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“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” asked Herod’s unexpected visitors. Their question troubled him so deeply that the aftershock was felt throughout the capital (Matt. 2:3). Perhaps both parties were acquainted with the ancient prophecies of a coming kingdom, prophecies given in the days of the Exile, recorded in the oral traditions of the wise easterners, and inscripturated in part of that Great Book to which Herod paid such scant attention (Dan. 2:44–45), despite his easy access to it (cf. Matt. 2:4–6).
Some 30 years later, John the Baptist appeared, a latter-day Elijah proclaiming that this long-promised kingdom of God was already coming over the horizon of history. His message was both echoed by and fulfilled in his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven/God is at hand” (Matt. 4:17; cf. Mark 1:14). Now—at last—the kingdom was here; the King Himself had arrived.
But what did this mean—Jesus is King? Yes, Jesus came to be “King of my life,” but the Gospel story portrays a kingship simultaneously more deeply anchored in the history of God’s revelation and more cosmic in its implications. In fact, when Jesus first announced His kingship, two of its major events already lay in the past.
Firstly, He had been Christ-ed, anointed into the office of King, by the coming of the Holy Spirit on Him at His baptism in the Jordan (Luke 3:21–22). That, in turn, was a symbol of the overwhelming baptism into death He would experience (Luke 12:50). But by that baptism of blood He would conquer sin, death, and Satan (Col. 2:13–15; Heb. 2:14–15).
But there was more to it than even this. For, secondly, His baptism was followed by an immediate conflict, face to face with Satan himself (Luke 4:1–13). This event, perhaps even more clearly, set the parameters of His kingdom, because in it Jesus proved to be everything that Adam and Israel had failed to be.
Adam the First was created in fellowship with God as His image (Gen. 1:26–27). In the ancient Near East, a king might symbolize his lordship by setting up an image as a representation of himself and his dominion. This is precisely what Genesis 1 describes: God, the Great King, made man as His living, breathing, moving, like-Himself image, and gave to Adam the First “dominion.” He ruled over the animate world (Gen. 1:26). He was to live in fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden, but was called to turn the whole earth into the Garden of God (Gen. 1:28). As is God to all universes, so in amazing and imaginative love He fashioned a creature that in miniature could experience creativity and dominion, and so have real fellowship with Him. Here lay the serpent’s subtlety—”you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5) he salaciously intoned when he tempted the woman. She and her husband forgot the cardinal truth: They already were like God! So Adam the First fell, and with him the cosmos.
Enter Adam the Last, the Lord Jesus, anointed with the Spirit who is both the Divine Reconnaissance Officer (“the seven Spirits of God sent out into all the earth,” Rev. 5:6) and the Divine Strategist (who led the New Adam out to be tempted by the Devil, Matt. 4:1).
The replay of the battle took place not in a garden, but in a wilderness created by sin. Here the beasts that surrounded Him were not subservient and tranquil, but “wild” (Mark 1:13). Nevertheless, Adam the Last faced the same temptations to which Adam the First fell (and Israel following him), overcame them successfully, and routed their author.
The prince of this world offered the kingdom to Jesus, but in a way that would make Jesus his subject (Matt. 4:9). But the prince of darkness was no match for the Son of Light. Anticipating the more bloody battle of the cross, Jesus stood firm. Now, in one Man, a foothold was gained in enemy-occupied territory, a fatal flaw discovered in Satan’s character, tactics, and resources. The kingdom had come near.
No wonder our Lord’s ministry then began with a proclamation of this good news and marvelous demonstrations of His power over disease, chaos in creation, and the evil one himself (Mark 4:35–5:43). While we do not yet see everything under the feet of man, we already see Jesus…crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:5–9a)!
But a final battle for dominion remained. God had promised a day of bloody conflict between the Seed of the woman and the Serpent. His heel would be bruised even as He crushed the head of the Serpent. This was settled in the purpose of God from all ages (2 Tim. 1:9–10).
The protagonists moved irrevocably towards the final denouement. God’s battle plan was in place. Satan, who first sought to prevent the cross, now rushed to destroy the Son, God’s King—and seemed to succeed. He who holds the power of death had the Last Adam in his clutches.
But this was a King who died voluntarily, bearing the guilt of sins not His own. Truly, such a Good Man could not be held down (Acts 2:24)! So Christ triumphed over Satan in the cross (Col. 2:15), and in His resurrection and ascension-coronation received from the Father authority to give to all His people the same Spirit who anointed Him (John 14:16; Acts 2:33). The Spirit of the King is poured out on His subjects so that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isa. 9:7). And so, today, men and women, boys and girls, young and old, rich and poor, wise and simple from the world’s tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations bow the knee and call Him Lord.
We do not see everything under the Man’s feet—not yet. But we see Jesus already crowned because He tasted death for us (Heb. 2:9). We see Him by faith, and we realize that His enthroned presence in heaven is the guarantee that He will return to consummate His inaugurated kingdom. Then the last word will be spoken; then the last reversal will take place. The new order begun in the resurrection will spread to everything that He claims. The groans of creation will be heard no longer (Rom. 8:19–22). Everywhere and in everything there will be reflections of His perfect glory. Then loud voices in heaven will be heard saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15).
But all this lies in the future of the Little One wrapped in swaddling cloths in the Bethlehem manger (Luke 2:12). For the present, the one who “binds up the water in His thick clouds” (Job 26:8) Himself lies bound in strips of cloth wrapped around Him under the illusion that otherwise His little limbs might become deformed in later life. Wonder of wonders: The Strong One is weak; the one whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain and who owns the cattle on a thousand hills lies in an animal’s feeding trough. Meekness and majesty, indeed!
Behold then your newborn King! Come and worship Him!