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If you look through the history books for great kingdoms, you'll find a lot of them. But most historians agree that the reigning champ of human empires was the Roman Empire, which lasted almost 1,500 years.
One unique thing about the Roman Empire was that it didn't start out as a "kingdom" at all. In the beginning, the Romans had no king. In fact, they didn't want one supreme monarch that could boss them around. They preferred the self-rule of a Republic.
Now, the Romans recognized that every once in a while a something might happen which would require decisions to be made faster than a senate could make them. So, they made a special office called the Dictator. When their lands were threatened by some foreign invader or some other quickly developing challenge, the senate could vote one man to be the "Dictator". He would have supreme power, like a king, but would only have that power for a single year.
If a dictator decided to use this supreme power to enrich himself instead of defending the country, when the year rolled around and his office expired, he was in for some serious life changes.
Of course, it didn't take long for power hungry men to find a way to extend their reign as dictator. Eventually, the Roman Empire was ruled by a succession of kings. They might have called themselves "Caesars" and "servants of the people" but that was just wrangling with words. Some were good, protecting and enriching Rome. Some were bad, ignoring the important affairs of state and wallowing in self indulgence. But either way, they were kings—exercising supreme power over their subjects.
The Bible says that all human authorities are given their authority by God. That's right, every president, senator and governor in America has gained their position as a gift from God. When some people hear this they assume that God must therefore approve all the policies and decisions made by the rulers He has placed in authority. But actually, the opposite is true. When a person is given great earthly power, they are held accountable for their policies and actions by God Himself. After all, it is His borrowed power they hold. He expects them to use it according to His will.
God desires that kings and presidents and prime ministers protect their citizens, enrich their lives, provide for them in times of need, settle disputes between citizens, and maintain the peace as much as possible in this sinful world. In short, God expects authorities to serve their country, in His name, instead of serving themselves. (see Romans 13).
Our Bible reading for today calls Jesus Christ the "ruler of the kings of the earth". It says that He is, the "King of kings". Jesus is different than all others kings though. He is not just one more human authority exercising power lent by God. The Bible shows that in every way, Jesus Christ is a king superior to all others.
Revelation 1:4-8 (NASB)
4 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—
6 and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
Now, there is a lot of information packed into this little section of God's Word. But I'm not going to try and cover it all in our meditation today. Instead I'm going to focus on the parts that teach us about Christ the King.
Verse five begins by telling us who put Jesus on His throne. It does this by calling Him "Christ". Christians use the title, "Jesus Christ" so much that it seems like "Christ" is just His last name. But it's actually the title of His office. The word "Christ" means "anointed one", the one "selected" for the kingship.
In the history of Rome, Caesars gained their positions by all sorts of different intrigues and bribes. There was one time when the Praetorian guards actually sold the kingship off to the highest bidder. The Praetorians were the "royal bodyguards" of the Caesars. But in this case they actually murdered the reigning Caesar and then auctioned off the position to the man who promised to raise their wages the highest.
When it comes to Christ the King there was no power grab or no auction for authority. There was no assassination or bribing of senators to gain this supreme position. God the Father selected His eternal Son to be the Savior of all sinners and the King of all kings.
Verse five also calls Jesus "the faithful witness". This reminds us of one major reason why Jesus came to earth. He came to teach the people about His Father's promise, and about His Father's character. In the book of John Jesus says...
"...My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me" (John 7:16 ESV).
In the book of Hebrews it says...
" 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being," (Hebrews 1:3 NIV).
During His earthly ministry in Palestine, Jesus traveled from city to city showing the people what His Heavenly Father was like through the gracious miracles of healing that He performed. He also taught them point by point what the Father's will was. The Father's will was that all sinners would trust in the Son as their Savior. That they would see His sacrificial death on the cross and believe that in that offering, their sins were paid for.
God holy, so He cannot just excuse our evils. But God is also loving, so He has provided a way for our sins to be erased from the record books. God is holy and almighty, but also—loving. That was Jesus' message.
Some of the Roman Caesars decorated their office with horrible sins. They murdered, they fornicated, they encouraged idol worship. Christ on the other hand didn't pile up sins through His ministry. He did the opposite. He lived a sinless life, and used that perfect life to erase the people's sins, and to do away with the punishment that was heading our way.
