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Christ the King

by Brant Pitre March 06, 2020 0 Comments


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Alright, so beautiful background, very rich Old Testament text there about David being anointed king of Israel. Now in terms of the bridge between the Old and New Testaments, the bridge for today is Psalm 122. Beautiful psalm. If you look at the heading of Psalm 122 in a Bible, you’re going to see it’s going to refer to itself as a “song of ascents of David.” What does that mean, a song of ascents? Well, there were certain psalms in the Old Testament that would be sung as the people were ascending the stairs of the temple, as the priests were going up the stairs of the temple, in order to offer sacrifice at the festivals. So the psalm would be chanted when the priest was going up the stairs of the sanctuary to offer sacrifice, and they would be chanted as the pilgrims were coming into the city of Jerusalem, ascending into the temple to worship.

And in this case, the psalm is all about the gathering of the twelve tribes of Israel into Jerusalem. So just listen for a second, this is what it says:

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

That means the temple.

Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!

Jerusalem, built as a city
which is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
There thrones for judgment were set,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
“May they prosper who love you!
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers!”
For my brethren and companions’ sake
I will say, “Peace be within you!”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

Now I read the whole psalm to you for two reasons. First, I just want you to kind of imagine pilgrims singing this as they journey up to Jerusalem. It’s a beautiful, powerful psalm. But secondly, I wanted to highlight—notice what’s going on here. It’s a song of hope for the gathering of the tribes going up to Jerusalem in the name of the Lord where thrones were being set for the house of David. So, in the first century AD, as you might recall I’ve mentioned elsewhere, ten of the twelves tribes are lost. They’ve been scattered to the four winds, right? But when certain psalms would be sung, like Psalm 122, there was a hope that one day when the Messiah would come and sit on the throne of David, He wouldn’t just reestablish the kingdom of David, He would gather the twelve tribes into a new Jerusalem that would be even more glorious, even more beautiful, even more splendid than the Jerusalem of Solomon had ever been. And when you saw that king, that Davidic king, exalted to His throne — as it mentions here — you would know that the restoration of Jerusalem and the ingathering of the tribes of Israel was finally at hand.

So it’s a very glorious vision of the coming of a new Jerusalem, the gathering of the twelves tribes of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah. So you can understand why when Jesus came onto the scene in the first century AD, if people were used to chanting psalms like this in the temple, why they were waiting for Him to bring about this kind of visible, public, and even this worldly restoration of a kingdom that would look like the kingdom of David (that David had exercised in Jerusalem of old). And yet, when you get to the public ministry of Jesus and you get to the Gospel of Luke, what happens? Yes, Jesus gathers twelve disciples around Him. Yes, He performs signs and wonders that indicate His power. But when He actually ends up going to Jerusalem, and everyone would imagine that would be where He would establish His throne and set up His kingdom, what ends up happening instead? He’s arrested, He’s charged with blasphemy, He’s led out to a wooden cross where they would crucify and execute criminals and slaves, and He’s hung there to die by the Roman authorities.

This is not what people were expecting. This is not what people were waiting for. This is not the kind of king that they thought would reign based on the psalms, like Psalm 122, or based on even the reign of David, who was a warrior messiah, who was a warrior king. So what’s the upshot of all this? Taken together, what it shows us is something ironic, something paradoxical, but profoundly true. Namely this: the way that Jesus is installed as king, so to speak, is not just through His Baptism. Yes, He’s anointed with the Spirit at His Baptism, but the Baptism itself, going down into the waters of the Jordan, is a sign of Him being baptized with suffering, of being immersed in the waters of His crucifixion, in which He will reign as king, precisely through the cross.

And the amazing thing here, the powerful thing about the Gospel for today, is that somehow, through the grace of God’s illumination, the thief who sees Jesus looking like a criminal who’s been executed, somehow sees that He is in fact the true King. And so when he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he is somehow seeing through the visible figure in front of him—who looks like any other crucified Jew by the Roman Empire—to the invisible reality that He is in fact the christos, the anointed one, and that He is going to reign, but that His kingdom is not of this world, but it’s a heavenly kingdom. And in response to that act of faith, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. You will be with me in my kingdom.”

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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