In these contexts, He is usually portrayed as the meek and mild Jesus who defers to others, disperses grace and mercy freely, and passively bears ridicule and rejection.
Thankfully, Jesus is all of these things. But if that’s all you know about Him, you have missed the life-transforming richness of His character.
For those of us who have walked with Him and experienced the work of His grace in our lives, words like Savior, Friend, Redeemer, Guide and God-in-Flesh readily describe His importance to us. And as wonderful as these descriptions are, if they are all we have, we have missed an aspect of His work on our behalf that completes the picture of His mission on this earth, an aspect that reveals the ultimate nature of His undying love for us. It’s the part of His persona that sends chills up our spine when we hear massive choirs and orchestras perform Handel’s Messiah, which proclaims Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords” … and declares that “He shall reign forever and ever!”
So, of all the things you think about when you think of Jesus, the reality that Jesus is your King should be on your mind. And not just from a theological perspective. Embracing Jesus as King is the key to a life that carries a privileged identity filled with unshakable hope, undaunted confidence and a settled peace in your heart regardless of your circumstances.
When He is your King, your identity is defined by the fact that you belong to His life-transforming eternal Kingdom. When He is your King, you have a solid hope in a brighter future and the calming assurance that this world is not the only world that we have. When He is your King, you live with the unalterable confidence that all that troubles and confuses you will be conquered and that all wrongs and injustices will be made right. When He is your King, you live with an undisturbed peace that you are forever safe in His realm.
And, I might add, this is not a throw-away issue. Jesus Himself has a keen interest in what comes to our mind when we think about Him. Against the backdrop of Israel’s most feared and despised symbol of evil and torment–Caesarea Philippi, built by Philip the tetrarch to honor Caesar Augustus–Jesus gave a pop quiz to His disciples about who they thought He was.
He started by lobbing them a question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave Him the “street” answer of the different descriptions they had heard–John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah. Then Jesus got personal and asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus wasn’t worried about His public image. Nor was He asking this question because He didn’t know the answer. He knew. He always asked questions to encourage His listeners to probe deeply into their own hearts. And that’s exactly what He was after with the disciples. I’m sure the Twelve at this point stroked their beards and moved their sandals in the sand, hoping someone else would raise their hand and answer the question. You wouldn’t want to give the wrong answer in a moment like this. And Peter doesn’t disappoint us. He moves right in and declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). According to Jesus, Peter got an A-plus. That’s exactly who Jesus is.
If you were Jewish in Jesus’ day, when you thought of the one whom God would send to restore Israel to its former glory, you always thought in terms of the Messiah, or, as Peter said in this instance, the Christ. Throughout the Old Testament God had promised to send a deliverer, so when Peter responded to Jesus’ question, this is exactly what He had in mind. Literally, the word Christ means the anointed one–the King–our King!
This promise is why the wise men inquired as to the location of the birth of the King of the Jews. It is why King Herod in a jealous rage slaughtered the innocents to wipe out any potential threat to his throne. The Kingship of Jesus is why Matthew begins his Gospel with a genealogy proving that Jesus was born in the lineage of King David and thus proving Jesus’ right to the throne of David. And His claim of Kingship is why Rome taunted Him at the cross with a sign nailed above His Head, “King of the Jews.” It was His lead identity, and it is what everyone who followed Him expected Him to be.
And they had good reason to. Not only did the prophets promise a King, but to David, God had promised that the day would come when His throne would be established as an eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:16).
So, Peter knew his Old Testament and acknowledged Jesus as his delivering King. But then Jesus threw a wrench into the celebration by telling the disciples that He was going to be put to death. This made no sense to Peter, who tried to dissuade Jesus from making such non-kingly statements. To which Jesus replied, “Get behind me Satan” –making Peter the only person in Scripture to go from an A-plus to a failing grade in just seven verses.
It’s not that Jesus had not come as King like the prophets had promised. It’s that He would first come as a servant King, which is exactly the picture He sought to portray as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in a royal procession. As He had told His disciples earlier, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). A serving King who would, through His death and stunning resurrection, conquer the hordes of hell and make it possible for those who would believe to escape the eternal clutches of the tyranny of the evil one.
The early followers of Jesus were stuck in a world that, though already defeated by their King, lashed out against them. But in all of the suffering, disappointment, marginalization, persecution and oppression that they faced, they moved forward confidently with the unshakable hope that someday their King Jesus would return and finish His work of defeating evil. He would abolish pain, sorrow, suffering and death, and He would usher in His eternal Kingdom of righteousness, peace and justice.
As John wrote, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems. … and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16).
That’s my King–dramatically different from the Sunday school images that we harbor in our minds, and far more compelling. If He is coming as that kind of King, then I have a winning identity as a part of His Kingdom. I have a hope that someday all wrongs will be made right and that there is a better day ahead. I have a deep and unshakable confidence that regardless of how life seems today, I am on the victory side, with a deep and abiding peace that this King loved me and gave Himself for me as my serving King. And, with His name stamped on my passport, King Jesus will come to make me His own and usher me across the border into the joy of an eternity in His presence (John 14:1-6).
But, for now, His coming as conquering King assures me that, having been “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), I am a secured member of His nation, and I as such am free to live my life according to the ways, will and wisdom of my King.
All Hail King Jesus!
Joe Stowell is president of Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich.