Week 2: A Divine King
Today, we are going to focus on an image of Jesus as the Messiah that prominently features in Matthew’s Gospel: Jesus as the Divine King. From the genealogy connecting Jesus to King David, to the Magi looking for the promised king of the Jews, to after Jesus’ arrest when He is asked by the governor if He is king of the Jews, Jesus is identified as a king. He is mocked with a crown of thorns for such a title, and it was on the sign above Him at the crucifixion. Jesus, as the Messiah, was undoubtedly identified as a king.
The Messiah as a King (from David’s line)
Hopes and expectations for kingship are found in various places in the Old Testament. The Psalms cover many themes and a prominent one of these is kingship. Many psalms are described as ‘royal psalms,’ not just because of the connection of the Psalms generally to David, but because of the probability they were used in religious and royal settings, such as the enthronement of the king in Psalm 2 or in a royal wedding in Psalm 45. Over the years, one particular psalm became integral to the idea and hope of a Messianic King: that of Psalm 110. It is the most quoted Old Testament passage in the New Testament! Originally, it was probably a psalm used at coronation or enthronement, perhaps that of King Solomon, and it speaks of the King as sitting at the “right hand” of Yahweh, the God of Israel. The King is later declared to be a “priest according to the order of Melchizedek” and, throughout Psalm 110, is the message and reminder that Yahweh will act for the King–that He is the one whom the King can trust and depend.
These ideas of anointing, closeness to God Himself and one who will know God’s provision and victory, makes it hardly surprising that, when the Jews were looking for hope in the shape of their coming King, they would turn to Psalm 110. Jesus is God Himself, is our great high priest who has offered Himself as the sacrifice for us, and who, by trusting Himself to God in death, was raised to new life and glory. No wonder Psalm 110 is so significant in the New Testament!
In Matthew 22, we discover Jesus discussing with the Pharisees about messiahship, kingship and David. Read Matthew 22:41-56. There, Jesus explains how the Messiah, as the fulfilment of Psalm 110, is more than ‘just a Son of David.’ The psalm itself seems to be pointing that way; otherwise, why would it have David addressing the Messiah as ‘lord?’ How could David’s Son be greater than David? In this knotty passage, which has caused scholars more than a few headaches, we learn the idea of kingship that we might have for Jesus as our Messiah is no match for who Jesus really is as king.
The Pharisees believed that the Messiah would be the Son of David. They tried to contain the idea of the messianic king to terms they could understand and concepts they could grasp. Jesus’ response? Something greater than Davidic kingship is here, something that surpasses the greatness of David. Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear: Jesus did fulfill that Davidic role. The genealogies tell us that much, yet it did not stop there. This was a divine King whose authority was unmatched.
This was the Son of God.
A Human King or a Divine King: What’s the Difference?
With a human king, much like any authority or government, you pay your dues, but your life is your own. By way of example, we might think about Jesus’ response earlier in Matthew 22 when He’s asked about paying taxes to the emperor and He replies: “Render unto emperor what belongs to emperor, unto God what belongs to God.”
Human powers demand varying levels of our obedience, most commonly certain laws they establish and taxes they demand. In some places, it can be directives to worship of certain of gods or adherence to philosophies or ideologies. Give to Caesar, the king, politicians, prime ministers or presidents, what is their due–whatever form of government your nation has.
Yet if God is King, then it is so much more. It is not external dues paid or obligations met for the part of our life that engages with the social and political spheres. If we are talking about God as king, then it is the socio-political, relational, professional, spiritual, mental, emotional and so on. He wants to be king of our lives in it all. That does not mean we will look the same in any of those areas, but it does mean we will grow in the fruits of the Spirit, in all of those areas as we submit to Christ as Lord—and King.
For Jesus to be the Divine King demands that we give the whole of our lives to Him. It means not holding back. It means not thinking we can give Him certain parts of our lives, but keep those things we really like to ourselves. Don’t mess with my golf, my friends, my schedule, my social media usage, my image, reputation or so on, but you can have my Sunday mornings (sometimes), my Tuesday nights and Friday lunchtimes to serve the underprivileged or go to Bible study.
Getting around the idea of a Divine King who is Messiah is hard for us who have lived in modern-day democracies our whole lives!
You and I both have to do a bit of work here to understand the significance of a divine monarch. Y’all came here and got rid of royal oversight because you objected to taxes from the British monarchy without representation! America is built on the idea of individual liberty. Coming from a constitutional monarchy, in which the Queen has little power and functions more as a figurehead than anything, the Brits no longer have much idea about kingship either. We have a Queen who doesn’t demand anything of us, perhaps lulling us into thinking a king is someone to whom you might give lip-service, someone you might like and don’t mind representing you, but not someone to whom you owe anything.
Perhaps the most effective way to describe it is the way I taught it to high schoolers before I went to seminary. When talking about the kingdom of God in Mark’s Gospel, I would make it real simple: The kingdom of God is where God gets to rule.
If Jesus is Divine King, then He gets to rule. Period. If there are parts of my life that don’t reflect loving and humble obedience to Jesus, then He is not ruling in those places. As I said, if we’re talking divine Kingship, then we’re talking everything.
Learning from the Magi
Think about the story of the Magi in Matthew 2. It’s been one of the big mistakes of our various retellings of the nativity story to cast the Magi as kings. They were not kings, but they were looking for one! We want the Magi to be kings or wise men, but actually, they were astrologers, men who studied the skies and tried to understand its wisdom. The same word is used of the diviners of religion who competed with Daniel to interpret the King’s dream in Daniel 2. Matthew’s Magi were not Jews schooled in the Torah and Jewish religious customs. These were strangers from a different Eastern land, most likely Persia–what we call Iran today–but they saw in the stars that the king of the Jews was coming. And they made the journey in order to come and bow down and worship. They came bearing precious, expensive gifts.
Jesus was the promised Messiah–the anointed king and Son of David–but much more than that too, for He was the Son of God. When we await the arrival of Jesus in the manger, we are awaiting the one who has all power and authority. He rules over all human kings, powers and rulers, whether monarchs or not. Through the Cross, He has put all spiritual powers of evil under His feet. He is the enthroned king in heaven and yet, also the one who wants to be lord and king over the whole of our lives. This was something that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not want. There were many that professed faith in the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, but did not want submit to Him when He came in human form. When He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, they cheered and welcomed the messianic king, but then they turned when His kingship was not what they wanted. It was not on their terms and they had Him crucified. Our King was given a crown of thorns.
Compare that to the Magi, strangers to Jewish faith, but nonetheless able to recognize Jesus’ kingship. They knew whatever authority that was arriving and coming to town, it was one worthy of their travel (and all the risks that went with that) and, more than deserving of their kneeling to the ground in worship and the precious gifts they brought with them. They were not anticipating a Messiah, yet when the Messiah came, it did not give them cause for resentment, but cause to worship.
What are you hoping for this Advent? What desires do you have for your life, our life together at St. Martin’s, in Houston, for this nation and for our world? Our hopes will never be satisfied and fulfilled until you know Jesus as Divine King in your life. It is only through confessing where we have rejected His authority, submitting to His lordship and giving over our wills and lives, that we will find our lives truly satisfied.