Christ As King: The Royal Supremacy of Christ Part 1

Christians often treat Jesus as a friend and a brother, as well they should. He is both the “first-born among many brethren” and our friend (Heb 2:10; Jn 15:14-15). Yet, in American society, we have often left Christ on this level only. We often do not think what it means that he is King and Lord. But his kingliness and austerity are as necessary to understand as is his familial relationship. It is the purpose of this paper to explore Jesus’ kingship and draw some theopraxical conclusions from it.

Royal Function: The King in the OT

The kingship of Christ is based on the Old Testament. Primarily, his claim to be the Son of David links him to the Davidic Covenant and its blessings. The covenant is well studied, so it will not be directly addressed here.[1] Instead, I will focus on the general nature and actions of the kingly office in the OT.

The King as Legislator

The kings in the Ancient Near East claimed that the laws they promulgated were directly from the gods. Hammurabi, for example, “received the law from the Sun-god, and then himself, like the Sun-god, illuminated the land, this is he received the god’s nature and powers.”[2] Another example is Darius who claimed that he received power to give laws from Ahuramazda.[3] As such, they claimed to speak for the deity and not to fabricate the laws themselves.

The Israelite kings also had a similar relationship with the laws of Yahweh.[4] David charged Solomon to seek Yahweh “so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God” (1 Chr 22:12).[5] Solomon reiterated in his prayer that the kings were supposed to “take heed to their way to walk in [Yahweh’s] law” (2 Chr 6:16).

The Israelite kings were, however, different from the other ANE kings. They were not to promulgate the law code which they received directly from God. Instead, they were to use the law code given by the prophet Moses. The King was to “write for himself a copy of this law” under the careful attention of the Levitical priests (Dt. 17:18). The implication was that he was supposed to use it in his legal decisions.

This law was familiar to the kings of Israel. This law was known to David because he charged Solomon to obey Yahweh “according to what is written in the Law of Moses” (1 Kgs 2:3). And later kings were judged by how they measured up to the law which was given through Moses.[6]

If the sons of David sinned, God promised to correct them (2 Sm 7:14). For the king, sin was not just a vague sense of right or wrong. It was tied to the law. In Psalm 89:30-32, Yahweh says, “If his sons forsake my law And do not walk in my judgments, If they violate my statues And do not keep my commandments, Then I will punish their transgression with the rod And their iniquity with stripes.” The sad story of the Israelite kings confirmed that Yahweh was serious when he made this covenant (Lam 2:9; Neh 9:34). But this failure on the part of the kings did not negate Yahweh’s obligation that David’s “descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me” (Ps 89:36).

The King as Adjudicator

The king was the chief justice of Israel. When Israel demanded a king, they stated that the purpose of the king was “to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sm 8:5, 6, 20). Far from being a side task to the king, judging was a priority. Deuteronomy 16-17 places the king in the context of the judicial system: “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns . . .. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (16:18-20). Moses illustrates the legal system with the capital crime of idolatry (Dt 16:21-17:7).[7] He noted that as cases grew in complexity, they move up the court system till it arrived “to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days” (Dt 17:9). After a discussion on verdicts (17:10-13), God places the stipulations for the king at the pinnacle of the judicial system (17:14).[8]

Solomon was the king who exemplified this judicial process. He recognized that God was the supreme source of justice (Ps 72:1-7). He gained notoriety in the judicial arena through the case of the two prostitutes. When news of his solution went out, all Israel “feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice” (1 Kgs 3:28). The queen of Sheba also noted Solomon’s ability to work out justice (1 Kgs 10:9; 2 Chr 9:8).

In the proverbs transcribed by Hezekiah, Solomon states his thoughts on the judicial process. It glorifies both God and the king when a hard case is solved (Pr 25:2-3). Yet, cases can only be sufficiently decided when wickedness is removed from before the king (v. 4-5). And he even had advice for the plaintiffs that they should take their time building their case (v. 8-10).

Solomon, however, failed in his position as the chief judge, and for the most part, everyone who followed him promoted injustice (Eze 7:27). The whole leadership structure became filled with corruption (Mic 3:9-11). But in the midst of this injustice, Isaiah gave hope to Israel by proclaiming: “Behold, a king will reign righteously And princes will rule justly” (Is 32:1). Thus, Israel looked for a future king who would come and reign with justice.

