WHO IN THE WORLD IS KING? Based on Rev. 1:5
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Queen Victoria if England often expressed her wish that Christ would return before she died so that she could cast her crown at His feet. When she did die, her son Edward VII ascended to the throne as king. He had been a rather wild man in his younger years. A man by the name of John Knox McEwen was concerned about the king enough to write him a letter asking him if his majesty was born again in Christ. He received a gracious reply in which the king said he was the first man in all of England to express any concern for his soul, and he gave a simple testimony of how he had, like his mother, surrendered his heart and life to the King of kings. John McEwen was 70 years old, and at 93 he was still telling others of his letter from the king.
John the Apostle is also in his 90's as he tells us about his letter, not from the king who bowed to the King of kings, but from the King of kings before whom he bowed. John says in verse 5 that Jesus is the ruler of kings on the earth.
The Hapsburg family once ruled half of Europe. Today, only one Hapsburg still rules over the tiny land of Leichenstein. It is a 61 square mile country, and is the 4th smallest in the world. Jesus, however, has gone from a carpenter who didn't even own a plot of ground to be buried in to the ruler of kings on earth. You talk about a success story. There is not another to match this one. We can think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but we can never exalt Jesus beyond what he is worthy. We too often do not exalt Him to the place He should rightly have in our minds and hearts.
If a hunter got out of a car and asked you to do something, you would not respond with the same enthusiasm as you would if a ruler or dignitary asked you for service. The higher the authority the more we respond, and that is why it is important to stress the Lordship and Kingship of Christ. It is easy to see why the world does not acknowledge Jesus as King. Jesus is a total mystery to the world, and His success story is beyond their comprehension. Helen Kramer expressed it so well in her play titled For Heaven's Sake. Two well dressed business men with attache cases meet in a bar. One has just been handed a track with the title Carry Christ Into Your Work. He looks at it and sings this song of bewilderment.
"He was a flop at 33! His whole career was one of failure and of loss, But the thing that so distressful Is He could have been successful, But instead of climbing up, He climbed a cross!
He was a flop at 33! He jumped from carpentry to preaching to the mob. He never was adjusted So He spent His whole life busted,
And He never got promoted on the job!
He never saved a single cent,
And Dun and Broadstreet wouldn't list Him on their list,
He could not establish credit And you might as well be dead
At 33 as have your credit not exist!
He spent His time with fisher folk,
When there were more important contacts to be made.
He would contemplate on flowers And ignore the cocktail hours.
Its no wonder that He never made the grade!
Now you and I have never flopped,
And yet our names are never dropped
The way that they've been dropping His since He's been dead!
We've fought our way to the top.
We're both established as successful men of worth,
So the thing that puzzles me,
Is why that flop at 33
Is called the most successful man to live on earth?"
It is easy to see why Jesus is a mystery to the world. But it is hard to grasp why even Christians sometimes ignore or deny the Kingship of their Lord. Many commentators just skip over these words of verse 5 like they are a mere minor matter of no great significance. John says that Jesus is three things here. He is the Faithful Witness, the first born from the dead, and the Ruler of kings on the earth. The first two are handled quite well by most commentators, but the third one is so radical and shocking in all of its implications that men are afraid to look at it honestly. Many just skip over it in embarrassment. The Living Bible robs it of its force by saying, "He is far greater than any king in all the earth." That is a weak translation, for John says, "He is the ruler of the kings of earth."
Hal Lindsay in There's A New World Coming says, yes, He is what John says He is, ruler of the kings of the earth, but He is not now exercising His authority. In other words, He is a ruler who is not ruling. That is like saying somebody is the king of comedy, but he is just not telling any jokes now. It is absolutely amazing how many different ways men try to find to avoid the truth of the present Lordship of Jesus Christ in history. The big question the book of Revelation answers is the question, who in the world is in charge? Who is in control? Is history run by evil forces or good? Will light triumph, or darkness? John says right from the start that Jesus is Lord and King, and only those who submit to His Lordship will come through as victorious winners.
After His resurrection Jesus said it as plain as human language can say it: "All power in heaven and on earth is given unto Me." All we have to decide is whether Jesus just exaggerated, or did He really mean it? I believe He said what He meant and He meant what He said. When He ascended in His glorified humanity to the right hand of God He became the supreme ruler of men. He is not going to be the ruler of kings on earth, He is now the Kings of kings. The fact that His Lordship will be clearly manifested to the nations in the future is no reason to deny the present reign of Christ. The fact that so many do, however, is the reason I reject all man made systems of interpretation as absolute guides. All of them have values, but none of them are absolute and infallible. Those who lock themselves into any one system are forced to do too many foolish things with the Word of God.
