Return of the King

But what is the nature of the kingdom?

At times of international crisis people can be quick to jump to Matthew 24 (wars and rumours of wars) to shout ‘end-times’ and for some the one sure and certain thing is Jesus is coming back to reign, from Jerusalem, and a ‘millennial’ rule. One sure thing? I think not!

As I was walking (the dog) I thought, out of the blue, hang on a minute… the OT hopes and Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, being proclaimed as king.

[An Aside: I do have difficulties with the theology of a millennial rule that is drawn from a book that is unapologetically symbolic. Why take things literal in a book that has dragons, beasts rising out of the sea, stars falling to the earth (a little too hot to handle I think) etc. To try to make it fit a pre-, a post-, or even an a-millennial approach seems a big stretch. Anyway, leaving on one side the apocalyptic genre of Revelation I’d like to probe a little deeper.]

There are some OT themes that sit alongside each other, themes that gave hope for the future but were not fulfilled in the history of Israel. We could pick out a few such as:

  • The Lord God will return to Zion (Isaiah 40-55 (so-called Second Isaiah) focuses on this, and given that Isaiah is quoted and the many implicit references to these texts in the NT should alert us to an understanding of fulfilment. The very name ‘Emmanuel’, being ‘God with us’ indicates a fulfilment in the life and work of Jesus).
  • Ezekiel knew the glory had departed but spoke of God returning to the Temple.
  • The Psalms have a repeated declaration that God will come to judge the world.
  • Haggai, with all the pain of the new temple being but a shadow of the old, still holds out hope of a new glorious temple.
  • Zechariah has the return in cloud and fire to defend people; and the well-known text of the feet of the returning Lord standing on the Mount of Olives.

Such ideas as Jesus coming to reign from Jerusalem at some future date seem to me to be taken from a literalistic line drawn from OT prophetic hopes without any journey through the life and times of Jesus.

Luke 19 seems to radically adjust that ‘straight line’. Here comes the Lord God, the king back to Jerusalem, back to the Temple; the One embodying the Presence of God, the glory of God, the one who does indeed place his feet on the Mount of Olives and return to Zion… as king. As king riding on a donkey (again quoting Zechariah – 9:9),

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey.

In Luke we read that the people shouted out:

Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven! (19:38)

Jesus comes to the city saying that they were not recognising that on this day (the day of entry) shalom was coming (Luke 19:42). Here is the future fulfilment of the Lord returning to Zion, the glory has returned, I don’t think we should look any further. What a fulfilment, but greater than the fulfilment is the God who is returning that is revealed. The cross and the throne are one. And from the history we know that Pilate entered with all the pomp and military power through one gate while the king, God incarnate enters at the opposite gate on a donkey. Contrasts, and who embodies kingship? Fulfilments and a challenge to our view of how God comes, of what is the nature of that kingdom.

Where is God? If we have a ‘God of all power with whom nothing is impossible’ the question hangs in the air and we will have a hard job to find God; if we realise that God is still calling for a people who follow the Lamb wherever he goes, we will have eyes that go higher than troubles and oppression, and we will receive strength to follow.

In the current troubles it is tempting to resort to ‘we are living in the end times’, and to do so in a way that does not remind ourselves that such terminology is used biblically of all time post-Pentecost. Yes we are living in the end-times, living in the same era of time alongside the saints who have gone before us.

In Jesus all things change. The Imperial world is turned upside down; even with regard to OT hopes we are given a new set of lenses to read them through. We see this with the (mis-)quote by Paul of Isaiah 59:20. There we read (with emphasis added):

The Redeemer will come to Zion…

In Paul he feels the liberty to change it to:

The deliverer will come from Zion (Rom. 11:26).

Jesus has come, the king has arrived, the glory has returned, his feet have been on the Mount of Olives… The geography that was the focus becomes the place from which God can embrace the whole.

Maybe, there is a ‘return to Jerusalem’, not because of a set of biblical texts, but what place on earth could truly bear witness the ‘wolf lying with the lamb’. Racial harmony, human embrace, shared resources… shalom. The king who came there on the donkey is not about to come with his true identity, as the king with the chariots. He was in the ‘form of God’… so humbled himself. Past, present and future.

Perspectives