What is the proper kingdom of a lowborn king? If Jesus was born in a manger, is His kingdom of a similar quality to His birth? Or, if He is the king of the Jews, is His kingdom Israel? When Jesus was asked if He was the king of the Jews, He responded in this way:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:36-38)
Jesus affirms He is a king, yet His kingdom is profoundly different than Pilate might have expected. It is “not of this world,” so its stability is not threatened by the arrest and murder of its king. It is not of this world, so it is not defended by the sword. We are left with the question, if Jesus is a king, what is He king over? It is true that βασιλεια (basileia), the Greek word here translated “kingdom,” does not refer specifically to a land—as “kingdom” in English might—yet by referring to the reign of a King it implies both a people over whom the king rules and the geographical sphere of His authority—a land. We are then right to ask, what is the sphere of Christ’s rule; what does He rule over?
An answer to this question is not as simple as we might think. On the one hand we cannot point to any one chunk of this Earth or even of this universe and say, “that is Jesus’ kingdom!” In this way it is not like any kingdom we have experienced. In fact, we cannot point to any atom in this universe and say, “this is not under Christ’s dominion.” On the other hand, in our experience, not many people and no earthly nation acknowledges the rule of Christ. One way we could answer the question, what is Christ’s kingdom, is this: Christ rules from Heaven over the entire creation, yet His rule will not be uncontested until His return. We can break this down and consider where He rules from, or His throne; what He rules over, or His dominion; and the state His kingdom is in, or His rule.
The Throne of the Christ
A throne is a symbol of authority and the throne room represents the centre of king’s power, the unmovable centre of his kingdom. To lose throne is to lose the entire kingdom, yet if a king retains his throne, he may lose much of his territory and still have a kingdom. According to the author of Hebrews, after Jesus performed His priestly work in His life, death, and resurrection, He then sat down “at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3). Paul puts it in these terms, by His resurrection He “was declared to be the Son of God in power” (Rom 1:4).
As we find in the Old Testament (e.g. Isa 6:1-7; Hab 2:20; Ps 11:4), the throne of God is found in Heaven, and this is where Christ goes to take claim His throne (Luke 22:69; Acts 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22; Rev 3:21). This is probably at least something that the phrase “the Kingdom of Heaven” means; it is a kingdom rooted in Heaven, based out of Heaven and so with a Heavenly quality. In Matthew’s Gospel, “the Kingdom of Heaven” often replaces the more regular phrase “the Kingdom of God.” The latter refers to God’s reign, and the Kingdom of Heaven to that reign via its centre of power. So after completing His earthly ministry with the resurrection, Jesus was enthroned in heaven.
The baby born in the manger was exalted to the highest of heights, taking His place at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven (1 Cor 15:24). The manger was a necessary step for Christ to take His place on the throne of His earthly father David and at position of power in the Kingdom of God the Father. The humble path from the crib to the cross was the way by which Jesus ascended to the throne.
The Dominion of the Christ
Jesus Christ rules from heaven, at the right hand of the Father, but Scripture is clear that Heaven alone is not His dominion. He rules from sea to sea, from the Euphrates to the edge of the European continent; He rules over the heavens and the earth, and everything below (Ps 72:8; Zech 9:10; Phil 2:9-11). For a lengthy period—“a thousand years”—Jesus rules over the nations (Rev 10:1-6). He sits on the throne of His Father, who is “Lord of heaven and earth”—that is, everything (Matt 11:25; Acts 17:22). Speaking of the extent of Christ’s reign, Abraham Kuyper famously proclaimed, “there is not a square inch of this whole domain of our existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” The domain of the “King of the Jews” is not a manger, a church, Israel, Britain, or America: Christ’s kingdom is all encompassing. All authority is His (Matt 28:18). However, the land over which Christ rules is not at rest—at least not yet.
The Rule of the Christ
Revelation 20 tells us that Satan has been bound so that the Gospel may go to the nations (Rev 20:1-3, cf. Mark 3:27), yet his rebellion is not thoroughly crushed, for he will be released at the end of the age (Rev 20:3, 7-10). Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 puts it this way, Jesus “must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (cf. Rom 16:20). That is, Christ will one day defeat Satan and his followers completely and conquer death in the resurrection of the righteous and wicked. However, this means that neither Satan—the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4)—nor death are done away with.
Christ rules over all, yet much of His kingdom is in the thralls of rebellion. Instead of crushing this rebellion in His omnipotent power, Jesus instead waits patiently, giving all the rebels a chance to repent (2 Pet 3:9). Jesus was born to rule, to “break [the nations] with a rod or iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Ps 2:9). He is destined to put all His enemies under His feet, to subject them to His rule and end their rebellion. Until that time, Christ is the king of the entire creation. Yet His dominion is in turmoil, so much so that His subjects rejected their king and sought His execution (John 1:11; John 18:33-38). Christ’s rule will reach its crescendo when He returns and brings the creation’s rebellion to an end. At this time, He will then hand over all the authority given to Him to His Father (1 Cor 15:24, 28).
Jesus, born in a manager in Bethlehem of Judah, is king ruling over all the creation from Heaven. The lowborn king is now exalted to the right hand of the Majesty on high. Yet His rule remains contested by all those who reject His kingship. But soon He will return at the head of a heavenly army to bring all the creation to peace, to place it in submission to God the Father.
As we remember Christ’s birth in a manger on Tuesday, let us also remember His promise to return soon, that He will come to right every wrong and bring peace to the tumult of this rebellious world (Rev 22:20). Tuesday, as we remember the birth of our king, we are reminded that a Child was born to us who was called “Mighty God” and “Prince of Peace,” but the promise of a worldwide kingdom at peace remains to be fulfilled (Isaiah 9:1-7). So we are drawn by the inauguration of Christ’s Kingdom to its consummation. With John we pray, “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20).
Christ is the lowborn king over a Heavenly kingdom, yet though this kingdom is largely in rebellion, there remains within it a righteous remnant who live in submission to their king. To these, Christ’s people, we will turn in the final post of this series.