For example, the reason why so many refuse to see and rejoice in the present Lordship of Christ in history is because, if they do, it will support a postmillennial emphasis. The postmills stress that Jesus is Lord of history and that He will work through His church to take the Gospel into all the world and win this world out of darkness into light. Many of the greatest theologians of American history were postmills. The first president of Bethel was postmill, and Augustus Strong, whose Systematic Theology has been the standard text in Baptist schools and seminaries all over the land, was postmill.
When the two world wars of this century shook man's faith in the progress of history the Postmill view was forsaken by a great many Christians who became premills. The big mistake of the premills, however, was in assuming that everything in the Post-mill system had to all wrong. The fact is, they had an emphasis that is so Biblical that to deny it is to close your eyes to the light of the Word. They emphasized the present Lordship of Christ in history that gave the church encouragement and strength to keep fighting for victory with assurance that whatever the cost and however great the odds, they would be victorious. This positive Biblical attitude is far more beneficial to the church than the negative pessimistic attitude that evil is supreme in the world, and the forces of darkness are overwhelming everything, and, therefore, about all we can do is hope the ship doesn't sink for us before the Lord finally comes to rapture us out of this hopeless mess. This kind of theology has left many Christians paralyzed. They become indifferent to missions and any effort to change the world, for why fight a losing battle?
This is not the theology of the book of Revelation. I am not a Post-mill, but when they emphasize what is a Biblical truth, then that is the fountain I drink at. Why should we care which system is the best? What we should care about is what is the Bible saying, and the system that brings more light out of any verse is the system I will follow on that verse. On this verse 5 many of the pre-mills, which we will be following most of the time, have really missed the boat. Part of the problem is the self tendency to ignore all other Christians of history and interpret this book in the light of your own limited concern.
Can you imagine how important this revelation of the present Lordship of Christ in history meant to the first Christians who received it? They had to bow to Caesar, or in many cases die. John is saying here that Jesus is Caesar's king. Do not fear Caesar, and bow to no one less than the supreme ruler of men-Jesus Christ. What an encouragement to those who had to die in the battle of light against darkness. It is so much easier to die when you are assured you are under the supreme authority. In verse 18 Jesus tells John to fear not. He says, "I have the keys of death and hades." In other words, as King of kings, there is no force on earth you need to fear, for I am Master of all, and whatever they do to you will not take you out of my control. That may not be a crucial issue for us, but it has meant everything to millions of Christians who have faced persecution down through the centuries.
Ellicott in his commentary says, "The disposition to dwell on the future and more visibly recognized reign of Christ hereafter, has tended to obscure the truth of His present reign." The wise Christian does not pick one of the two and ignore the other. He prefers to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, and not every other word. And so He emphasizes both reigns, and could not care less which system is being supported. Paul said that Jesus must reign till all enemies are put under his feet. He is reigning now, therefore, but not all are submissive to His Lordship. That is why history is a battleground of light and darkness. Nevertheless, the king of light is the Supreme and Sovereign Ruler, and when it is all over, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is indeed what the Bible claims that He has been all along-the Lord or Ruler of kings on earth.
You do not have to know much about history to know that Jesus Christ has been the greatest influence in history. There has never been a ruler that has ever been anything but a loyal, or rebellious, servant of Jesus. The kings and rulers of the world date all their documents by the date of the birth of their Sovereign-the Lord Jesus. Napoleon wrote, "An extra ordinary power of influencing and commanding men has been given to Alexander, Charlemagne, and myself. But with us, the presence has been necessary, the eye, the voice, the hands. Whereas Jesus Christ has influenced and commanded His subjects without visible bodily presence for 1800 years." Napoleon admitted in his writings that Jesus was the greatest ruler ever. What ruler has ever lived with such world wide power, and with such a vast army of soldiers willing to die for Him?
Charlotte Kruger spoke her allegiance in poetry:
Beautiful Savior, Thou art my King,
Sharon's sweet Rose and the Lily of spring,
Star of the morning, fairest of fair,
Light of this world in its gloom and despair.
