The famous New Testament scholar N.T. Wright doesn’t get tired of proclaiming that the Gospel is that Jesus is king. The gospels tell the story of how Jesus became king. But what does that mean? Why is the world still filled with evil if Jesus is truly king already? King Naresuan the Great (1555 – 1605) was one of the greatest monarchs of Thailand. His fascinating story helped me understand better what it means that Jesus is king.
King Naresuan the Great
Naresuan’s father was the king of Phitsanulok. During the Burmese–Siamese War (1563–64) Phitsanulok was conquered by the Burmese king. The 9-year-old Naresuan was sent as a hostage to Burma to ensure that his father would stay loyal to the Burmese king. He lived 6 years in Burma, where he received military training in order to protect the kingdom from attacks from Laos and Cambodia. When Naresuan was 15 years old, he was allowed to return home and became crown prince of Phitsanulok. He became a mighty military leader and defeated the kingdom successfully from countless attacks from neighboring countries. 1584, the Burmese king became worried about Naresuan’s countless military victories, so he decided to kill him before Naresuan would start a rebellion. When Naresuan learned about this, he severed his loyalty to the Burmese king, whom he had served faithfully until this moment. Naresuan announced independence from Burma, made himself king (1590) and started to fight with his troops against Burmese military posts throughout his kingdom. Step by step he made the Burmese troops retreat. This enraged the Burmese king, who attacked viciously with a mighty army. Naresuan was able to defeat the attacking troops. 1593, the war came to a big showdown in a final battle, where Naresuan killed his enemy in an epic elephant duel.
What does this have to do with the Gospel?
Jesus has always been king.
Naresuan was born as a prince. He was royal since his first breath. Jesus, is the eternal logos through which everything was created (John 1:3). He has always been king over everything because through him everything came into existence.
But Naresuan lost his kingdom to hostile forces (the Burmese).
In the same way, this world is under the siege of evil powers. When Satan offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world (Matt 4:8) it was a real temptation because Satan indeed is ruling over all these kingdoms. Jesus himself referred three times to Satan as the ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). This world is the realm of darkness (John 1:5). Jesus identified a crippled woman as being bound up by the devil (Luke 13:16). Jesus consistently attributed diseases and physical infirmities to the evil powers (Luke 8:29; 11:14; 13:11; Mark 9:25). The large number of demonic possessions recorded in the Gospels points toward a world that is “saturated with demons whose destructive influence is all-pervasive” (Boyd, 2009:103). In Luke 11:21–22, Jesus compared Satan with a strong man who guards his property. Jesus came to bind up the strong man and conquer back what the strong man had stolen (Luke 11:22). Jesus came to conquer back this world, which Satan had stolen from him.
Paul identified Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) and “the ruler of the power of the air” (Eph 2:2). The minds of unbelievers are blinded by Satan (2 Cor 4:4). While Paul made it clear that Jesus defeated the evil powers (Col 1:13; 2:15) he still highlighted that Christians are at war with evil powers (Eph 6:12–17).
John stated that this world is “under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) and Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3:8).
This world should be understood as a world populated with evil spiritual beings under the leadership of Satan, who has taken “the entire world hostage, and [has] set himself up as the illegitimate god of the present age” (Boyd, 2009:101).
Jesus became king and defeated the evil powers
After his declaration of independence, Naresuan finally became again king over his kingdom. His defeat of the huge Burmese army was a great blow to the Burmese kingdom.
The central message of Jesus was the kingdom of God (Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15). The kingdom of God “denotes the royal reign of God as King” (Thiselton, 2015:513). Jesus inaugurated the reign of God in this world through his life, death and resurrection. His message was that God’s kingdom had come, not fully but to some capacity, into this world ruled by evil powers (Ladd, 1959:71). The kingdom of God manifests wherever the will of God is done. The more people are doing God’s will, the more the kingdom of God grows in this world. By pushing back the evil powers, Jesus established God’s kingdom here in this world through his ministry (Matt 12:28).
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus defeated the rebelling evil forces and became again king over everything. Understanding the cross through this lens is often called the Christus Victor model.
“The earliest or classic images of Christus Victor, found in the writings of the early church fathers, feature a cosmic conflict between the forces of God and forces of Satan or the devil. In this conflict, sinful human beings have given themselves over to Satan, who holds their souls captive, and Jesus the Son of God is killed, an apparent defeat for the reign of God. However, the defeat is temporary. Three days later God raises Jesus from the dead. With the resurrection of Jesus, God has defeated the devil, and sinners are freed from his power. This cosmic victory reveals what was always the case, namely that God reigns as ultimate ruler of the cosmos. With Satan defeated, sinners escape Satan’s clutches and become free to return to fellowship with God. […] [The Christus Victor model] is associated with Irenaeus (c. 130–c. 200), who depicted the life of Jesus as a recapitulation of the entire history of humanity, from the fall of Adam, through restoration of humanity by performance of the obedience Adam lacked, to victory over Satan in the resurrection of Christ, and finally the restoration of humankind to fellowship with God. Irenaeus and others, including Origen (c. 185–254), Gregory of Nyssa (c. 330–c. 395), Augustine (354–430), and Gregory I (c. 540–604) wrote of Jesus’ death as a ransom payment to the devil to secure the release of captive souls, with resurrection the defeat of Satan” (Weaver 2013:29-30).
Jesus is truly king, and he has defeated the evil powers (Col 1:13) but this world is still covered with rebelling forces.
Fighting against the remaining troops
Even though Naresuan was king over his kingdom already, he still needed to fight against hostile forces in his kingdom. It took him many years to free his country from all rebelling forces.
The Church is called to manifest the truth that God’s kingdom has come and Satan’s kingdom is defeated. Under the victorious authority of Christ, the Church is called to engage and overthrow evil powers, just as Jesus has done (Boyd, 2009:108).
God does not rule and redeem the cosmos alone, but has actually given humans a real say-so in this world. The people of God are the primary agent of the mission of God (Wright, 2006a:27). God redeems this world through his people. N.T. Wright summarizes it like this:
God ordered His world in such a way that His own work in that world takes place through one of his creatures — the human beings who reflect his image. That, I believe, is central to the notion of being made in God’s image. God intends His wise, creative, loving presence and power to be reflected — imaged, if you like — into his world through His human creatures. He has enlisted us to act as his stewards in the project of creation. Following the disaster of rebellion and corruption, he has built into the gospel message the fact that through the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, He equips humans to help in the work of getting the project back on track (2009:96).
The ultimate victory – No more enemies
After countless fights, Naresuan finally managed to expel all evil troops and establish his kingdom without enemies in the kingdom.
The eschatological hope Christians have is that one day, in a future age, God will fully establish his perfect kingdom. He will eliminate all rebellious evil powers (Rev 20:10) and evil and suffering will no longer exist in God’s future kingdom (Rev 21:4). God alone will be king over everything (Rev 21:5). His kingdom, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2), will be “a city of shalom” (Brueggemann, 1998:246). Then God will show mercy to all people (Rom 11:32), “head up all things in Christ” (Eph 1:10, NET) and every knee will bow and confess Jesus as Lord (Phil 2:10–11).
The goal towards which God is working, the ultimate end of his mission, is the establishment of shalom. This involves the realization of the full potentialities of all creation and its ultimate reconciliation and unity in Christ (Potter, 1981:70–74).
The mission of God is ultimately to restore his whole creation to what it was intended to be—God’s creation, ruled over by redeemed humanity, giving glory and praise to its creator (Wright, 2006a:165).
God will accomplish his mission, the establishment of his perfect kingdom of shalom, by defeating all existing rebellious powers. He is restoring and redeeming his creation that humans destroyed through their rebellion. His goal is to unite all things in him (Eph 1:10), to reconcile all things to himself (Col 1:20) so that every knee will bow and recognize and praise him as king (Phil 2:10). Christopher Wright summarizes it beautifully:
God’s mission is what brings humanity from being a cacophony of nations divided and scattered in rebellion against God in Genesis 11 to being a choir of nations united and gathered in the worship of God in Revelation 7 (2010:46).
Brueggemann, W. 1998. Isaiah 40–66. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.
Boyd, G.A. 2009. ‘God at War’. In: Winter, R.D. and Hawthorne, S.C. eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library. 100–111.
Ladd, G.E. 1959. The gospel of the kingdom: scriptural studies in the kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Potter, P. 1981. Life in all its Fullness. Geneva: World Council of Churches.
Thiselton, A.C. 2015. The Thiselton Companion to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.
Weaver, J. D. (2013). The Nonviolent God (pp. 29–30). William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Wright, C.J.H. 2006a. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.
Wright, C.J.H. 2010. The mission of God’s people: a biblical theology of the church’s mission. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Wright, N.T. 2009. ‘To inaugurate His Kingdom: His Deeds, Death and Resurrection’. In: Winter, R.D. and Hawthorne, S.C. eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library. 105.
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