The Lord as King. A Classic Sermon.
July 20, 2003
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us, like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, "Give us a king to judge us."
And Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, "Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." (1 Samuel 8:4-7)
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, "Art thou the king of the Jews?"
Jesus answered him, "Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?"
Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me. What hast thou done?"
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence."
Pilate therefore said unto him, "Art thou a king then?"
Jesus answered, "Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice."
Pilate saith unto him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, "I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the Passover; will ye therefore that I release unto you the king of the Jews?"
Then cried they all again, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber. (John 18:33-40)
When the expectant multitudes hailed Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, "Blessed is the king, who comes in the name of the Lord," everybody knew what this meant. It could mean only one thing in those days: That Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. In our language we would say, "This is it!" A controversial matter; a political hot potato; it contains dynamite for all concerned.
The Pharisees at once objected to this proclamation by remonstrating with the Lord: "Teacher, rebuke thy disciples!" "You cannot have them proclaim you king at this moment. The Romans are watching us carefully, as to what secret plans we might have for a rebellion. The people are ready to go into an uprising at any moment; they are fed up with the occupation forces, even with us, their rightful rulers by Jehovah. So get busy and calm them down; shut them up."
And yet the news could not be suppressed. "I tell you," answered the Anointed, "if these be silent, the very stones would cry out." Cry out about what? Of course, that here was a king, riding into his city. But how differently he had conceived his kingdom from that which the Jews expected!
Let us make a brief historical survey of what the kingdom had meant to the Jews. In our Old Testament reading, Samuel, the early leader of the people of Jehovah, objected to the demand of the people to have a king. But the people refused to listen to Samuel, and the Lord acquiesced in their request. They got a king, and many kings. These became as despotic as any Oriental king, or Pharaoh, or Caesar.
As a reaction to this failure of the kings to obey Jehovah and his spokesmen, the prophets, the latter developed the idea of a "coming king." This was a special chosen one of the Eternal: his Anointed--in Hebrew, the Messi-jah and in Greek, the Christos. This coming king was to be a ruler of the people to eternity. That is why, when the Lord hung on the cross about to perish, the priests taunted him to come down, to prove his Messiahship.
Prophets like Daniel and Zechariah raised the hopes of the people. This kingdom of the Messiah was to be a universal kingdom, they said, a worldwide rule: "And there was given him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which should not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Daniel 7:14).
This outdid in scope anything we have devised in our day-- any "League of Nations," or "United Nations." And all this whirled in the heads of the people as the Lord ascended the holy hill of Zion. It is not that the good people of Judah did not need a good king. They surely did, as we need a good president, or Britain a good Prime Minister, or Sweden a good king. But the people expected something that was not to be.
Their hopes and fears were earthly. They were thinking of their physical security, their economic prosperity, their worldly glory. They had a tremendous pride and arrogance that the Eternal had chosen them, that they only were his people, and that by them he would rule the world. It is bitterly tragic to note that the Nazis picked up this very idea of being the super-race, applied it to themselves, and wrought terrible vengeance on the Jewish race.
In his childhood the Lord heard all this dreaming of the elect race. Every Jewish boy absorbed this ultra-nationalistic hope, you can be sure. Every disciple was imbued by it. But the human of the Lord, which had absorbed this ideological material from the mother, father, or rabbi--this human mind of the Lord was not to be left with this dominant, selfish concept. For in the Lord worked also the Divine mind, who had begotten him. This divine mind had other plans with the Messiah. He was to be a king indeed, but what a different king! In order to make this kingship enduring, yea, eternal, it had to be lifted out of this world and placed into the next--into the timeless spiritual world.
King in the spiritual world was only one power: divine truth.
Those who read the Word, especially the historical portion, have no other belief than that the nations there are nations, and the kings kings, and thus that nations and kings are treated of in the very Word itself. But the idea of nations, as well as that of kings, altogether perishes when it is received by the angels, and good and truth take their place instead.