The King as Ruler

While the king was the supreme judge and legislator, he was not free to rule however he wished. Deuteronomy 17 presents several limitations to the office.[9] He was to be an Israelite chosen by God (v. 15). He was not to multiply horses, wives, or money to himself.[10] He was also limited to the laws of God in order to keep him humble (v. 20). Outside of Deuteronomy, the king was expected to deliver the needy and afflicted (Ps 72:13). He was a mighty warrior (Ps 45:5; Ps 110:5-7). And he was to rule in beauty and joy (Ps 45:8-9).

As for his dominion, the king ruled over all the land of Israel (e.g., 2 Sm 8:15). But the royal literature indicates that the king wanted his reign to extend to the ends of the earth. Yahweh said to the king, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Your possession.” David declared that when God established him as king, “A people whom I have not known serve me. As soon as they hear, they obey me; Foreigners submit to me” (Ps 18:36). Solomon prayed that he would expand his kingdom “from sea to sea And from the River to the ends of the earth” (Ps 72:8). Yet, these desires where not met for the kings of Israel because they failed God.[11] In this situation, however, God gave hope through the prophet Micah. He proclaimed that he himself would “assemble the lame and gather the outcasts, even those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant and the outcasts a strong nation” (Mic 4:6-7). Then, God would come down and reign in Zion. And Yahweh would rule over all the nations by teaching them his laws (Mic 4:1-3).

Royal Anticipation of Christ (OT)

Many passages refer to the coming of Christ. The discussion of these passages could run ad infinitum. But there are two prophecy-poems that bring out many of the aspects of Christ’s reign: Psalm 2 and Micah 5. Psalm 2 is well studied in the literature concerning Christ’s reign because of its constant use in the NT. Micah 5, however, is an often-overlooked prophecy regarding the coming of the Christ. Yet, it compactly foreshadows many of the key features of Christ’s reign.

Psalm 2: The Anointed King

Psalm 2 in its original context appears to be a psalm about the coronation of an Israelite king. The kings of the nations reject Yahweh and his anointed king (v. 1-3). But Yahweh is not intimidated by their rebuttal. He disinherits the kings by installing his king in Zion (v. 4-6).[12] Yahweh turns to his anointed and gives him the nations for his inheritance (v. 7-9). The psalmist, then, charges the kings of the earth to submit to the anointed (v. 10-12).

The New Testament takes this Psalm as a reference to Jesus, being one of the most frequently cited psalms.[13] The Father identifies Jesus as the Son in Psalm 2:7 at his baptism (Mt 3:17; cf. Mt 17:5). In addition, Jesus was anointed at the baptism with the Spirit indicating that he is the Anointed One of Psalm 2. This anointing signaled that God selected Jesus to be the ruler to come (cf. 1 Sm 16:1-13).[14] The disciples also proclaimed Jesus as the Anointed One from Psalm 2. They identified the raging nations as “Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Ac 4:27). And just like the nations raged against Christ, so they raged against the church (v. 29-30).

Psalm 2:7 predicts the resurrection of Christ. Paul cited the phrase “today, I have begotten you” linking it to the resurrection: “God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’” (Ac 13:33). “Today” means the day that God resurrected Jesus from the dead.[15] The resurrection is significant because it provided the Anointed One with “the holy and sure blessings of David” (Is 55:3, Ac 13:34). These “sure blessings” are probably a link to the Davidic Covenant. Thus, through the resurrection Jesus receives the promise of the eternal throne.

Another point about the begetting is in Hebrews 1:5. He quotes the phrase again, but this time he links it to Christ’s supremacy. Jesus is supreme over even the angels because he is the Begotten One. This glimpse into the supernatural shows that the Anointed One from Psalm 2 reigns not just over the earth but over the heavens as well.

Hebrews makes another point regarding the begottenness of the Son: it glorified him. Before he could be glorified, he had to be humiliated.[16] But then the Father “begot” Jesus by raising him from the dead resulting in his glorification (Phil 2:9-11). As Hebrews states, “Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (Heb 5:5). While the Hebrews passage applies Jesus’ glorification to his priesthood, it points out something about Jesus’ kingship as well. The phrase “today, I have begotten you” in Psalm 2 was about the Anointed One’s ascension to the throne. But this throne was not his because he grasped at it in his own effort. This contrasts with the kings of the earth earlier in the psalm (Ps 2:1-3). They attempt to throw off God’s rule and grasp their thrones for themselves. But Yahweh gives the throne over the earth to the most unlikely person: the man who humbled himself to death. But a dead king cannot rule. Therefore, God had to beget him or raise him from the dead for him to receive the glory.

