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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

King (2)

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KING.—The primitive Christian Church regarded herself as the vassal of Jesus Christ, her exalted Lord and King, under whose regal sway she had been brought by Divine grace (Colossians 1:13). The current belief was that Jesus had been installed in His royal office by the Resurrection; in that event God had made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36), and in it had been fulfilled the prophecy regarding the Messianic King, ‘Thou art my son; this day have I begotten thee’ (Psalms 2:7, cf. Acts 13:33), as also another prophetic utterance, ‘Sit thou at my right hand’ (Psalms 110:1; cf. Acts 2:34, Revelation 3:21). This sovereignty is indeed temporary; it will come to an end with the final overthrow of the enemies of God: ‘Then shall he deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father’ (1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:28). It was the conviction of the primitive community that the idea of a Messianic kingdom upon earth—whether eternal (Luke 1:33) or of limited duration (Revelation 20:4 ff.)—as it gleams through the Jewish Apocalyptic and in the earlier Messianic hope, had at last been realized in the Kingdom of Christ, i.e., the Church as subject to her exalted King.

Now the question which we seek to answer in the present article is this:—Did Jesus Himself in His lifetime put forward a claim to be the Messianic King? Here we light upon a problem which is vigorously canvassed among theologians, particularly at the present day. While there are scholars of high repute, such as Wellhausen and Wrede,* [Note: Wellhausen, IJG3, Comm. zu den Synopt. Evangelien, Einleit. in die drei ersten Evangelien (1905), 89 ff.; Wrede, Das Messiasgeheimniss in der Evangelien, 1901.] who deny that Jesus thought of Himself as the Messiah at all, there are others who are convinced that He was in possession of some kind of ‘Messianic consciousness’; and among the latter the controversy turns upon the peculiar significance and the specific colouring of the implied claims and expectations. It is impossible in the space at our disposal to discuss the problem in all its bearings; for the details reference must be made to other works of the present writer.† [Note: Die Schriften des NT, i. i. 135 f., 198 ff., 476 ff.] The task of determining the sense in which Jesus assumed the title of King is all that meanwhile concerns us.

The prophecy regarding Jesus uttered by the angel Gabriel: ‘The Lord shall give unto him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end’ (Luke 1:32 f.), was not brought to fulfilment in the lifetime of Jesus. But the writer of the Gospel of the Infancy in Lk. would hardly have recorded the prediction, had he not entertained the hope that its fulfilment was but a matter of time. It is beyond question that the earliest Jewish Christian communities believed that Jesus would come again in kingly glory, as is acknowledged by the repentant thief upon the cross (Luke 23:42, reading ὄταν ἔλθῃς ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου as preferable to εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν σου). This belief appears also in the emphasis which the early churches laid upon the descent of Jesus from David (Romans 1:3), and in the endeavours which were made to substantiate it by the construction of genealogical tables (Matthew 1:1-16, Luke 3:23-36). These tables were not constructed for merely academic or theological purposes; they were designed to support the contention with which the Jewish Christians confronted their unbelieving compatriots, viz. that Jesus was the King of Israel. It is true, indeed, that in the primitive tradition of the life of Jesus, His Kingship is not explicitly asserted. The acclamations of the multitude on the occasion of the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ (Matthew 21:9), ‘Blessed is the kingdom that cometh, the kingdom of our father David’ (Mark 11:10), cannot have been more than a bold anticipation of the future. The crown of thorns (15:17) was an act of derision, to the true significance of which the soldiers were blind; while the inscription on the cross (15:26) was a prediction which Pilate, in opposition to the wishes of the Jews and in ignorance of what he was doing (John 19:19 f.), was constrained to set forth in all the great languages of the world. In point of fact the primitive tradition makes it perfectly clear that Jesus deprecated and even disclaimed the ascription of royalty, or at all events that He thought of the dignity as something to become His only in the future.

To the question of Pilate, ‘Art thou the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answers, according to Mark 15:2, neither yea nor nay, but replies only in the words ‘Thou sayest it.’ Is this an affirmative? St. Mark certainly regarded it as such (cf. 14:62), but St. Luke shows unmistakably that the words were not so understood by Pilate, since, if he had regarded them as equivalent to yea, be could not have said, ‘I find no fault in this man’ (23:4): a claimant to the throne must necessarily have been convicted of sedition. St. John also indicates that Jesus at first replied evasively to the question (18:33f.), but that afterwards He frankly avowed His claim to the title of King, though with the reservation that His Kingdom was ‘not of this world’ (18:36). Even more clearly than in the Synoptists we see in St. John’s account a definite purpose: he aims at showing that Jesus was no political usurper, no pretender to the crown, who designed by force of arms to deliver His people from the thraldom of Rome, and to reinstall the dynasty of David. Notwithstanding the obvious tendency of the writer of the Fourth Gospel, we must grant that in this instance his narrative, equally with those of the earlier Evangelists, is essentially faithful to fact.

