“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’” (Matthew 28:18)
In 1967 Brian Epstein died.
Every death is tragic, but this death resulted in one of the most disappointing break-ups in music history. Epstein had been the successful producer for the little British band we like to call “The Beatles.” It was Epstein’s genius that had made the Beatles a world-wide name, that had produced such music as Penny Lane, Yesterday, and Eleanor Rigsby, and that made young women scream, swoon, and faint all over the globe. Though most have never heard his name, Epstein was the leader of the Beatles in virtually every sense.
Animosity had been growing among the musicians for several years. The musical visions of Lennon and McCartney were significantly different. Both Harrison and Starr often felt overshadowed by the two bigger figures. There were exhausting rehearsals and recording sessions, drugs, solo-projects, and a variety of people trying to influence the band with their own agendas. It appears that Epstein’s leadership was the only thing holding the band together.
The Beatles recorded the White Album in 1968, but not without considerable arguing and fighting. Without Epstein, nobody was in charge. Everyone wanted to pull in his own direction. Everyone was irritated that the others didn’t understand their particular musical visions.
Eventually, the Beatles broke up. They have never, even to this day, been replaced. Rolling Stones puts four of their albums in the top ten best rock albums of all times—that’s nearly half of the ten best albums in Rock history.
They may have broken up for a number of reasons, but ultimately, like so many other musical groups since the 60’s, they fell apart because nobody knew the answer to one of life’s most critical questions.
“Who is in charge here?”
Most Westerners are accustomed to two kinds of governments: Presidential, where one person is elected to execute the laws of the land, and Parliamentarian, where a committee of officials work together to make and carry out laws. “President” describes one who “presides.” “Parliament” describes people who “parley” … that is, who talk.
This means that, for most of us, the idea of kingship is a very foreign idea. The West is generally happy that we don’t live under monarchies, even if four dozen nations still have some form of it.
What is distinctive about a king, over, say, a President or a Parliament?
First, the king is the personal embodiment of the kingdom. In a monarchy, the king is expected to hold together in his very person all the values, customs, and institutions of the kingdom. France’s Louis XIV may have offended the world when he said “L’etat, c’est moi”—"I am the state.” But he was actually just describing what a monarchy is supposed to be. The king really is the embodiment of the kingdom. And Jesus is the embodiment of God’s kingdom. He shows us in his very person what we are to value, how we are to live, and what we are to do.
Second, in a monarchy, the king serves in the place of all three branches of our democratic government. Where we have a congress to make laws, a President to execute them, and a judiciary to evaluate people’s response to them, in a monarchy the king does all three: he makes the laws, he executes the laws, and he judges people based on these laws. All the duties of the law are embodied in the king and his designates. Jesus gets to make the rules, but he will also be the one who enforces them, and, ultimately he will judge humanity based upon those rules. He is his own legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch.
Third, in a monarchy, the king rules under a sort of social contract with his citizens. Not only does he direct the people, but he also provides for them. A good king is a great blessing to the people, which is one reason why there have been many people in history who have enjoyed monarchies. Good kings can be very effective at providing justice, peace, prosperity, and protection. He raises armies to protect them. He builds economic and social systems that provide for them. He judges between their disputes. And he cares for them in times of crisis. King Jesus also rules by a form of social contract—called, in the Bible, a covenant. Jesus expects our allegiance, but he also provides many blessings for those who enter the covenant with him. He gives out peace, spiritual prosperity, mercy and justice, and his protection. He is a very good king, because he loves his subjects.
If we fail to understand that Jesus is King, we will distort both his message and his mission. He came, the Gospels repeat over and over again, to bring the reign of God among humans. To misunderstand or reject his kingship is to miss the reign of God that he brings. In her book On Gender, Renée Sproles explains what this means:
"When I decide to trust and follow Jesus, I enter a kingdom, God’s kingdom, not a democratic republic …. A temptation for many Western Christians is to approach Scripture, as well as trusting and following Jesus, with a worldview informed by a lifetime of democracy: of holding those in power responsible and answerable to the people. But Jesus invites us to a kingdom, not a democratic republic. When I receive salvation, I willingly submit to the divine rule of God, the father, and Jesus, his son. As a citizen of this heavenly kingdom, I must obey ‘the perfect law that gives freedom’ (James 1:22-25) and can do so with the counsel of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me (Rom. 8:5-11) and a continued posture of repentance when I sin (1 John 1:8-10). What is revealed in Scripture overrides my opinion, my inclinations, or what I wish were so. I don’t get to sing like Elsa in the popular children’s cartoon Frozen, ‘No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free.’"
Jesus Christ comes as many things: advisor, comforter, shepherd, savior, messiah … you name it. But most of all, Jesus comes as King. He comes with the power of a king. He comes with the wisdom of a king. And he comes with the authority of a king.
Jesus is not a mere adviser, coach, friend, or homey. Jesus is King. Jesus is not President. He is not Prime Minister. Jesus sits on a throne, not at a desk. Jesus is the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
This means that we must grant Jesus all authority, including authority over our lives, our understanding of truth and beauty, and our destinies.
King Jesus is in charge here.
Renee Sproles, On Gender (Renew, 2018); get her book here.