Wednesday, September 25, 2013

God's King

I want to spend some time considering God’s King. The Scripture spends a good deal of time discussing Christ as King, and I can’t help but think that indicates it’s worthwhile to spend some time meditating on it.

The first mention Scripture makes of a kingdom is Nimrod's in Genesis 10:8–10. It says that Nimrod's kingdom began in Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in Shinar.

8 And Cush begot Nimrod: he began to be mighty on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah; therefore it is said, As Nimrod, the mighty hunter before Jehovah! 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

The first person called "king" in Scripture is Amraphel the king of Shinar (Genesis 14:1). Whether we consider Nimrod the first king, or whether we consider Amraphel the first king, it's apparent that the Scriptural record of kingship begins in Shinar, or Babylon. This is significant, as it is from Babylon that the great Gentile kingdoms begin.

Jeremiah 27 contains the remarkable statement that God gave all the kingdoms of the earth to Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (vv. 27:5–11). While there are many Gentile kings in Scripture that precede Nebuchadnezzar, this statement is remarkable insofar as it is the beginning of what we might call the Times of the Gentiles, when God Himself made the center of power on the earth to move from Jerusalem to the Gentiles.

Daniel 2 gives us a further view into this transfer: in it Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of his dream,

37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings, unto whom the God of the heavens hath given the kingdom, the power, and the strength, and the glory; 38 and wheresoever the children of men, the beasts of the field, and the fowl of the heavens dwell, he hath given them into thy hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all: thou art this head of gold.

So Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar that God had given him power over the whole earth, and he confers a title on Nebuchadnezzar, "King of Kings". This title is echoed in Ezekiel 26:7, also with respect to Nebuchadnezzar. Then in Ezra 7, Artaxerxes addresses a letter to Ezra and refers to himself as "King of Kings." So "King of Kings" is really a title of the Gentile kings, and it's conferred by God Himself upon Nebuchadnezzar.

Israel was God's chosen people (and will take that title up again some day), and they had their own kings. There is a remarkable statement in 1 Chronicles 5:1–2, which says that Rueben was Israel's firstborn, but the birthright was given to Joseph because of Rueben's sin. But the prince, we are told, is reckoned from Judah. We recall that Joseph's younger son was Ephraim, and Jacob blessed him as the elder (Genesis 48:13–20). So we see the Israelites leaving Egypt under Moses (a Levite), but they enter the Land under Joshua (an Ephraimite): Ephraim had the leadership among the tribes. When they entered the Land, the Tabernacle was set up first in Gilgal, then Shiloh---both in Ephraim.

But Psalm 78 tells us in some detail how what we might call the Ephraimite order of things fell, so that God "forsook the tabernacle at Shiloh... he rejected the tent of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah" (vv. 60, 67–68). And so Judah took the lead among the tribes. And we've considered this in an earlier post ("The Tabernacle at Gibeon"): that the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the tabernacle in Shiloh under Eli's sons and captured by the Philistines, then returned to Israel at Kirjath-Jearim, in Judah; but the tabernacle, sans Ark ended up in Gibeon, in Benjamin.

The Israelite kings began with Saul, who was a Benjaminite. Saul's kingdom was taken away from him and given to David, from Judah. David's reign began the longest dynasty in the Old Testament record, continuing through his son Solomon and finally ending in Zedekiah.

But the prophets declare that God will once again set up a king in Jerusalem. Psalm 2 gives this probably the most clearly: the nations chafing under the reign of God's king, whom He will establish in Zion. And to this King God says, "ask of me and I will give thee the nations for an inheritance". That is, this King will be set up not only over Israel, but over the nations too.

The Scripture is consistent in its declaration that Jesus Christ is the Son of David. But David's line ended with Zedekiah's captivity in Babylon (2 Kings 25:1–7). Luke 3 gives us the solution to this apparent contradiction: Christ's lineage traces through David's son Nathan (rather than Solomon) to Mary. Joseph's line traces from David as well, but Joseph was descended from Jechoniah (Jehoiachin), and God had cursed Jehoiachin, saying no descendent of his would ever sit on the throne (Jeremiah 22:24--30). So Christ is indeed David's Son, but He is not of the royal line that traced through Solomon. That line has been explicitly ended by God, both in Jehoiachin and Zedekiah.

God has appointed Christ as King both as heir of the Gentile kings and as heir of David, the Jewish king. He is David's Son, and He will sit on David's throne, reigning from Zion (Psalm 2, Isaiah 9:7, Luke 1:32). But Revelation 19:16 introduces Him as the King of Kings, the title God gave to Nebuchadnezzar. So we might consider Christ to be both the heir of David and the heir of Nebuchadnezzar.

And really this is the whole point of the book of Daniel: the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men and gives them to whomsoever He wills. But Daniel tells us that there will come a day when the transitory nature of the kingdoms of men will end: both in chapter 2 and in chapter 7 he says that there will be another kingdom set up that will never end. I believe this kingdom is seen (prophetically) coming to fruition in the first few verses of Revelation 19, where heaven rejoices because God takes the kingdom. And what does John see? He sees the Word of God coming from Heaven, with the title "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" written on His robe and His thigh.

I really think this is the point of Christ's brief conversation with Nathanael in John 1:

49 Nathanael answered and said to him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said to him, Because I said to thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, believest thou? Thou shalt see greater things than these. 51 And he says to him, Verily, verily, I say to you, Henceforth ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. John 1:49–51
Nathanael (correctly) understands Christ is the One described in Psalm 2: the Son of God who will reign in Israel. The Lord Jesus responds by asserting He's not only the Son of God who'll reign in Israel, He's the Son of Man who'll inherit the Gentile kingdoms as well. He is the heir both of David and Nebuchadnezzar: the Son of God as well as the Son of Man.

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