The reign of many a Caesar was ended when his crimes against the people had piled up too tall, and the people assassinated him. And that was that. Death brought an end to their reign.
But with Christ the King things were different. Verse five calls Jesus the "firstborn of the dead". After Jesus offered His sinless soul on the cross of Calvary, suffering the hell that we all deserve, His heavenly Father raised Jesus back to life. He was the first human being to be raised from the dead to a glorified state. He is still human, with body and soul just like us, but He has been glorified. No more does He suffer and refrain from using His powers as the Eternal Son of God. He is the firstborn from the dead.
The book of Romans calls Jesus...
"...the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29 ESV).
Through faith in Christ Jesus, you and I become His brothers and sisters. Part of the holy family of God. And we are given the promise that not only are our sins forgiven right now, we will one day experience a bodily resurrection and a glorification like He did. No more will we feel pain and sadness and sin. We will stand in glory with our Brother the resurrected King of kings in heaven.
And until the last day comes when all will stand before God, we have Christ ruling over us right now. He rules in our hearts by faith, and He also rules over the earthly authorities that govern our daily lives. Verse five calls Jesus the "ruler of the kings of the earth".
There's an interesting verse in the book of Proverbs that says,
" The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1 ESV).
Christians sometimes get all up in arms when the candidate that they voted for doesn't get elected. As if somehow God lost the election. But this proverb reminds us that the same God who grants authority, can also move those in authority to make decisions that bring great blessings into the lives of His followers.
While the Caesars of Rome often reigned with their own interests in mind, Christ the King reigns our lives with our best interests in mind. But Christ doesn't reign with the limited foresight of any earthly ruler. He's not merely interested in increasing our bank account or our pile of possessions. He's interested in drawing us spiritually closer to Himself and to His almighty Father. Closer in relationship with the LORD.
This is the King that we have. Christ Jesus, anointed as our King by God the Father. Christ Jesus, the faithful witness that teaches us about the Father's will, and about the salvation He has provided through the cross. This is the King that we have. Christ Jesus, the one who moves kings and kingdoms, governments and authorities to benefit the spread of His Kingdom of faith and salvation.
The apostle John gets all carried away with these thoughts toward the end of verse five and erupts in praise of our King. He says...
"To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 1:5-6 NASB).
In the ranking of great kingdoms of the world, historians rarely include the Kingdom of Christ. I suppose that might be because historians are not all Christians. Or maybe it's because the Kingdom of Christ cannot be measured so easily as the area of land that has been conquered by an earthly king. But the truth of the matter is that Christ's Kingdom has extended from the beginning of the world until this very day. Christ's subjects have stood on every soil. Citizens of His kingdom hail from every nation, tribe and language.
In ancient years Christ ruled in the hearts and lives of people who looked forward to His birth. Then He ruled in the hearts and lives of people who heard that He was born in Bethlehem. And He still rules today, in the hearts of all who rejoice in His birth, suffering, death and resurrection—which bring us forgiveness, peace and a place in His eternal Kingdom.
In so many ways, the Bible shows that Christ is a King superior to all others. But there's one aspect of Christ's reign that seems to get in the way of people hailing Him as King. He's not visible.
When the king goes away, people have the tendency to forget He's still the king. Even though Christ Jesus promised to return visibly to the earth one day, people easily dismiss this promise. Out of sight, out of mind it seems.
And that's why we gather together to worship Him. Though He is not visible, we know He still reigns. Though He does not speak to us with audible words from the sky, He still speaks through the treasury of His Word found in the Bible. Let us continue to come back to the Bible to see our King. To hear of His past victories. To hear of His promises fulfilled, and His promises that are still coming to be.
Let us remember that Christ is the perfect King. That He will return with power and glory to begin His visible reign. That He will gather His people and scatter His enemies once and for all. And let us also keep firmly in mind, Christ Jesus is no mere mortal. Human yes, but Christ is also the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Almighty God.
And most of all, let us keep in mind that through faith, Christ is OUR King. Grace and peace be to you, from Him who is and who was and who is to come. To Him be the glory and the dominion, in our hearts and otherwise, forever and ever.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.