The Son of God, in kindness He came
As a friend to the hopeless, the lost, and the lame
Our sins He bore yet His name we despised
And the hands that brought healing were pierced as He died
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel
On that fateful night a King was born. Into history Jesus the King came and the world has never been the same. We are likely familiar with Jesus as our savior, our friend, or the one who sacrificially died for us. While all of these descriptions are true, perhaps we need to revisit the biblical narrative to enrich and expand our horizons when considering who Jesus is in all his facets. What we will see is that some two thousand years ago, the King of the universe was born and he calls us to give him our complete loyalty.
Who Is This King?
The person of Jesus is difficult to describe adequately given his nature and accomplishments. He is the Savior of the world (Jn. 4:42), the author of life (Acts 3:15), the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), and he is no less than God over all (Rom. 9:5), the God who is with us (Matt. 1:23), to mention but a few of his titles.
Jesus is not less than any of this—but he is more than this. He is the King of all reality. At his very birth he is recognized as the “king of the Jews” (Matt. 2:2). Later, during his trial and crucifixion Jesus is called “king” by even his opponents (Mk. 15:9; Matt. 27:37). Later, after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension, his followers were said to be “defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus” (Acts 17:7).
There is another king, one called Jesus
Scripture makes it clear that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to [Jesus]” (Matt. 28:18) and that “God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9–11). But what is a King without a kingdom?
What Is His Kingdom?
Jesus opened his ministry by proclaiming “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk. 1:14). This kingdom is perhaps the thing Jesus talked about most. As one Christian put it, “the burden of Jesus’ preaching was to announce the Kingdom of God; that was the central thing with which he was concerned.”1 Another Christian writes, “Any attentive reading of the Gospels will impress the reader with the frequency with which Jesus spoke on the subject of the Kingdom, and the importance He placed upon it.”2 This is the good news Jesus came preaching, announcing the “gospel of the kingdom.”3
Kingdoms include many things. For example, kingdoms have a king, subjects, a location, laws or rules, specific characteristics, they offer protection, enforce judgment, and demand loyalty. The Kingdom of God is all of this and more. Jesus is the enthroned “King of kings” (Rev. 17:14), the righteous and victorious King (Zech. 9:9; Jn. 12:15) who rules over all the cosmos as he defeated evil and death at the cross. At Jesus’s return, all creation will be under his reign (1 Cor. 15:28).
He has purchased subjects, followers, people who have given him their allegiance, through his atoning death on the cross (1 Jn. 4:10; Rev. 5:9). These people are called God’s “kingdom” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10). In a real sense, then, where God’s people are, that is where God’s Kingdom is alive and active.
Where God’s people are, that is where God’s Kingdom is alive and active
He enacted certain laws and rules to live by for a flourishing life.4 King Jesus protects us from evil forces.5 He is the one who will ultimately judge the world, unbelievers and believers.6 And finally, Jesus demands complete loyalty, as he says if anyone wants to be his follower, “let them themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).
God’s Kingdom thus has a King, subjects, a location, and laws or rules for flourishing, It offers protection, enforces judgment, and demands loyalty.
The good news is that this Kingdom has already been inaugurated in the person of Jesus and has broken into the world (Lk. 11:20). The King has been enthroned, evil dealt a fatal blow, and the indwelt Holy Spirit and forgiveness is available through his atoning work. The King has been enthroned with power through his resurrection (Rom. 1:1–5; 1 Pet. 3:22) offering forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:2-11).
We are called to seek first this Kingdom in all its facets (Matt. 6:33) and pray that God’s reign would be expanded here on earth (Matt. 6:10). As Jesus says, “the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it” (Lk. 16:16 NET). The King and his kingdom are here.
How Should We Respond?
Given the reality of Jesus as the King of everything, how should we respond? David Young explains, “To be king is to exercise authority. This is a fundamental truth that must be embraced if we are to live in the kingdom….Either you submit to the authority of your king, or you face the consequences that all insurrectionists, frauds, and rebels face. It’s really that simple.”7
This idea of obedience towards a king is hard for some of us to embrace. We prize freedom and view some rulers with suspension. As Young put it, “Americans want to command their own destiny, define their own existence, and determine their own rules, even when they don’t know how.”8
But this obedience is what Jesus demands of the world. He says to his followers to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). As Jonathan Lunde says, “Jesus demands the sort of devotion that only a king has the right to demand.”9 Jesus asks emphatically, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk. 6:46), stressing that to enter the Kingdom requires doing the will of God (Matt. 7:21) because anyone who loves Jesus will obey his teachings (Jn. 14:23-24). The kingdom is compared to a precious treasure or fine pearls, which are to be sought with total commitment (Matt. 13:44-45). Young says, “Jesus is more than a good man, more than the forgiver of sins, more than a social activist. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who sets you free. He is the bringer of the kingdom of God, which has already started and into which you are already invited. And soon he will be the one who returns in final victory to establish, once and for all, the reign of God among all of creation. This is who King Jesus is. He is none other than the king of the universe.”10
Jesus demands the sort of devotion that only a king has the right to demand
This self-denial and apprenticeship to Jesus is one that leads to true human flourishing! Jesus promises his followers that they will have abundant and full life (Jn. 10:10). Jesus promises “rest for our souls,” for he is a gentle and humble King (Matt. 11:29) who loves his followers (Jn. 13:34).
Jesus is not only our friend, our Savior, our God—he is our King. He is gentle and humble, but also calls for our complete allegiance. His ways demand us to deny ourselves yet, he promises that with his help, the burden is light (Matt. 11:30) and his commands are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). Those who hear and obey the word of the King are promised to be blessed (Lk. 11:28). He is also a just and holy King, one who will judge the world in righteousness. The only proper response from those who follow him is fidelity and loyalty. And this response of obedience is what saving faith looks like. As the author of Hebrews says, Jesus is “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9).
As N.T. Wright correctly notes, “All four gospels are telling the story of how God became king in and through this story of Jesus of Nazareth.”11 When we celebrate and sing of this story that the King of Israel was born, let us remember who this Ruler is and what he asks of us. He is the saving King who offers abundant life. He is the King who ushers in the reign and Kingdom of God, a Kingdom which initially is as small as a mustard seed but is continuing to grow exponentially (Matt. 13:31-32). So let us all take up our crosses, seek first this heavenly Kingdom, love others and God, imitate and follow the way of Jesus. A King has been born so let us follow him.