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King, Christ As

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

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The Old Testament . Beginning with Genesis 1:1 , the Bible portrays God as the Lord and Sovereign over all creation, God Most High (Genesis 14:18; cf. Psalm 24:1; 93:1; 95:3-7 ). The central theme of the covenant God made with Abraham was the promise that the land of Canaan would be "an everlasting possession" to him and his descendants (Genesis 17:8 ). The land is the gift of God (Exodus 32:13; 33:1; Deuteronomy 1:8,25 ). Yet it "must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants" (Leviticus 25:23 ). God owns the land and lives among his people in a covenant relationship (Leviticus 26:11-12; Deuteronomy 4:1; 6:5-15 ). He is the ideal King, the Lord Almighty, over the kingdoms of mortals (Isaiah 6:5; Jeremiah 46:18; Daniel 4:25 ).

In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Moses prophesied that a time would come, following the settlement of the land, in which the nation would want a king like all the nations around them. He warned them to "be sure to appoint … the king the Lord your God chooses" (v. 15). From the conquest, all of Israel's neighbors had kings. When the Priest-Judge Samuel grew old, the elders of Israel determined that the time had come for a change ( 1 Samuel 8:4-22 ). Samuel acquiesced to their request, and anointed Saul as their king (1 Samuel 10:1,24-25; 11:14-15 ). From the anointing of Saul on, the monarchy developed as a secondary institution alongside the priesthood and temple cult. One can discern two views of the anointed monarchy in the Old Testament: it was either the gift and servant of God, or it was God's rival and a symbol of Israel's rejection of the reign of God.

In David the Lord found a person after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 ), one to whom he made a solemn and everlasting promise: "The Lord … will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:11-13,16 ). When Jerusalem fell in 586 b.c., this promise seemed to end in failure.

After the united kingdom of Israel was divided in 931 b.c., the prophets of the Old Testament increasingly interpreted the promise made to David in spiritual terms, rather than in political, terrestrial ones. Isaiah prophesied in the eighth century b.c.: "The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin … will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (7:14). His reign would be supranational and everlasting, possessing divine characteristics, restoring peace and justice (9:2-7; 11:1-10). Isaiah's contemporary, Micah, likewise prophesied that he would be born in Bethlehem, but his origins were "from of old, from ancient times" (5:2-5). Jeremiah and other later prophets continued to cultivate the hope of a future anointed deliverer who would be the righteous Branch of Jesse (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 33:15 ).

The fall of Jerusalem in 586 b.c. intensified the hope of witnessing the kingdom of God, but in apocalyptic terms—the anticipation of a divine warrior, a messianic king who would appear as God's deliverer (Zechariah 9:9-17; 12:8-10; 14:3-9 ). In Daniel one finds a new distinction. "God is God of gods and the Lord of kings" (Daniel 2:47 ), who is "sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes" (4:25). Sometime in the future, however, God will set up a kingdom that will crush all the kingdoms of the earth and bring them to an end, but will itself endure forever (2:44). In Daniel's apocalyptic vision, he sees a future divine king—"one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed" (7:13-14). David served as the definitive authority for Jesus, for he interpreted the promise in other than human terms, "The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet'" (Psalm 110:1 ). Jesus understood David to have called the Christ "his Lord" (Mark 12:36; cf. Acts 2:34-35; Hebrews 1:13 ).

The New Testament In the time of Herod king of Judea ( Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5 ) and Caesar Augustus who reigned over the Roman world (Luke 2:1 ), Jesus was born. Magi came to Jerusalem looking for "the one who has been born king of the Jews" (Matthew 2:2; cf. Luke 2:11 ). The genealogies of Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38 confirm Jesus' human descent from David, a prominent motif in Matthew. After Jesus fed the 5,000, the crowd wanted to force him to become king ( John 6:15 ). Blind Bartimaeus saw what others had missed, as he shouted, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-52 ). Jesus entered Jerusalem like a king, riding on the colt of a donkey (Matthew 21:5; Luke 19:38; John 12:13,15; cf. Zechariah 9:9 ). When Jesus was on trial, the high priest questioned him, asking, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" Jesus responded prophetically, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:61-62; cf. Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 12:10 ). Similarly, the governor Pilate asked, "Are you the king of the Jews?" To which Jesus answered, "Yes, it is as you say" (Mark 15:2 ). Throughout the balance of the New Testament Jesus is described as the Son of David, a king.

