Rev. Mark Schaefer
Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University
November 25, 2012—Christ the King Sunday
2 Samuel 23:1–7; Revelation 1:4-8; John 18:33–37

2 Samuel 23:1–7 • “These are David’s last words:   This is the declaration of Jesse’s son David, the declaration of a man raised high, a man anointed by the God of Jacob, a man favored by the strong one of Israel. The LORD’s spirit speaks through me; his word is on my tongue. Israel’s God has spoken, Israel’s rock said to me: “Whoever rules rightly over people, whoever rules in the fear of God, is like the light of sunrise on a morning with no clouds, like the bright gleam after the rain that brings grass from the ground.” Yes, my house is this way with God! He has made an eternal covenant with me, laid out and secure in every detail. Yes, he provides every one of my victories and brings my every desire to pass. But despicable people are like thorns, all of them good for nothing, because they can’t be carried by hand. No one can touch them, except with iron bar or the shaft of a spear. They must be burned up with fire right on the spot!

Revelation 1:4–8 • John, to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace and peace to you from the one who is and was and is coming, and from the seven spirits that are before God’s throne, and from Jesus Christ—the faithful witness, the firstborn from among the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To the one who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, who made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father—to him be glory and power forever and always. Amen. Look, he is coming with the clouds! Every eye will see him, including those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This is so. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is and was and is coming, the Almighty.”

John 18:33–37 • Pilate went back into the palace. He summoned Jesus and asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others spoken to you about me?” Pilate responded, “I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and its chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

Jesus replied, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.” “So you are a king?” Pilate said.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this reason: to testify to the truth. Whoever accepts the truth listens to my voice.”


montypythonThere is a scene in the classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur and his squire are riding—well, hopping, really—through a town. The town is the classic medieval village, populated by people wearing muddy, gray clothing.  As Arthur passes by in his gleaming white tunic and shining armor, one of the townspeople says to the other: “Who is that?”  The second replies, “Must be a king.” “How do you know that?” asks the first. The second says, “Hasn’t got [crap] all over him.”  I suppose that’s one way to identify a king.

Our impression of a king is a fairly stereotypical one.  Usually in some kind of resplendent glory, usually wearing a crown.  We get a little confused when monarchs appear to us in ways that defy this understanding.  Aragorn doesn’t look like much of a king in The Lord of the Rings until he gets all cleaned up and puts on that crown.  The scenes in the movie The Queen where Elizabeth II is shown driving her Range Rover around her Scottish estate seem somehow less “royal”.  When I first learned that the Norwegian King rides the tram around town and goes skiing on the public courses, my first reaction was almost what’s the point of even having a king if he’s not going act all…kingly?

Now what does this have to do with us?  Today is “Christ the King” Sunday, but it’s not a Sunday that many in the church are aware of.  And while we sing hymns with royal imagery and Christmas Carols sing “This, this is Christ the King…”, “Come and worship Christ, the newborn King”, and “Glory to the newborn King!”, Jesus as “king” is not the most frequently encountered image of Christ in the church.  Jesus as teacher or prophet or healer are much more prevalent in people’s imaginations.  So much so that people are less comfortable with the image than they used to be.  Particularly in America where our fondness for kings is somewhat diminished.

And yet, confessing Jesus as King is at the heart of our religion.  Whenever we say the name “Jesus Christ” we are not simply saying a name.  We are saying a name and title: Jesus the Christ.  Christ comes from the Greek word Christos which is simply the translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic word mashiah/mashiha “messiah” or “anointed one”.  And while we talk all about anointing of the Spirit and Jesus’ prophetic mission, the earliest understanding of the term is of being anointed…as king.

See, the kings of ancient Israel were anointed.  If we were to translate the sense of the word rather than the literal meaning, we would call Jesus “Jesus Crowned”.  Every time we say the name “Jesus Christ” we are making a confession: Jesus is God’s anointed one; a king.

And it’s not the only time that we make that confession.


In the Revelation to John, Jesus is given a number of Christological titles.  He is referred to variously as “the faithful witness,” “the firstborn from among the dead,” “the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand,” “the one who is the first and the last,” “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword,” and “the one who has the key of David,” among others.  In the passage we heard from tonight, among the earliest passages in the book, Jesus is identified as “the ruler of the kings of the earth.”


But who are these “kings of the earth”? What do we think of when we think of kings?

Our history is replete with kings.  King David, King Solomon, King Nebuchadnezzar, King Richard the Lionhearted, King Henry VIII, King Leonidas, King Alexander the Great, King Tut, King Louis XIV, King Louis the XVI, King William the Conqueror, King Charlemagne, King Faisal, King George (I, II, and III), King Montezuma, King Lapu-lapu, Genghis Khan, King Xerxes, King Artaxerxes, Czar Nicholas, Czar Ivan the Terrible, King Peter the Great, Emperor Hirohito.