Take as a single instance what is said in this verse [Genesis 17:6]: that Abraham would be made fruitful, and would be made into nations, and that kings would go forth from him. What is this but a purely worldly matter, and in no respect heavenly? For in these things there is only the glory of the world, which is nothing at all in heaven. But if this is the Word of the Lord, there must be in it the glory of heaven, and none of the world's glory. Therefore the sense of the letter is completely erased and vanishes when it passes into heaven, and it is so purified that nothing worldly is intermingled. For "Abraham" does not mean Abraham, but the Lord. His being "made fruitful" does not mean that his posterity would increase exceedingly, but that the good of the Lord's human essence would increase to infinity. The "nations" do not mean nations, but goods. And the "kings" mean, not kings, but truths. (Arcana Coelestia #2015)
This concept of the divine King versus the worldly and temporal king is brought out strongly during the trial of Jesus before Pilate in our reading from John 18.
In the book of Revelation, John sees the completion of this great process that had taken place in the Lord. All during his lifetime, even from before his visit to the temple at twelve years of age, the Lord had wrestled in himself with this pernicious problem: "Shall I give myself for the people Israel in the way that they, unfortunately, expect the Messiah? Or shall I come before them with the far higher, more enduring, and really significant idea of the kingdom in heaven?"
This temptation-combat, as our doctrines call this inner struggle in Jesus; this battle for the supremacy of the divine idea over the human idea of a eternal king, went on throughout the whole life of the Lord, from earliest infancy to the death on the cross, when he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30).
This is a deep insight into the nature of Christ, which can be found only in the writings of Swedenborg. This struggle against the love of dominion--which it really was--is a universally human struggle. You and I are daily struggling with it: to lord it over others, to make them serve my aims, to set myself up as king above others, king in prestige, in status, in economic power. It is the hell of domineering against God's ideal of serving.
We may not always overcome the attacks of the hell of domineering. The Lord always did. This is the distinguishing mark of his divine power. This gave him enlightenment and direction far beyond what we may have. And yet now his victories can be ours too. For by all these combats and victories he did defeat the hells, and delivered human nature from this evil. In a strange way, he did fulfill even the hopes of the Jews. Not in their way of thinking, but in a higher way, aimed not toward earth, but toward heaven.
By refusing the tempter at the outset, he could establish the kind of kingdom of which he wanted to be King. This kingdom was to be in the world, but not of the world, in human hearts and minds, and not in the political plane of life.
"The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21) was the first clarification. Further definitions were these:
"Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall not enter therein" (Luke 18:17). This means having childlike trust, innocence, deep faith in God.
Lack of spiritual arrogance is another characteristic: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God" (Matthew 5:3). Riches, earthly or spiritual, are a block.
"Thy kingdom come; thy will be done" (Matthew 6:10). To do the will of God constantly is the duty of the citizen of the heavenly kingdom. There are no other rules or laws.
What is the will of God, however? The will of God was expressed by the Lord in this principle: "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Surely he did the will of the Father--and this was the will of the Father.
Surely a strange king rode into Jerusalem that day. No soldiers accompanied him; there were no spears and swords; people waved only branches broken from trees. There was no gorgeous chariot, but a little burro on which the king rode. For his majesty did not lie in ruling and governing, but in suffering and enduring the most crucial and excruciating pains a human has ever endured. His kingship showed not in gorgeous robes or golden crowns, but in human dignity, in the incredible patience of divine love, in bearing like a king the inhumanities imposed by man. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" (Luke 23:34).
What an example we have in this king! His glory lay in the truth he spoke. His eternal rule was established by the Word of God that came out of his mouth.
The king John saw in heaven may appear fantastic to some. But the appearances are symbols of the King of kings and the Lord of lords: the whitest of robes, hair white as snow, like purest truth, a golden girdle around the breast, eyes like flames of fire, a two-edged sword of divine truth. "When I saw him, I fell at his feet" (Revelation 1:17). What else can we do before this King?
O King of kings and Lord of lords, with the angels and the saints of all the nations we bow down before you, offering our lives in your service. Speak to us the words of truth and justice, so that we may obey. Show us the path of life, so that we may walk in it. Open to us the gates of your heavenly city, New Jerusalem, so that we may become willing subjects of your eternal kingdom. Amen.
Rev. Othmar Tobisch