The world is full of beautiful poetry that acknowledges Jesus Christ as King, but the danger is that we will, as Christians, limit His kingship to being the head of the church. John gets into that in depth later on, but here in verse 5 the stress is on the fact that Jesus is the Ruler of the Kings on earth. He does not limit it to godly kings, but makes it a universal statement. It is so easy to spiritualize this idea and rob it of its literal meaning and impact. Terese Lindsay wrote-
He built no kingdom, yet a King from youth
He reigned, is reigning yet; they call His realm
The kingdom of the truth.
This is true. Jesus is the King of truth, and also the King of love, hope, light, and any number of other virtues, but none of these cover what John is saying when he says, "Jesus is the Ruler of Kings on earth." What John is saying is that Jesus is right now the King of kings. We don't have to wait until the future for Jesus to be Lord, for He is Lord now. It is foolish to reject this clear revelation of the New Testament just because we have the hope of a visible reign of Christ in the future. So many Christians feel obligated to ignore the present reign of Christ because they are looking to a future reign. This is to ignore a major New Testament emphasis. What did Peter emphasize on the day of Pentecost in his great sermon? He stressed the fact that in the resurrection and ascension Jesus ascended to the promised throne of David, and that He was right then the reigning King.
Acts 2:30 says of David, "Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ...." Peter clearly proclaims that Jesus has ascended to the throne of David, and he concludes his sermon in verse 36, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Peter did not say, He will make Him Lord and Christ, but He has made Him Lord and Christ. He is right now, and was from His ascension, Lord of all.
The Apostle Paul also makes clear that the future reign of Jesus is no reason to reject or ignore His present reign. He stresses both the future and the present Lordship of Christ in Eph. 1:19-21. "And what is the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe, according to the working of His great might which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and made Him sit at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come."
Peter, Paul, and John all say Jesus is King of kings now, and in the future there will be a visible manifestation of what is already a reality. Commentators who stress one or the other only, not only fail to be Biblically balanced, they distort the truth by saying half the truth is the whole truth. Since most systems of interpretation do this, I reject them as adequate guides in all understanding of this book, and choose to listen to the Biblical text, and get all the light possible from it without concern as to which system it supports or hinders. The goal is to get light and not to bolster any system of men who tend to ignore the light that does not fit their system.
This truth of the present reign of Christ can transform our motivation and make us optimists no matter how powerful the forces of evil. Jesus is a King who does not conquer the world by force, but by the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. The New Testament tells us that members of Herod's and Caesar's household were active in the early church. In more modern times we can look at Stalin, that godless and ruthless ruler who was responsible for the murder of millions, and see that even evil at its worse cannot keep the power of Christ from working. His daughter, Svetlana, who escaped to America wrote in her book Twenty Letters To A Friend, "I was brought up in a family where there was never any talk of God. But when I became a grown person, I found that it is impossible to exist without God in one's heart." The kingdom of Christ was present even in that life surrounded by darkness.
The universe is foolproof. Many fools come onto the stage of history and say in their heart there is no God. They start wars to try and take control of history out of the hands of the Lord of history, but in the long run we always see history crush these tyrants, and like Satan, the first rebel against the King, they fall. In spite of all the godless rulers of history, nearly a third of the human race closes their prayer in the name of Jesus; a name that right now is already a name above every name.
When Elizabeth II of England was crowned at her coronation at Westminister Abbey these words were spoken as she received her crown: "Receive the orb set under the cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer." The sun never use to set on the English Empire, but like many of the past empires, it too has now been diminished from its glory. Only the kingdom of Christ shines with its original glory, for His Kingship never fades or diminishes. He has been; He will be, and He is now the Ruler of kings on the earth. Dr. Robert Mounce, who was my professor at Bethel, wrote a commentary on Revelation and he writes, "Although there will be a outbreak of satanic activity in the last days, history remains under the sovereign control of God. Redemption has already been won by the Lamb, who conquered through death..." To hear and heed this truth is to know the secret of optimism in a dark world.
Rita Snowden expresses the whole of the message I am conveying in her poem Through Open Windows.
Life can never be dull again
When once we've thrown our windows open wide
And seen the mighty world that lies outside,
And whispered to ourselves this wondrous thing,
We're wanted for the business of the King.
Who in the world is the King? The Lord Jesus Christ is right now the King of the world. We are not waiting for a king, for we have a King, And how we live reveals just how much we really believe it.