And then there are the kings of fiction: King Gilgamesh, King Lear, King Elassar/Aragorn, King Arthur, King Macbeth, King Theoden, Emperor Palpatine.

And all these kings have something in common: they are either warriors or tyrants.  All of their kingdoms are propped up by force.  In ancient Republican Rome, the greatest insult you could heap upon a leader of Rome was to call him ‘king’ because it connoted oppression and tyranny. Kingdoms are propped up by the sword and are maintained by bloodlines and inheritance, denying power to the masses and concentrated in one family in perpetuity. Well, until the next guy comes along and establishes his family as the family in charge.

So, why on earth, would we as the church lift up the image of Christ as, of all things, a king?


In all of the gospels, Jesus is questioned by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s version, Jesus’ only answer is “That’s what you say,” and he remains silent after that, often to such an extent that Pilate is recorded as being “amazed.” Alone among the gospels, John’s gospel provides us with a long conversation between Jesus and Pilate in response to that question.

Christ the King

When Pilate asks the question, Jesus asks whether Pilate is asking this based on his own observations or those of others.  Pilate notes that he is not a Jew and that Jesus’ own nation and priests have handed him over to the Romans. It is then that Jesus responds, “My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”

In other translations, Jesus’ statement is translated “my kingdom is not of this world” which is often understood as Jesus making a statement about the nature of the Kingdom of God as an otherwordly reality.  That is, he is speaking of the kingdom in heaven that is spiritual and apart from the world.  Silly Jews are thinking about a kingdom on Earth, but Jesus is talking about a kingdom on the Spiritual plane of existence.

But Jesus is not talking about that.  The Common English translation that we’re using is closer to the sense of it.  The Greek says he basileia he eme ouk estin ek tou kosmou toutou, literally, “my kingdom is not out of this world”—which is more accurately rendered by the CEB as “doesn’t originate from.” That is, Jesus’ kingdom is here but it has come from somewhere else.  Its origins are not of earth, they are of God.

And what that means is that the Kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim, is not like the kingdoms of the earth.  And the King that Jesus has come to be is not like the kings of the earth.  As he himself says, were his kingdom of this world his guards would have fought—that is, they would have used violence—to prevent him from going to the cross.  But Christ’s kingdom does not and he goes to the cross without a fight.

Indeed, the kings of the earth are in power through force and violence, but Christ reigns in peace and love.  The kings of the earth rule over systems that are inherently unjust, but Christ reigns in justice.  The kings of the earth seek glory and riches, but Christ seeks only service and self-sacrifice.  The kings of the earth seek immortality and fame.  Christ comes in humility and gives his life for the salvation of all.

When Jesus says, “My kingdom does not originate from this world,” he’s not kidding.  The kingdom that Jesus reigns over is unlike all our kingdoms.  And yet, as Revelation notes, Jesus is the “ruler of the kings of the earth.”  The kingdom of love, justice, peace, service, mercy, and self-sacrifice is higher than all the kingdoms of the earth.

V.   END

There is some embarrassment in the modern church about Christ the King Sunday.  It’s viewed as patriarchal, monarchist, and imperialist: all the things that a good modern-day Christian should oppose.  And we should.  But there’s something missing from that understanding, and that’s that proclaiming Christ as King has always been a subversive act.

When Jesus was hailed as King of the Jews it was seen by the Romans as an act of sedition.  Only Caesar was king over the Jews.  When early Christians proclaimed “Jesus is Lord” it was an act of sedition and treason; only Caesar was your lord. And when the Book of Revelation, a book that describes the Roman Empire as a great beast that arises from the sea and servant of Satan, proclaims Christ the “ruler of the kings of the earth,” it is making a powerful political statement.

But all these are making a theological statement as well.  For the Christ they were proclaiming was not one who allied with the powerful.  The Christ they proclaimed—and that we proclaim—is one who is an ally of the powerless, who seeks their well-being, and who gives up his own power for the sake of the world.

We, then, as servants of this king are called to follow in his example.  When we proclaim Christ as King, we do not identify him as one of the kings of the earth, but as the King of Righteousness, who stands over all the kings of the earth. And thus when we declare Christ to be our king, we declare fealty to that kingdom: a kingdom of justice, a kingdom of mercy, a kingdom of welcome for the stranger, of care for the widow and the orphan, of voice for the voiceless, of hope for the downtrodden.  When we proclaim Christ as king, we support not partriarchy or monarchy or imperialism, we undermine them all with a declaration of fidelity to the ways of God: ways that seek justice for the oppressed, the dignity of all God’s children regardless of any condition of birth, the rejection of violence and hate, the love of neighbor, and a grace that extends to all the families of the earth.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *