Christ the King, sovereign of vast galaxies and black holes
Keith Anderson, 21 November 2021
Daniel 7: 9–10, 13–14; Revelation 1: 4b–8; John 18: 33–37
Christ the King: some almost disjointed thoughts about that, but I hope they come together in some reflections upon this title.
If someone should visit our universe from some other place, they would describe our universe in terms of vast galaxies and perhaps black holes; perhaps, considering some detail, they might even describe stars and, if really pushed, mention that around these stars were specks of cold matter called planets. We would not get a mention. We appear irrelevant to the universe. We would be too minute to be identified. If we view our existence as that visitor to our universe, independent of God, that is who we are – irrelevant specks in a vast expanse. But we believe Christ the King is sovereign of all this. That’s the first thought.
Who is Christ the King?
Now a different thought, something from our Judaeo-Christian tradition. In Genesis’ prehistory, which are the myths and stories that led up to the birth of the children of Israel through Abraham, we read of God’s dwelling as the Garden of Eden. Paradise was likened to a rich oasis from which humanity, through the fall of Adam, had been excluded.
And we read that Cain, Adam’s son – the first murderer, who had been banished to the desert, the home of the devil and all his minions – established the first city. The city was seen as the place of the godless where humanity attempted to become independent of God and his creation. So, Sodom, Gomorrah, Babylon and Nineveh were all marked out as particularly evil places.
We find the first hint of change was when God chose Jerusalem (which means ‘place of peace’) as his first visual dwelling-place on earth. The God of the wandering nomads had adopted man’s creation, a city, but a city which throughout its 3,000 years of known existence has been a centre of international violence, and still remains so. When we reflect on the book of Revelation we’re invited to imagine heaven as the ultimate city, the New Jerusalem. The city founded by the first murderer will become the eternal home of God and his people. Christ the King’s holy city is modelled on a place where humanity had tried to be most independent of God. Incarnation is not just about bringing heaven to earth, but also about taking earth into heaven. Christ the King brings the earth into heaven.
Now a different thought. If we read the eighth chapter of the first book of Samuel we see that it was not God’s intention for the children of Israel to have an earthly king but only a heavenly one. He warned that if they adopted the tradition of a king, the king would exploit them. ‘He will take your sons and make them serve with his horses and chariots … He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers … he will take a tenth of your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves’ (verses 11, 13, 17). According to the writer of Samuel, God’s desire was to maintain the unity of his rule between heaven and earth or, to be technical, between the transcendent and the immanent. But humans throughout history have sought to become independent of God. As we have tried to become independent of God so we have demeaned ourselves. We have become slaves to one another.
As we have tried to become independent of God so we have demeaned ourselves. We have become slaves to one another.
The writer of Daniel, however, gives us a vision. It’s a vision cloaked in the images of his own time (we may find it difficult to understand), a vision of something human being re-united with God. In the incarnation of Christ, God has raised humanity to kingship over all. The writer of John’s Revelation also sees it. His visual language is beyond our detailed understanding but it stirs within us hope. In Christ, humanity is revealed as part of the Godhead, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus tried to describe it to Pilate, but Pilate could not grasp it; he lived a life too independent of God. He could only be aware that the battered human being who stood before him had the stature of a king. He could only define that as the King of the Jews. But Jesus invited him to seek truth, the truth that transcendence and immanence had been united. The kingdom of heaven is both now and in eternity.
But beware! In John’s gospel, we have the strange words, ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save it through him’. To save the world. Christ the King is Saviour of the world and the universe, not just humanity. In our treatment of this world, in our independence from God, we risk destroying it. We know species have thrived and disappeared from this earth. Salvation of our world may mean extinction of humanity from it. In Christ we talk of a new heaven and a new earth. But is humanity guaranteed an ongoing presence in it? Does God need us, infinitely tiny specks in the universe? No, he does not. But our hope is that in Christ the King we are still loved, and that again we will discover that God is transforming our wayward ways into a new heaven and a new earth.