unique—His reign is that of the Self-sacrificing, Self-forgetting, Servant-King from Whom all blessing flows.  And upon those differences which exist between all earthly kings and this One great King I have but barely touched.

“Behold, your King is coming to you, humble...”

 The Grand Taxonomy
"To This End I Was Born" (John 18:37)
by Dave Roney

In the field of biology, there is established a taxonomy under the current heading of “Life” (including Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Specie); there is likewise a taxonomy, less extravagant, for non-living things, designated as “Matter” (the major divisions being Pure Substances and Mixtures).  For our purposes here, I offer what may be considered as The Grand Taxonomy, which includes all things whatsoever.  Everything which is, of the material and immaterial reality, pertaining to the physical and metaphysical, carnal and spiritual, both the living and the inanimate, of finite things as well as that which is Infinite, every thought, desire, word, action, emotion, of all which is on Earth and in Heaven including all which is under the earth; all these may be set in orders under their several appropriate headings, but all such headings are subordinated and subsumed under the grandest, highest, overarching Heading which is God.

Qualifying this expanded Taxonomy is St. Paul; “For all things are from Him, and [all things] are through Him, and [all things] are to Him” (Romans 11:36), which speaks of Christ Jesus; but He Himself made it clear that His Father was greater than He (John 14:28), and of this (you may call it “subjecting”) it is written, when He shall finally have broughtall things into subjection to Himself, “then the Son Himself will also be subjected to Him (our Father) who put all things in subjection under Him (Jesus), that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

Within the “all things” are hierarchies of types and there are hierarchies within each type; a fish is a higher type than a stone, and among the demons there is a lord Satan over them; so also among believers in God there is Christ as the Head with gifts and offices appointed to men; not all angels are equal, neither men, nor demons, but are set in ranks, given titles and positions, some having greater power or influence than others.  And all the types are subsumed under the ultimate highest Source of all being, all matter, all reality, which is God; “for in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), and not we alone—but everything which is, is because of Him.  In the initial creative act God made the beasts “after their kind” (their type) and the green things that grow upon the earth, the fishes in the sea, and of man “He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth,” men, then, as all other created things, according to their “kind,” and there is inherent in these kinds, or types, hierarchies.

Now the difference of hierarchy between different things and hierarchy within things of the same type is this: Of the myriad types of differing things, some are made higher than others, but within the types of sentient beings are created by them unnatural internal hierarchies which are not ordained by God.  Between types we find no creature desiring to be other than what it is created as; but among men and also angels we discover those who would rule, would sit at the chief seats be it at table or temple, would lord it over others, would force their will upon their fellows and demonstrate by unbearable methods their bent to power, fame, riches, and self aggrandizement.  And how shall such a militant purpose be best accomplished?  It is by the internal hierachy of kings going out to battle, with their captains and lieutinents and footmen, subserviant and under their command.  And concerning this, within the great taxonomy, have been established kingdoms, two in particular under which all other kingdoms are subordinate; it is the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar.  (I restrict reference to the kingdoms (plural) of this world to the singular form, Caesar, rather than the plural, for in the hierarchy of kingdoms all those of the world lie in the lap of the Wicked One, and he is their king, their Caesar; and it makes no difference that one kingdom is better than another, or that we prefer one more than any other, be it democracy, socialism, communism, tribal rule, parlimentary, etc.; all these are alike under the rule of the god of this age).

God desired no kingship; that He has a Kingdom is a response to what is in Satan and in men; He has established His Kingdom to combat and overcome Caesar's kingdom and the dark lord who rules Caesar, all that which he represents, and all those (the slaves of sin) and all that (darkness and death) which follow in his train.  In the Garden God's desire for the man was to be his loving Father, to bring up His son in the bonds of closest, tenderest, familial relationship and share freely with him all which God possesses.  An earthly Caesar, or worse the demon ruling him, might prefer a lavish peacock's display of his power and glory, might be pleased that Adam would crumble to his feet in awe and fear, might ever remind the man that that he was his betters and remand him to horrific punishment if the man so much as lifted his eyes to make contact, but not so our God.  His thought was not to rule but to become much like the creature whom He had made to be much like Himself.  And from our reading for today we find Jesus to be exactly like Him, for:  

“He now answers Pilate that He is a king indeed, but shows him that His kingdom is of a very different kind from what is called kingdom in this world.  The rank and rule of this world are uninteresting to Him... He might from Jerusalem have ruled the world, not merely dispensing what men call justice, but compelling atonement.  He did not care for government.  No such kingdom would serve the ends of His Father in heaven, or comfort His own soul... The Lord would rather wash the feet of His weary brothers than be the only perfect monarch that ever ruled the world... Government, I repeat, was to Him flat, stale, unprofitable.”

We might on a large sheet of paper lay out all the types and kinds in a Great Taxonomy; we would not get very far before realizing that these are not appropriately placed side-by-side, but that the things so charted must be organized into a vertical hierarchical system, from the lowest thing to be classified to the ultimate highest Classifier of all things, Who is God.  Somewhere in that graph, and in the top tier, would be two kingdoms, which we would title Kingdom of God and kingdom of Caesar.  In Caesar's column would be all the worldly kingdoms that ever existed as well as those sinister, incorporeal, powers of darkness, with a footnote which reads “Ultimately brought into subjection to Christ.”  And under the column of The Kingdom of Christ, of Heaven, of God (for those are synonyms), would also be a footnote; “Ultimately offered up to God the Father, including the King Himself.”  But that has not yet occurred, is yet future; there was a day when the two kingdoms stood face to face in the hour of trial and conflict: It was Jesus, the King, standing before Pilate, serving as Caesar's, i.e. Satan's, emissary:  

“Then, if You have a Kingdom, you are a king!”
“Even you, Pilate, admit it!”
“So, then, You are a king!”
“Indeed, Pilate; I am a king, and it was to be a king that I was born!”

If, in your translation, you see a question mark (?) behind Pilate's words, as though he were asking Christ if or not He is a king, know that it was no question he asked but a pronouncement, perhaps even an exclamation, and that the question mark was added by the translators.  Pilate had expected to meet one more foolish self-proclaimed messiah, but in the battered Man standing before him he saw, finally, and as no other could have done, what a true King is.
 
Pilate, I then suggest, was stunned by this humble King, Who, without malice or violence, gained the preeminence over his ghastly Caesar-king; by His resurrection He stunned not only His friends, and His enemies, but also the principalities and powers of the air and the rulers of darkness in high places; by all that He is, He has stunned we who are His followers, for He is more to us than our minds and tongues are able to express.  And He is not finished finished; for one day we shall be able to see Him as He truly is, we will be stunned to finally know what unadulterated Christlikeness actually is, and to participate in His perfections, to share fully in the nature of our God through Him: But, more, all creation will be stunned when He finally wins the day then removes His crown, surrenders His kingship to the Father, and—freed from all the matters of state to which He has been faithfully attending—sits down with His brothers and sisters, and kisses again the little children, and enters into His rest even as we shall have through Him entered into ours.  And in that day shall be fulfilled the original desire of God's heart toward the “very good” things He created, which is the utter and Divine bliss of uninterrupted fellowship with His sons and daughters, and everything which has life, in a renovated and refurbished universe.