The New Testament consistently presents Jesus as a King. The gospel authors describe Him repeatedly at the King of the Jews (Matthew 2:2; 27:11, 29; 37; Mark 15:2, 9, 12; 18; 26; Luke 23:3, 37, 38; John 18:33, 39; 19:3, 14; 19; 21). Matthew introduces Him as the Son of David, the promised king.
1The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1 ESV)
Jesus first message is about the kingdom, and the clear implication is that His identity as the Son of David, the long promised king, is what gives Him the right to make the proclamation of the kingdom. He has authority to preach the kingdom because He is the king – this is part of what separates him from previous prophets and messengers.
23And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ESV)
Before His ascension, Jesus taught His disciples for 40 days on the kingdom. This reveals a lot about how Jesus presented Himself and how He thinks about His kingdom. With all the things that the disciples needed to know to proclaim the gospel to the nations and to establish a new movement, Jesus thought the kingdom was the most essential thing to talk about.
3He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3 ESV)
The disciples’ response to Jesus’ teaching was to ask Jesus if He would restore the kingdom to Israel at that time. That question reveals that Jesus plainly presented Himself as Israel’s king because no one but the king can restore the kingdom. It is incredibly important to notice that Jesus did not correct their expectations in any way. He affirmed their understanding that He was King and their expectation that He, as King, wold establish His kingdom in Jerusalem. The only thing that Jesus corrected was their understanding of timing.
6So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:6–7 ESV)
Jesus’ first message and His final message were both focused on the kingdom. In fact, the gospel that must be spread to the nations is the “gospel of the kingdom.”
14And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14 ESV)
The apostles are accused of preaching “another king” because they clearly presented Jesus as a political leader who was greater than Caesar.
7and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” (Acts 17:7 ESV)
The Crucified King
Most people ignore the reality that Jesus is a real King because the process by which God chose to exalt Him is not one that any human being would have chosen. One of the most shocking things in the New Testament is that the Father establishes Jesus as King in the act of the crucifixion. This is why the single question that dominates the crucifixion narratives is the question of whether or not Jesus is king. The phrase “King of the Jews” and “King of Israel” are throughout the crucifixion narratives. All the major players in the event mention it.
Not only do the characters in the crucifixion bring up the issue of Jesus’ kingship, Jesus is crucified under a sign that declares Him to be the King of the Jews. This is staggering because this is one of the holiest moments in all eternity. It is the moment that God’s Son died lifted up on tree. Everything that happens in that event bears unbelievable significance. God did not leave one detail of that event to chance.
God made His statement on Calvary – this crucified man is His Son and His King.
This is why it is so significant that Jesus is executed under a sign that declares Him to be the King of the Jews. God is shouting to the nations that this is His chosen King. God is not embarrassed of Him. This is His King. This is His anointed. God made His statement on Calvary – this crucified man is His Son and His King. The apostles recognized this and it is why they wrote the gospels the way they did and why they preached the way they did. God has chosen His king and set Him in place through the shocking act of crucifixion.
God’s emphasis on Jesus as the crucified king is the reason for Paul’s word in Philippians 2:
8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (Philippians 2:8–9 ESV)
It is also the reason for one of the biggest surprises of the New Testament – the gospel of God’s King will go to the nations before Israel is saved (Acts 1:6-8). The big shock in the New Testament is not that the gentiles are coming to Israel’s God, it is that the gentiles are coming to Israel’s God before Israel is saved. The Old Testament had predicted that the nations of the earth would worship Israel’s God, therefore the idea that the gentiles would be saved was not in and of itself a shocking idea.
What was shocking is that the nations began coming to Israel’s God before Israel was saved. This was shocking because the general assumption was that the nations would come to Israel’s God when they saw His glory in Israel and His salvation of Israel. It is only natural to assume that when the nations see what Israel’s God can do that they also would want to worship Israel’s God.