Finally, the phrase from Psalm 2 “you shall break them with a rod of iron” also predicts another aspect of Christ’s rule: the full power of Christ is not exercised yet. The Psalm makes it clear that the them is the kings of the earth. But, while Christ is raised to the status of Begotten, everything is not subjected to him (Heb 2:6-8). Instead, this phrase in the psalm will be fulfilled in the future. At the end of the tribulation, Christ will come from heaven to set up his reign on earth. When that happens, then he will rule them with the rod of iron (Rev 19:15).[17]

Micah 5: The Shephard King

The rulers during Micah’s day were wicked. They loved evil and hated good (Mic 3:2). They were so abusive to the people that Micah compares their actions to cannibalism (v. 3). The prophets led the people astray, desiring rather to be fed than to speak for God (v. 5ff). Because of this, God sent judgement against them by the hand of the Assyrians (v. 12). During the siege, Micah calls to them saying, “Now, why do you cry out loudly? Is there no king among you, Or has your counselor perished, That agony has gripped you like a woman in childbirth?” (Mic 4:9). And he declares that the enemies will strike “the judge of Israel on the cheek” (Mic 5:1).

In contrast to these failed rulers, Micah proclaimed that a successful ruler would come but in a most unexpected way. He would be “from of old” (5:2), this probably refers to the Davidic line (cf. Is 9:6-7).[18] But he would not be born in Jerusalem, even though he was royalty. Instead, from “Bethlehem . . . One will go forth for Me to be a ruler” (Mic 5:2). The fact that Bethlehem was small is an important part of Christ’s kenosis. He did not have the dignity of being born in a great city or even a town. He was born in a small village.

Micah 5 also predicted that his victory would not be instantaneous. He first “will give them up until the time When she who is in labor has borne a child” (5:3). The woman here is probably the nation Israel (cf. 4:9-10). After the woman gives birth, then the King will gather the remnant back to Israel (5:3). The best way to understand this is the restoration of the kingdom of Israel in the eschaton (Mic 4:8; Rev 12:1-6; 17:14).

Micah also describes the nature of Christ’s reign. It will be universal in scope and he will bring peace. And most of all, he will reign as a shepherd. The metaphor of the shepherd-king was common in the ancient world. But the Hebrew/Christian metaphor of the Good Shepherd “intensified [the metaphor] to [include] redemption.”[19] This shepherd-king “will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord” (Mic 5:4). There are two angles from which this metaphor can be approached. From one angle, Micah’s contemporary Isaiah prophesies that “the Lord God will come with might . . .. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock” (Is 40:10-11; cf. Eze 34:13-15). From the other angle, Micah’s successor Ezekiel states that “I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David” (Eze 34:23). Thus, the future shepherd-king of Israel is both Yahweh and David. Both concepts are fulfilled in Christ.[20]

[1]. Michael A. Grisanti, “The Davidic Covenant,” Masters Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (1999): 233–50; Gary N. Knoppers, “Ancient Near Eastern Royal Grants and the Davidic Covenant: A Parallel?,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 116, no. 4 (1996): 670–97; Jon D. Levenson, “The Davidic Covenant and Its Modern Interpreters,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41, no. 2 (1979): 205–19; David Olander, “The Importance of the Davidic Covenant,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 10, no. 31 (2006): 51–67.

[2]. Erwin R. Goodenough, “Kingship in Early Israel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 48, no. 3/4 (1929): 173.

[3]. Ibid., 171.

[4]. Daniel J. Elazar, “Government in Biblical Israel,” Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought 13, no. 4 (1973): 118.

[5]. Patricia Dutcher-Walls, “The Circumscription of the King: Deuteronomy 17:16-17 in Its Ancient Social Context,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121, no. 4 (2002): 604.

[6]. 2 Kings 14:6; 23:25; 2 Chr 23:18; 25:4; 30:16. Conferatur 2 Kings 10:31; 1 Chronicles 16:40; 22:12; 2 Chronicles 12:1; 17:9; 31:3, 4; 34:14; 35:26

[7]. Edward J. Woods, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 5, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham NG, England: InterVarsity, 2008), 310.

[8]. Ibid., 5:314.

