Christ the King Sunday
The last Sunday after Pentecost, before the start of a new church year at Advent, is known as “Christ the King Sunday.” Here is the collect:
Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Explaining the Collect
What “restoration” does the collect allude to?
Why does it talk about “peoples” of the earth?
What is the relationship between the Father and the Son in the latter’s “gracious rule”?
Let me try to explain.
God is King
The Bible repeatedly declares that God will be king forever in the future (e.g., Ps 10.16; 29.10; 66.7; Jer 10.10; 1 Tim 1.17). YHWH is said to be king over his own people, including Israel’s kings, but over the nations as well (Nb 23.21; Ez 20.33; Ex 15.18). All the peoples of the world will worship him in the end (Zec 14.16).
Jesus is King
Jesus shares that kingship of all God’s people, the nations, and the cosmos. He is the son of David (Mt 1.1; Rom 1.3), Israel’s greatest king and the king whose line God promised would last forever (Ps 89.36). Jesus is the “Christ,” which is the Greek translation of messiah (Heb. masiach) or “anointed one.” Hebrew kings were the primary recipients of anointing.
So Jesus was the anointed king par excellence from the line of David, whose kings would be God’s “son” (2 Sam 7.14; Ps 2.7). But Jesus was the Son of God ontologically, the second person of the Trinity to whom all of David’s earthly sons pointed. Their kingships were types of the eternal kingship exercised by God the Father and delegated to the Son after the Ascension of Jesus.
King Jesus Will Restore Israel & the World
One day King Jesus will renew all of this world and restore Israel to its center.
When his disciples asked him just before his ascension, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Ac 1.6), Jesus did not challenge their assumption that one day the kingdom would be restored to physical Israel. He simply said the Father had set the date, and they did not need to know it yet.
It was these sorts of indications in the gospels and Acts that caused Oxford historian Markus Bockmuehl to write that “the early Jesus movement evidently continued to focus upon the restoration of Israel’s twelve tribes in a new messianic kingdom.”
Paul, Peter, and the writer of the book of Revelation had similar expectations. Paul uses Isaiah’s prophecy of restoration in Isaiah 59 to declare that “The deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob” (Rom 11.26).
In Acts 3 Peter looks forward to “the times of restoration of all things which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from ancient time” (Ac 3.21). The word Peter uses for “restoration” is the same word (apokatastasis) used in the Septuagint (which the early church used as its Bible) for God’s future return of Jews from all over the world to Israel.
In Revelation, the Lamb draws his followers to Zion in the final stage of history (Rev 12.1), and the new earth is centered in Jerusalem, which has twelve gates named after “the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” (Rev 21.2, 12).
Evangelical New Testament scholar Scot McKnight argues that Jesus intended to renew Israel’s national covenant, not found a new religion. He wanted to restore the twelve tribes, which would bring the Kingdom of God in and through Israel. By his death, Jesus believed the whole Jewish nation was being nailed to the cross, and God was restoring the nation and restoring its people.
Therefore, salvation was first and foremost for Israel, but the nations would find salvation by joining themselves to saved Israel. The apostles tell us that we gentiles are joined to Israel by the Holy Spirit when we put our faith in the Jewish messiah and are baptized into him (Acts 16.31-33; Rom 6.3-4; Rom 11.11-24).
This kingdom will have no end (Lk 1.33; Rev 11.15), but at some point, the Son will return his delegated kingship to the Father: “Then comes the end . . . . When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15.24, 28).
Apparently, that will be the time when Jesus told his disciples he will “drink the fruit of the vine new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt. 26.29). One day, then, the Son will return the Kingdom to his Father and share that kingly rule with Him.
What does all this mean for us?
First, we can know that King Jesus is ruling even now, and that even what seems terrible is sifted through his loving hands to ensure that it works for our good (Rom 8.28).
Second, we should look forward in hope to when this beautiful world is renewed and restored to a far greater glory.
Third, we can know that that future world will be a time of not only individual salvation but of glorious fellowship among different nations and peoples. While ethnic differences now cause strife, on that day they will bring joy.
Gerald R. McDermott is Anglican Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and associate pastor of Christ the King Anglican Church in Birmingham, AL. He blogs at The Northampton Seminar, and you can follow him on Twitter at @DrGRMcDermott.