While God remains committed to releasing His glory on Israel, God wanted something else from the nations. He wants the nations to worship and love the crucified King. He does not want them to love His King because of the glory He will give to Israel, but rather because of who He is and that was put on display in the act of the crucifixion. This is why God sent the gospel into the nations to call them to obey and love the crucified King before they see the glory of the King’s kingdom.
This crucified King is the King of Israel. He dies under a sign that says King of the Jews. He picks 12 apostles, just as Israel had 12 sons who became 12 tribes. The foundation of the New Jerusalem contains the names of the 12 apostles and the gates the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The message is clear. this is Israel’s King and going forward He will be the foundation of Israel and the nations. This is what the Psalmist prophesied and precisely what the New Testament proclaims. He is the king and the foundation stone of Israel. He is, first and foremost, her king.
22The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22 ESV)
16therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ (Isaiah 28:16 ESV)
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? (Matthew 21:42 ESV)
11This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. (Acts 4:11 ESV)
The King and His kingdom
Jesus is a real king, but there is also a real tension – there is a great period of time between the time He is declared to be King and when He comes into the fulness of His kingdom. The tension is that Jesus has been established King of Israel, but has not yet restored the kingdom to Israel. The message of Acts 1 is clear – Jesus is committed to Israel and will restore the kingdom. Jesus wept over Israel and Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41). However, Acts 1 is also clear that there will be a delay between the appearing the King and the fullness of His kingdom.
The delay between the appearing of the King and the fullness of His kingdom is for the purpose of offering mercy to the nations (2 Peter 3:9), but it has also created a problem – because of the delay many do not recognize Jesus as a real King. The nations ignore the fact that He is king and many believers see Him as a “spiritual” king but not as a real, physical King.
However, the church fathers clearly established that any view of Jesus as a “spiritual” being but not a real human was heretical. He is not just the “king of heaven” He is a king on earth as well. He is fully God and fully man. This means His kingdom must have a physical location and it must ultimately rest on the earth. He must lead real humans on a real earth.
The fact that Jesus is a real king, the king of Israel, means that any state of Israel not under His leadership will ultimately have to go through a radical transition to be the Israel that the prophets predicted. This does not mean that God is not at work in modern Israel – because He is – but it does mean that only Israel under Jesus can fulfill what the prophets have spoken.
Resistance to the King
The powers, principalities, and nations are radically opposed to Jesus’ kingdom because it means the end of their kingdoms. Therefore they are committed to resist His kingship by any means possible. Because Jesus is the king who will fulfill the promises made to Abraham, this means resisting the promises made to Abraham by every means possible. This resistance is the reason for a multitude of crisis in the nations. It was the reason for the Holocaust, it is the reason for the persistence of anti-Semitism in the earth, it is the reason for centuries of persecution of Christians, and it is the reason for the trouble that is coming.
In Matthew 23, Jesus sets up a challenge that initiates a conflict over His ability to rule as King.
39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Matthew 23:39 ESV)
In Matthew 23:39, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem that they will not see Him again until their receive Him as King. He is not referring to simply seeing Him, but seeing Him enter the city as King because this conversation happens in a sequence of events that begins in Matthew 21 when Jesus comes into the city in the way that Zechariah said the promised king would. In Matthew 21-23, Jesus is ultimately not received as King and He refuses to rule until He is received in that city as King.
This one statement alone is enough to create a cosmic conflict over the city of Jerusalem and the Jewish people. In order for Jesus to take His inheritance as King, He must be received by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. That is why there is a global conflict over Jerusalem that does not make sense for any natural reason. The powers and principalities know that they must ultimately take their stand on this promise and they will do everything they can to ensure that there is not a Jewish leadership in Jerusalem who has the capacity to welcome the Jewish king.
This is precisely why the enemy will also do everything he can to eliminate the Jewish people. The enemy will ultimately express all His rage at Jesus by persecuting the Jewish people and by waging war over Jerusalem because if the Jewish people are never saved and Jesus never rules from that city then God, and His King, have failed.