[9]. Steven H. Sanchez, “Royal Limitation as the Distinctive of Israelite Monarchy” (PhD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 2010), 91.

[10]. The mention of wives in the text is not directed against polygamy (e.g., David). It is in reference to the custom of marrying women from a foreign royal court in order to set up an alliance with another country. These wives maintained some degree of freedom because they could complain to their fathers if they were not happy with their husband. Thus, in the case of Solomon, he built for his wife from Egypt a palace and he allowed his other wives to bring in their foreign gods. Divorcing a wife in this context was more than a typical marital affair. In some cases, it involved not only the two countries, but a third country as well to moderate the dispute. God banned this practice because he did not want his people to be controlled by political structures that would lead his people away from him. For an illustration of this practice, see R. Yaron, “A Royal Divorce at Ugarit,” Orientalia 32, no. 1 (1963): 21–31.

[11]. One example of this failure is Solomon’s design of the temple. While he followed most of the plan God laid down, he added some pagan elements from other nations, according to Unger: “In going beyond the chaste divinely-ordered simplicity of the tabernacle the temple with its elaborate organization and its heavy indebtedness to Syro-Phoenician religious architecture and practice presented a peril to religious syncretism, which was to manifest itself in intermittent conflict between religious assimilators and separatists in subsequent centuries.” Merrill F. Unger, “Archaeology and Solomon’s Empire,” Bibliotheca Sacra 111, no. 442 (1954): 124.

[12]. A discovery from Ugarit has opened up a possible meaning of יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ in verse 5. Traditionally, it is translated “He will terrify them.” But a cognate word BHL from Ugarit can mean to disinherit. Given the age of this poem and the subject of inheritance in the context, it seems this meaning fits best. Thus, YHWH disinherits the kings from their kingdoms and gives their nations to his anointed. Joseph Lam, “Psalm 2 and the Disinheritance of Earthly Rulers: New Light from the Ugaritic Legal Text RS 94.2168,” Vetus Testamentum 64, no. 1 (2014): 34–46.

[13]. According to Gunn, “It is quoted either directly or indirectly seven times in the New Testament (Matt. 3:17 [= Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22]; 17:5 [= Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35]; Acts 4:24-26; 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 5:5; Rev. 2:27) and is alluded to at least another five times ( John 1:49; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 12:5; 19:15, 19).” George A. Gunn, “Psalm 2 and the Reign of the Messiah,” Bibliotheca Sacra 169, no. 676 (2012): 427.

[14]. David J. Macleod, “The Baptism of Christ, or: The Anointing of the King,” Emmaus Journal 9, no. 2 (2000): 150.

[15]. Dale Goldsmith, “Acts 13:33-37: A Pesher on II Samuel 7,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87, no. 3 (1968): 322.

[16]. Jesus’s self-humiliation seems to be a natural part of his nature as God. “The usual way of reading this is that although Christ was God he did not insist on his rights. C. F. D. Moule, however, suggests an alternative understanding: ‘precisely because he was in the form of God he recognized equality with God as a matter not of getting but of giving’. This suggestion has no particular support from the grammar, neither is there anything in the context to require it, but it is interesting to compare it with the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13:2ff.). What is particularly fascinating is John’s preface to the story: ‘Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so …’. At the moment when Jesus decided to perform this service he was clearly aware of his own unique status. The narrative suggests, at the very least, that Jesus saw nothing un-Godlike in washing disciples’ feet. But it probably also suggests something more: that at this moment Jesus was driven by a desire to do something ‘matchless, God-like and divine’ and saw the performance of this menial service as the action which, above all others, conformed to the fact that it was from God he had come and to God he was returning. This accords well with Moule’s idea that it was precisely because he was God that he did not insist on his rights.” Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 214.

[17]. For a more detailed discussion of the issues regarding the present reign of Christ, see: Mark R. Saucy, “Exaltation Christology in Hebrews: What Kind of Reign?,” Trinity Journal 14, no. 1 (1993): 41–62.

[18]. George S. Goodspeed, “The Foreshadowings of the Christ. IV,” The Biblical World 9, no. 3 (1897): 199.

[19]. Valentine Muller, “The Prehistory of the ‘Good Shepherd,’” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 3, no. 2 (1944): 90.

[20]. Andreas J. Köstenberger, “Jesus the Good Shepherd Who Will Also Bring Other Sheep (John 10:16): The Old Testament Background of a Familiar Metaphor,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 12, no. 1 (2002): 77.

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