All Hail the King

Today is Ascension Day in the historic church calendar, commemorating Jesus’ enthronement at the right hand of the Father. To celebrate, below is an excerpt from King & Country about Jesus’ ascension:

The kingdom inaugurated at Easter– the new creation flowing out of the tomb– began as the King stepped over the unconscious bodies of his Roman captors. His feet on the neck of his executioners: a picture of his newly asserted superiority over every rival reign. He then appeared to his small band of disciples, who were nearly as surprised as the soldiers were to find him no longer dead. He gave them new imperial marching orders:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

“All authority is now mine,” Jesus announced to them. He had accomplished everything he invaded earth to do. He had succeeded where Adam failed, reclaimed the lost dominion of mankind, and now wielded it as the perfect Son of Man. To him now belonged the obedience of every nation and all creation, the rightful due of his perfect, kingdom-winning death. And then, to visually confirm this new spiritual reality, he ascended to the right-hand seat of honor and takes his place on the throne of the universe, now installed as king over all creation. Matt Smethurst writes, “The ascension of Jesus was a cosmic coronation, a royal enthronement, the inauguration of the scarred Redeemer’s reign.” The King sat down on his throne next to the Majesty on high, installed forever as the universe’s rightful Sovereign.

Now that the King was on the throne, his kingdom would be unstoppable. Jesus’ ascension into heaven didn’t mean that he was gone. It meant that he was now on the loose.

But stop a moment and feel the almost-absurdity in Jesus’ words. “All authority?” Really, Jesus? For even as he spoke those words, his murderers were still safely ensconced in their towers of power. Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, maintained his iron military rule. Caiaphas was still high priest of the people of Israel. Caesar remained on his distant throne in Rome. The serpent’s head had been decisively crushed on that dark Friday, but on the surface it still looked like evil was doing just fine, thank you. In fact, other than a conspicuously empty tomb, not a whole lot had seemed to change in the fabric of reality. And yet here’s Jesus, claiming universal lordship and giving his disciples global marching orders. Do you feel the disconnect?

When Jesus said that he now possessed all authority in heaven and earth, he really did mean it. No matter what the ‘facts on the ground’ look like, the truth is that he is now the unrivaled master over all of it. Every demon trembles at his name. He really does sit at the right hand of the throne of God. The new creation really did dawn in the Easter tomb. As both perfect man and perfect God, he really does “rule the kingdom of men and give it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:25).

And yet that reign today is not visibly, manifestly present over all creation. Death and decay and sin still seem to hold uncontested sway over humanity. So if Jesus indeed has all authority, where and how, exactly, is he ruling? Russell Moore answers:

“So how do we distinguish between the already of God’s kingdom and what is not yet? The question is, ‘Where is Jesus ruling now, and how?’ The kingdom comes in two stages, because King Jesus himself does. The kingdom doesn’t come initially with the shock and awe of exploding Eastern skies, but in secret, hidden ways. It comes like yeast working its way through a loaf of bread or a seed germinating in the ground, or, in fact, like an embryo stirring in a virgin’s womb.

So if Jesus does not yet rule the world, where does he rule? He rules, in the present age, over his church. The church is a signpost of God’s coming kingdom, a preview to the watching world of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like, a colony of the kingdom coming.”

Jesus is in fact reigning now– he is already on the throne. But that his kingdom reign is not yet expressed in its fullness; his kingdom has not yet come “on earth as it is in heaven.” As Moore says, in the present age, his universal reign is expressed through “the colony of the kingdom coming,” the church. One day the kingdom will fill all creation; today that kingdom is his church. One day, universal dominion of the Son of Man will extend over all nations. Today that global reign is expressed in the church, made up of a vast and increasing multitude from many nations, tribes, languages, and peoples. All the future realities of new creation today are dawning in the global people of God, demonstrating to the watching world what New Jerusalem looks like: healing, hope, reconciliation, and restoration.

Because Jesus is on the throne, that glad conquest is assured. The kingdom will most certainly come on earth like it is in heaven because the King came to heaven like he was on earth. A man is on the throne of the universe at last; the purposes of Genesis 1:27 finally come to pass.

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