Monday, January 21, 2013

Kingly Titles

We had an open meeting yesterday, and one brother gave an address on the three groups of people in Scripture: Israel, Gentiles, and the Church (1 Corinthians 10:32). Another brother gave an very short little talk (really more of a homily) where he pointed out that all three failed equally in their responsibilities on the earth (Isaiah 5, Daniel 5, Revelation 3).

This got me to thinking.

Christ is shown to be King over all three groups in Scripture, but with a different title for each group. So Nathanael told the Lord Jesus, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." (John 1:49, NASB). The Lord Jesus responded, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (v. 51, NASB). Notice the Lord Jesus used a different title than Nathanael used: Nathanael talked about the Son of God, the Lord Jesus talked about the Son of Man. Both apparently were referring to the Old Testament: Nathanael seems to have been thinking about Psalm 2, the Lord Jesus was apparently referring to Daniel 7. There is, right away, a difference between these prophecies. Psalm 2 is the Son of God as King in Israel. He does rule over the nations, but He's the King in the Holy Hill of Zion. Daniel talks about the Son of Man descending from Heaven, receiving an everlasting kingdom. Daniel uses Gentile imagery and terminology to describe the rule of the final King: and here the Son of Man isn't really seen as the King of Israel, but as the King of the whole earth.

This is something I don't fully understand, but it's worth mentioning. The titles "Son of God" and "Son of Man" both refer to Christ, but they carry subtly different meanings. The Lord Jesus uses the title Son of Man frequently in the Gospels, but He only uses it after He's rejected by the Jews. In John's Gospel He uses it in the first chapter, but in John's Gospel the Lord Jesus is rejected in the 11th verse, "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him." (John 1:10 & 11, NASB).

Two prophets in the Old Testament use the title Son of Man, as well as several of the Messianic Psalms. The two prophets are Ezekiel and Daniel. Daniel refers to Christ as "Son of Man" in chapter 7, but he himself is addressed as "son of man" in ch. 8:17. Ezekiel is addressed as "son of man" something like 90 times. It is interesting to note that neither Daniel nor Ezekiel is referred to as "the Son of Man." That title is for Christ alone.

It is further interesting to note that of everyone in Scripture who has a vision of God, only Daniel and Ezekiel describe what they see. Isaiah (ch. 6) had a vision of God in the Temple, but describes only the throne He sits on and the angels around Him. Moses and the elders of Israel had a vision of God on Sinai (Exodus 25), but the description is merely what He was standing on. John's vision of "Him that sits on the throne" (Revelation 4) is a little more detailed, but not much. Ezekiel and Daniel both describe in detail what God looks like when they see Him. I can't help but think this is because they are "son of man". It is the Son of Man alone who can reveal God (John 1:18).

So the "Son of God" is the King of Israel, the "Son of Man" is the King of the nations. Where does that leave the Church? Well, Colossians 1 answers that question: "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). The Christian has been delivered from the "kingdom of darkness" into the "kingdom of the Son of His [God's] love." As far as the Church is concerned, the Lord Jesus is "beloved Son."

There is at least one contrast between this last kingly title and the two former. As "King of Israel", the Lord Jesus succeeds his father David (Luke 1:32). As "King of Kings", the Lord Jesus will succeed Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 26:7). God chose both David and Nebuchadnezzar and conferred those titles on them. But as the "beloved Son" Christ succeeds no one. The "kingdom of His beloved Son" is (as far as I can tell in Scripture) a totally new thing, beginning with Christ.

There is a whole subset of dispensationalists who object to the idea of Christ as King of the church. After all, they reason, if the Church is the Bride, then Christ is really much closer to her than a King to the kingdom. There is a shade of truth to that, but they miss the point. Sarah called Abraham "lord" (1 Peter 3:6). Bathsheba referred to David as both "lord" and "my lord the king" (1 Kings 1:15--21, 31). The idea that somehow the because we are the Bride He isn't our King is nonsense: it flies in the face of the clear testimony of Scripture. Colossians 1:13 ought to completely stamp it out, we've been transferred into "the kingdom of [God's] dear Son." 1 Timothy 6:14--16 is an even stronger statement: "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords".

The day is coming when the Lord Jesus will come and take control of the earth. I don't at all believe that's the next item on God's timeline: I believe He's coming to get the Bride first, then He'll come and take over. As a Christian I look forward to His transforming my vile body to be like His (Philippians 3:21). But there's a sense where the greater hope is to manifested with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). Perhaps a higher and holier hope is for Him to be vindicated publicly as God's Man. And so we look for the day when He reigns as God's Son from Zion, and as Son of Man with the everlasting kingdom.

But day to day, we have the privilege of acting now like it's then and acknowledging Him "voluntarily". This, I believe, is what it means to be "translated into the kingdom of His dear Son."