Monday, October 1, 2012

The Kingship of Christ

Jesus Christ has been viewed in many ways over the centuries. His redemptive work has been known among men since man’s fall into sin, and since the days of Calvin it has been customary to speak of the offices of Christ as mediator as prophet, priest, and king. Different men and theological traditions have often emphasized different offices, and modern evangelicalism often emphasizes the priestly role of Christ. While each has great importance, and while they all do work together, the kingship of Christ is often only given lip-service or wrongly conceived. Jesus Christ is king, and His kingship, when rightly conceived, is a great encouragement and motivation for believers.

When we speak of Christ’s kingship we do not mean His dominion from all eternity that He has as God, but we mean His kingship that He has as mediator. From eternity God has covenantally planned salvation for His people, each member of the Trinity working in a different way. Part of this eternal plan of salvation is that Jesus is promised a kingdom by the Father for the salvation of His people. This kingdom of Christ has been prepared for us from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34) and has been assigned to Christ by the Father so that Christ might assign it to us (Luke 22:29). While His kingship was typified and prophesied in the Old Testament, it is specifically granted to Him by the Father as part of His exaltation after His accomplishment of redemption for us on earth (Phil. 2:8-11, Matt. 28:18, Rev. 5). Because this kingdom is founded in God’s promise to His Son (Ps. 2) it is not an earthly kingdom. This kingdom does not originate with earthly rulers or the like; it is “not of this world” (John 18:36). Instead it is the kingdom belonging to Heaven, to God, to Christ.

Christ has been given this kingdom for His people’s sake. Christ’s priestly work is closely related to His kingly work. As priest He accomplishes redemption by atoning for our sins and fulfilling the requirements of the law for us. As king He is reconciling all things to Himself by subjecting everything under Him, by judging the wicked and applying salvation in its fullness to His people (Ps. 110, Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:20-28). Atonement for sin is not an end in itself, but because of Man’s sin it is necessary for man’s restoration in Christ to His creational role under God. Thus His atonement is done with the purpose of creating us anew in Christ Jesus for the purpose of “good works” (Eph. 2:10). In Daniel 7 an awesome picture is given where the Ancient of Days is in judgement over the kingdoms of men and the Son of Man comes and receives from Him a kingdom which the saints possess, and in which they are justified. This kingdom is given to the Son so that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan. 7:14, emphasis added). In other words, "The goal of atonement, of redemption, is the rule of God over a kingdom wholly subject to the law of the covenant, and joyfully so....Without the dimension of law, life is denied the meaning and purpose of re-birth." (Rushdoony, 73)

The way Jesus Christ administers His kingdom is powerful and effective. He starts on the inside by subduing our hearts by the Holy Spirit. In this manner we are born again and lovingly submit our whole persons to the will of God. This happens definitively and progressively in life as the Spirit regenerates us and sanctifies us by His sword, the Word of God (Eph. 6:17). Those who have not been born of the Spirit cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). By this authority He bestows saving grace upon His people (Acts 5:31). In response to the salvation that the Spirit applies to us, and by His power, we love God and manifest our new nature. Thus the kingdom is said to be what the Spirit manifests in us, i.e. “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). Christ also governs His kingdom by exercising His universal authority by chastening and defending His people and judging His and our enemies. All people must side with or against Christ’s kingdom and there are awesome consequences enforced by Christ attending this alinement, both in history and in the final, eternal judgement. Those who remain in rebellion against Christ will be broken with a rod of iron, but those who serve the LORD with fear and take refuge in Christ will be blessed (Ps. 2).

Christ’s kingly rule is rooted in the hearts of believers, but it is by no means limited to it. The visible church is very important to the kingdom. The leaders of the church have been given the “keys of the kingdom” to rule the visible church, and by them Christ visibly rules His people (Matt. 16:19, see also Matt. 18:15-20). The church is the visible organization of His kingdom as it is His people gathered, renewed, and unified in the Spirit, and as the Spirit builds it up in giving it various gifts for the mutual upbuilding of the whole (1 Cor. 12), including church government (Eph. 4:1-16). The kingdom also extends beyond the church and is the “new condition of things which results from the application of the principles of the kingdom of God” (Manual, 207). In 1 Corinthians 15 it is said that all things will be subjected to Christ the King. This includes nations, cultures, kings, economics, etc. In short, all of life will be subjected to Christ and His law (Matt. 28:18-20). “The Kingdom may be said to be a broader concept than the Church, because it aims at nothing less than the complete control of all the manifestations of life. It represents the dominion of God in every sphere of human endeavor" (Systematic Theology, 570). To live otherwise, in any endeavor, is to live that much in rebellion to Christ.