This is also ultimately why radical Islamists and the secularists find agreement on one thing – Israel probably shouldn’t exist and definitely should not exercise sovereignty over Jerusalem. These two groups are in direct conflict in every part of their world view and yet they find themselves in agreement with regard to Jerusalem because they both have one thing in common – they both oppose God’s chosen King and the spiritual reality of this resistance ultimately causes it to be expressed in context to His chosen capital.
The King and His City
Every king has a capital city – a place where He rules from. Psalm 2 tells us the Father has given Jesus a city:
1Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 3“Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”…6“As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:1-3, 6 ESV)
Why do the nations rage over Jerusalem? They rage in this present, modern age because of an ancient promise God made. Psalm 110, the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament, is just as clear:
1The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:1–2 ESV)
Zion is not simple a “spiritual” city because Jesus is not only a spiritual being. It is not a spiritual city because Jesus is not only a “spiritual” king. He’s a human king. He has real flesh and blood. Our flesh and blood is connected to the dust of the earth and so is His. Therefore His kingdom must have an expression on the earth and He must rule from a real city on the earth.
The nations’s rage against Jerusalem is not ultimately because of the modern state of Israel. They rage because God has given that city to His King and His King has made a promise to bring Israel in her calling. Therefore, when the powers and principalities see the Jewish people exercise sovereignty over that city and be in the position to welcome the King of Israel for the first time in 2,000 years it sets them in a rage and they stir up the nations.
This is why Christianity is the only religion in the earth that is weakest in the area in which it was born. Every other religion is strongest in its birthplace. Hinduism is strongest in India. Islam is strongest in Saudi Arabia. However, Christianity is very different. Christianity is under constant assault in the land in which it was born. The relentless assault on Christianity in the Middle East is a physical expression of a violent spiritual conflict over the land and the city of the great King.
The King and His Kingdom
What we must understand is that the kingdom is the context which the New Testament establishes for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham. This means that all of Abraham’s promises, both the ones specifically made for Israel and the promise for the gentiles, find their fulfillment in the kingdom. The is why, when we look at the New Testament, the gospel, which simply means “good news,” is most often called the “gospel of the kingdom” or the “good news of the kingdom.” When the apostles proclaimed the gospel, they did not just proclaim spiritual salvation, they proclaimed the kingdom.
A quick glance at the New Testament shows the priority of the Kingdom. When Jesus began preaching, both Matthew and Mark summarizes His message as the preaching of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:14-15). Jesus’ final message to his apostles was the kingdom (Acts 1:3). The very word that the New Testament uses for preaching is a word for a the proclamation of a king. New Testament preachers understood that they were proclaiming a king and making Him known. They were commanding the nations to turn to a real king. This was ultimately the source of their persecution. It was not their monotheism and it wasn’t their relationship to the Jewish community that ultimately provoked Rome.
It was the political dimension of their proclamation that caused persecution because they preached another king and that challenged the Roman narrative that Rome and Rome’s Caesar were ultimate. The apostles, though they advocated submission to Roman government, preached that Caesar wasn’t in fact ultimate. He was temporal and under the sovereignty of a greater king who would shortly replace all the kingdoms of this age. That message set Christianity in conflict with the empire of the first century and it continues to set Christianity in conflict with every other empire that demands allegiance.
As a people we have a King and that King deserves our full loyalty. When we consider Him to be a spiritual guide or a spiritual king, but not a real, human king it creates all sorts of problems in the church. We lose the anchor of our hope that a real man will establish a real kingdom on the earth. Our loyalties become divided between human kings and a “heavenly one.” In reality our “heavenly” king is our “earthly” king. God has one King. He has brought all things on heaven and earth under His leadership (Ephesians 1:10). We are citizens of His kingdom (Philippians 3:20) and every day is one day closer to that day when God establishes Him as the political ruler and sovereign judge of the earth.