That Jesus harboured no design of restoring the Davidic monarchy may be asserted without misgiving. To the policy of the violent, who would take the Kingdom by force (Matthew 11:12), He lent no countenance, and when, after the feeding of the multitude, they wanted to make Him a King, he betook Himself elsewhere (John 6:15). We shall be asked, however, if He did not, on the occasion of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, carefully organize and carry through a demonstration designed to further His royal claims. In answer to this it is to be said that St. Mark’s account of the episode (11:1f.) cannot be taken as historical; and we must either accept the narrative of Jn. (12:12ff.), according to which the demonstration emanated from His supporters among the people and was only permitted by Him, and which weakens the impression of the incident by its quotation from Zechariah 9:9;* [Note: cit. i. i. 163.] or else we must abandon the hope of winning from the event any light for our theme at all. Had the Triumphal Entry been of such capital importance and of such a striking character as St. Mark represents, the authorities would certainly have intervened, and the matter would have figured in the trial of Jesus as a count in the indictment [but see Entry into Jerusalem].

In the discourses of Jesus we find telling arguments, both positive and negative, in favour of the view that He either made no claim whatever to the title of Messianic King, or that He did so in a most unobtrusive way. To His descent from David, if He gave it credence at all, He did not attach the slightest importance; indeed, He even sought to convince the scribes that in regarding the coming Messiah as the Son of David they fell far short of the truth. To all appearance He desired to eradicate from the minds of His hearers the prevailing idea of a Davidic ruler, and to substitute for it another Messianic figure, viz. the ‘Son of Man,’ the ‘Man’ who, as Daniel (7:13f.) had prophesied, was to come in the clouds of heaven at the end of the age. This ‘Son of Man’ is no earthly monarch, but a Being of Divine and heavenly nature; not one who by means of a revolution rises from his native obscurity to a throne, but one who descends from heaven to earth. With such a figure dominating the outlook of Jesus, there is no place for a Messianic King. It is thus quite in keeping with these facts that He announces, not that God is about to send forth the Messiah, the Son of David, not that the kingdom of David is at hand, but that ‘the kingdom of God is at hand.’ The purport of this message has been dealt with elsewhere:† [Note: Weiss, Die Predigt Jesu vom Reiche Gottes2 (1900).] suffice it to say here, that the announcement of a cosmical catastrophe, of a new aeon, in which the existing sway of Satan shall be destroyed, and God shall be all in all, is intrinsically incompatible with the idea of a Messianic King standing side by side with the Most High. Nor do the prophecies of Daniel, when rightly interpreted, present us with the figure of a Messiah. Hence it is by no mere accident that in the utterances of Jesus the title ‘King’ is applied to God alone: cf. Jerusalem ‘the city of the great king’ (Matthew 5:35), the parable of the Unmerciful Servant (18:23); and in particular, the parable of the Marriage Feast (22:1ff.), where the Messiah appeals as the King’s son. It is only in the description of the Last Judgment (25:31) that the ‘Son of Man’ appears as King—note the abrupt change vv. 34, 40; probably, however, we have in this passage reminiscences of some older parable, which had to do with a king and not with the Messiah at all. Only on one recorded occasion (Luke 22:29) does Jesus invest Himself with the βασιλεία, but that is for the future. This occurred, according to Lk., during the Last Supper,—a circumstance which leads us to infer that Jesus did not in any sense regard Himself as being a king in the days of His flesh. What He has in prospect here is simply a participation in the Divine Sovereignty, a prerogative guaranteed also to those who accept Him. He believes, indeed, that He will occupy the chief place among them that are His; that He will take the seat of honour at table, having them on His right hand and on His left (Matthew 20:21); but of a Messianic Kingship in the ordinary sense of the word there is no suggestion at all. If Jesus deemed Himself to be the predestined Messiah in any sense whatsoever, He certainly thought of the Messianic office as being different from that of a king. See, further, art. Messiah.

Johannes Weiss.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'King (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/k/king-2.html. 1906-1918.

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