This doctrine of Christ’s kingship has great import concerning the nature of the gospel. When we believe in Christ and His redemptive work for us, we then believe in Him as Lord and King. “Unconditional surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ is of the essence of saving faith” (Morecraft, 164-165). It is when we believe in the “Lord Jesus” and that “Jesus is Lord” that we “shall be saved” (Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9). To have faith in Jesus but not to submit to Him in good works is to have a dead faith (James 2:17). “The Biblical concept of saving faith has the basic ingredient of a disposition to obey Jesus” (Morecraft, 166). Thus our lives are lived by this faith in King Jesus in loving submission to His law. This gives meaning to everything we do and creates a constant dependance upon Christ’s redemptive power for our lives. This means that the gospel will exercise great effect upon societies as the kingdom grows like leaven in the lump (Matt. 13:33). Our great commission given to us by Christ, based on Christ’s kingly authority over all, is that we might disciple all nations, teaching them to submit to His commands (Matt. 28:18-20). We are called to manifest Christ’s reign in our civilizations and cultures as we bring all things in submission to the Lord. If our kings, nations, and cultures submit to Christ they will be blessed, otherwise they will be obliterated.

This brings us to the consideration of the kingdom’s growth on earth. Since this kingdom is Christ’s and since He governs all things, blessing His kingdom and judging His enemies, this kingdom “is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14). Like the rock in Daniel 2, the kingdom will shatter the kingdoms of man and will fill the earth. Like the field in Matthew 13 the world will become the kingdom (Matt. 13:38, 41). This gives us great hope amid the wickedness of our day. Although we know that we are engaged in a conflict and that we will always have “weeds” who will rebel against the Lord’s Anointed, we can work in the confidence that Christ is on our side and will give us the victory. His enemies will be defeated in history and eternity and we who serve the Lord in faith will be blessed now and forever. This ought to give us great boldness. Christ has all that we need and will never abandon us. We ought to go forth and preach His Word, knowing that this is what His subjects are called to do and that the success of our labors is in Christ’s hand.

To ignore or minimize Christ’s kingship is to minimize the gospel. This is not a dry doctrine but is one from which “faith derives manifold advantages” (Calvin, 336). It gives us confidence in a secure eternal salvation. By it faith discerns Christ’s power, “on which depend our strength, might, resources, and triumph over hell” (Calvin, 336). Seeing that we have so great a king and protector we can fear none but Him and follow Him against the very gates of Hell. No earthly power can overcome our king. Because of our union with our king, we reign with Him (Rev 5:10). Whether our enemies be our sinful flesh, the world, or Satan, they are being defeated by our king and by us (Gal. 5:24, 1 John 5:4, Rom. 16:20). We may thus continue to pray that God’s kingdom would continue to come to earth in its fullness and that His glory would shine throughout the earth in the work of His saints. We may continue to look forward to the great consummation of the kingdom at the end of time when the kingdom will be purified and God will be all in all.

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Berkhof, Louis Manual of Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1933.
Berkhof, Louis Systematic Theology. Edinburgh, UK, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958. 
Calvin, John Institutes of the Christian Religion. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008.
Morecraft, Dr. Joseph C. Authentic Christianity, Powder Springs, GA: Minkoff Family;
American Vision, 2009.
Rushdoony, Rousas John The Institutes of Biblical Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and
Reformed Publishing, 1973.
The Holy Bible (ESV). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003.

1 comment:

Daniel Romanowitz said...

Very clear, coherent explanation, Peter. This doctrine is extremely important for Christians to properly understand, and you articulate it very well.

“Unconditional surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ is of the essence of saving faith.” GREAT encapsulation by Dr. Morecraft. I wish all Christians understood this... so often faith is presented as a mere feeling.