The Kingdom of God (Heaven) The devil tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and showing him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He promised to transfer his usurped authority to Jesus, if Jesus would bow down and worship him. Jesus corrected the devil's theology, reaffirming that the Lord alone has power over the kingdoms of the world and he alone is worthy of worship ( Matthew 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-8 ). God Almighty is the Great King (Matthew 5:35; cf. 1 Timothy 1:17 ). Consistently in the parables of the kingdom, God is understood as the master and owner or the King.

After receiving the divine anointing at his baptism (Mark 1:9-11 ), Jesus begins to proclaim the inauguration of the kingdom in Galilee: "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15 ). This becomes the central theme in all that Jesus preaches, and he seeks to define its nature in the expanded response to Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36 ). The disciples, however, persistently misunderstood the nature of the kingdom to the very end. For this reason, Peter rebuked Jesus when he spoke of going to Jerusalem to die (Mark 8:32 ), and then drew his sword in an attempt to fend off the arresting crowd in Gethsemane (Mark 14:47 ). The kingdom remained a mystery, hidden from the understanding of the disciples.

The kingdom is present in the person, ministry, and miracles of Jesus (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20 ). Jesus likens himself to the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14; Luke 13:24; John 10:7,9 ), the one who has the key to open the way for people to enter the kingdom. When he is present, the kingdom of God is present (Luke 11:20; 17:21; 1 Timothy 4:1 ), but it is not a visible, political, or temporal kingdom (Luke 17:20-25 ). As in the Old Testament, the kingdom is the gift of God (Luke 12:32 ), but now the emphasis is on the uNIVersal opportunity open to all who believe (Matthew 16:19; 21:43; Luke 12:32; John 3:3-8,15-16 ).

The kingdom, on the other hand, is also described by Jesus as eschatological, and will be consummated at a future time. Frequently, Jesus says, "Repent, for the kingdom of God (heaven) is near" (Matthew 4:17; 10:7; Mark 1:15; Luke 10:9,11 ). This reference to time is debated among scholars, as the perfect tense of the Greek verb (engiken ) can be interpreted to mean that the kingdom has come at some point in the past and is now present, or it is imminently near and will be realized sometime in the future. There are, however, other statements that are less ambiguous. The disciple is told to pray, "Your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2 ), implying that the kingdom is not fully realized. In the parables of the judgment, the kingdom will be a future, eternal inheritance prepared for those who have done the will of God, a reward for those who have worked in God's vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16 ) and for those to whom God chooses to show his mercy. This inheritance is associated with the second coming of the Son of Man and the eschatological invasion of his kingdom "with power" (Mark 9:1 ).

The motif of Christ as King and the kingdom is less common outside the Gospels in the New Testament, except in Revelation. As the church grew beyond Palestine and the synagogues of the Jews, the Gentiles preferred other metaphors to refer to their relationship and the supremacy of Christ, such as bridegroom and bride and Christ the head of the body.

"Jesus is King" became the confession of the early Christian community. Nathanael declares, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel" (John 1:49 ). With the same profound meaning, the early church adopted the baptismal confession, "Jesus is Lord!" (Romans 10:9; 1Col 12:3). This emphasis upon Jesus Christ the King brought persecution to the church, for Jesus was viewed as a rival to Caesar and the laws of the Roman Empire. But the church persisted in her belief that Jesus was the "King of the ages!" (Revelation 15:3 ), "King of kings and Lord of lords!" (Revelation 17:14; 19:16; cf. 1 Timothy 6:15 ).

Melvin H. Shoemaker

See also Christ, Christology; Jesus Christ

Bibliography G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God; W. Bousset, Kyrios Christos; G. W. Buchanan, Jesus the King and His Kingdom; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament; C. C. Caragounis, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, pp. 417-30; O. Cullmann, The Christology of the New Testament; idem, The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology; R. H. Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology; F. Hahn, The Titles of Jesus in Christology: Their History in Early Christianity; J. Knox, Jesus, Lord and Christ: A Trilogy; C. N. Kraus, Jesus Christ Our Lord: Christology from a Disciple's Perspective; G. E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism; I. H. Marshall, Jesus the Saviour: Studies in the New Testament Theology; N. Perrin, Jesus and the Language of the Kingdom: Symbol and Metaphor in New Testament Interpretation; R. Schnackenburg, God's Rule and Kingdom .

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'King, Christ As'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.​dictionaries/​eng/​bed/​k/king-christ-as.html. 1996.