This post is by Matt Capps (M.Div., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). Matt serves as a Teaching Pastor at The Fellowship, and as the Brand Manager for The Gospel Project in Nashville, TN. Matt recently finished his first book, Hebrews: A 12 Week Study, and is currently completing his D.Min. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
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We All Long for a True King
Most of us have not experienced what it is like to live in a kingdom, under the true reign of a king. We are familiar with kingdom language. Michael Jackson once reigned as the “king of pop.” Budweiser notoriously declares in their advertisements that they are “the king of beers.” Even LeBron James refers to himself as “King James” and supposedly rules the hardwood. But in reality, this language is devoid of any lasting meaning, missing the essence of true kingship.
Why does this matter? In every society, there is the structure for leadership, a particular person or a body of people to reign over its citizens. Human society needs the structure of justice to deliver its people from the cruelty of the sinful acts of men. Human civilization needs to provide protection over its people to promote what is good and guard peace in the land. We all want someone to look to, to lead the way, to make the difficult calls in order to seek our welfare. However, as history has shown, we have never seen that perfect king-like leader. We have never experienced the perfect and pure rule of a king. Even our best leaders are flawed, and our worst leaders can be tyrants.
However, while the human experience leaves us longing for the perfect rule of a perfect king, the Bible provides us with a more meaningful, hope-filled understanding of true kingdom reign. In the Bible, kings are to reign over every domain of life in their land; they are to have real authority to be used for the good of the people. And while God rules sovereignly over the universe, in the Bible, kings are called to mediate God’s justice to the people. In other words, the kings of earth are to rule as God’s vice-regents, His under-kings. Nevertheless, even the promising kings of the Old Testament left the people longing for a greater king.
The Kings of the Bible
While Adam did not have the title of king, he was called to rule as a king on the earth. Before the fall in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were appointed by God to rule as His vice-regents to govern the earth and everything in it on His behalf. They were not only called to represent God’s sovereign rule by subduing creation but also to spread His dominion throughout the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Eden was established as God’s kingdom on earth – the place where God’s people would dwell in God’s place, under God’s rule. However, in Genesis 3 we see that Adam attempted to dethrone God and forfeit his under-king status by siding with the enemy. And Eden was lost.
Later on, once God had established Israel as His covenant people and brought them to the promised land, He appointed judges as rulers over them. In a sense, the judges represented God’s rule in the lives of God’s people by delivering them from the folly of their sin (Judg. 2:14-23). The judges came, they delivered, but with no lasting blessing or security. There was some relief but no lasting solution. The people of Israel then cried out for a king to bring security and to lead them in faithfulness to God. And partially, they received what they asked for.
The reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon gave Israel a glimpse of hope. With each new king, Israel yearned anew. However, with great hope came also great disappointment. Saul turns out to be corrupt and downright crazy (1 Sam. 15). While David was a man after God’s own heart, his adultery with Bathsheba and his crime of murder revealed that he was not the perfect king (2 Sam.11). David’s son Solomon may have ruled in wisdom and with great riches, but while Solomon’s reign began with such hope, it ended in horror (1 Kings 11:1-4).
As the king went, so did the people. One of the lessons we learn from the Old Testament is that unless there is a good king, no aspect of life will be as it should be. The Old Testament leaves us longing. Along with the people of Israel we cry out, “There must be someone better than this!” There must be someone better than these men.
The True and Greater King
“Kingdom” is one of the primary themes of the Bible’s storyline, and this storyline finds its climax in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our hopes for a greater king are fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel accounts alone, there are more than one hundred references to the kingdom of God (or “kingdom of heaven,” as in Matthew). In John, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as His kingdom (3:3,5; 18:36). Moreover, the New Testament writers indicate that the kingdom of Christ is the same thing as the kingdom of God (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 11:15; 12:10). According to Jesus, He is the true King for whom all of humanity has longed.
Jesus is the perfect King who rules with justice. Jesus not only seeks but is able to bring lasting welfare for the people. So, even with their flaws, the good aspects of the Old Testament kings give us a glimpse of what was to come. In other words, all of the biblical accounts of earlier kings cast King Jesus’ shadow. Jesus is the last Adam who will reign and exercise dominion over the restored Eden (Rev. 22:1-5). Jesus is the true Judge and King who reigns in His unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:22-24,28). Jesus is both the son of David and the Son of God, the king from the line of David whose throne and dominion is everlasting (Luke 1:32-33).
With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom is present (Luke 17:20-22; Rev. 1:9). Yet, the kingdom is also future (Rev. 11:15). As Christians, we know that the full reality of His rule awaits His second coming (Matt. 13:30,39,47-50; 25:1-13; 2 Tim. 4:1). We also know that in Him, all of our hopes are fulfilled. Jesus is the true and greater King we have all been waiting for. Therefore, let us bow before the true King. He is worthy of our adoration and allegiance. Jesus’ rule extends to every aspect of our lives and therefore we serve him as under-kings in every realm of life (e.g., work, school, parenting, household chores, recreation, etc.).
And let us longingly wait for His return, when all things will be as they should. Eden may have been lost by the failures of the first king Adam, and no other human king has been able to restore it. But one day, Jesus will return, and with His return, His kingdom will be consummated and a greater Eden be restored.