This is a bit out of sync as this is Hannes’ talk from Palm Sunday -but here it is to enjoy
We all have a desire deep down inside for someone or something to lead us. But at the same time we can be suspicious when someone has too much power or influence. What does that mean for our relationship with God? We might be comfortable with “gentle Jesus meek and mild”. But how about Jesus, our Lord and King? I would like to suggest to you that seeing Jesus as king has immense implications for our life.
In order to do so we will look at two passages that describe Jesus as king. But this is not a simple compare and contrast exercise! Both passages will help us understand who Jesus is and the aim is for us to be challenged, encouraged, and driven to worship by what we discover.
Trust the promise of the coming king
Firstly, fitting with Palm Sunday, we are going to have a look at the events in Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem. We join the action in John 19:12-19. To set the scene, this is towards the end of Jesus’ ministry and in John’s Gospel it is reported that he has just raised a man from the dead. Some people were excited about that, others have already started plotting against him. Jesus then decides to enter Jerusalem at the time of the Passover festival, where large numbers of people would be in the city. But the unusual thing about his entry is that he is riding on a donkey. And as Jesus enters the city people praise God, bless him, and wave palm branches – as you do?
This was a way of greeting a king or celebrating victory. In fact, it could be seen as a nationalistic symbol. As the country was under Roman control at that time, some might have liked to claim a well-known preacher like Jesus that draws crowds for their cause to defy the Romans. It’s almost as if they got a popular guy in to support the “exit campaign”…
So do they get who Jesus really is? No. But he still accepts their praise. And he comes on his own terms, riding on a donkey. This is certainly unexpected, as it is not the type of king that the people would have wanted, a military commander. Jesus comes in peace. But riding on a donkey also points to a prophecy in the book of the prophet Zechariah. And so Jesus claims the fulfilment of this prophecy.
We could simply end here, couldn’t we? Sure, the people misunderstood Jesus. But what counts is that he came in peace. We’re probably comfortable with this Jesus. But I think in doing so we miss a big part of who he really is. You see, in claiming that Old Testament prophecy Jesus claims to be God himself, coming to his people. He orchestrates that big claim. But if the prophecy also includes peace, why do we not see this fulfilled with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem? Where is peace on earth? So do we trust Jesus to fulfil his promise and return? Is the Jesus in whom God’s promises come to a fulfilment trustworthy? Can I trust him?
The king who comes in victory
At the end of our passage in John’s Gospel we hear from the Pharisees, a religious group with certain interpretations of the law. They were not that keen on Jesus, in fact, they were plotting against him. But here they almost seem to give up. “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him!” they say (John 12:19). I don’t think they realised how true their words were. If you turn with me to Revelation 19, you will see John’s report of a vision. Here we see a vast crowd of people praising God. From a crowd of miracle-seekers in Jerusalem we turn to God’s redeemed people from every nation. And from Jesus, the king coming on a donkey, we turn to Jesus, the king on a white war horse. From verse 11 onwards we read a description. His name is faithful and true – his promises are secure. His eyes are like fire, he has many crowns – he reigns over all. He is the king of kings, the lord of lords. He is the word of God, reminding us of the beginning of John’s Gospel. And he is not on his own, he is followed by a large army, dressed in white (a symbol for purity), on white horses.
Now it is not wrong to see Jesus coming peacefully into Jerusalem. But we must not underestimate his power. In current questions about the state of the European Union, war in Syria, possible conflicts in the Far East, down to everyday struggles in my own life…in all of this – he is king. And this king is a righteous judge. This king is a warrior. His fight is for his people, the enemy is deception and sin. If you only have a “soft” view of Jesus and ignore his hate of sin, then you’ve got the wrong picture. He is in control. And he is coming to judge.
So let us turn to the battle. From verse 17 onwards we see an angel inviting vultures to feast themselves on fallen soldiers. Now we might fight those words distressing. But as we look at this announcement we can discover a great security. Note how this announcement comes before any battle. Usually we would expect this invitation to happen after a fight, when there is certainty of bloodshed. This would be expected when there were, to put it crudely, actual bodies for the vultures to devour. But as this angel calls the birds before the fighting started, it is already clear that Jesus will win. All heaven knows that his victory is secure. And so the battle is not described in any detail. His enemies are captured, judged, and Jesus claims the victory. The king has won.
As we today are still waiting for Jesus to return, we already know the outcome: All that is against him will lose. In this passage we see this through the victory over the beast and the false prophet, who can be seen as symbols of that deception. They are thrown into a lake of fire, the same punishment that later in the book (20:15) awaits all who are not part of God’s people. This suggests everlasting punishment for all that are against him.
Those are tough words and we need to understand them correctly, so let me make this very clear. Of course, there are many symbols in the book of Revelation. Also, many verses in fact reflect Old Testament prophecies. But the message is true and clear: Jesus is king. He reigns. He will deal with sin and deception. And we see this in the punishment of the beast and false prophet. In earlier chapters of the book they are deceiving people. They give false comfort to people and oppose Jesus. This ends now.
I do not think it is necessary to take them to be real figures but what they stand for is real. Their deception represents anything that stands between you and Jesus. Many things can become a false comfort if we make them our purpose of life. Christians too can fall into this trap, we might think that our faith is not enough and try to earn God’s acceptance. But outside of Jesus and his salvation there is no hope. Other causes, as noble as they might be, will eventually crumble and let you down. You might say, “Just believe in yourself then!” But that in itself is an offense to God who made you and knows what is best for you. Have you been deceived? Just as the beast and false prophet are under God’s judgement, so we will be. In fact, we read that even amongst his enemies there is no distinction: “kings, generals (…) all humanity, both free and slave, small and great” (19:18). We deserve to be part of that group, as we are all sinful and have turned from God. Our only hope is to join the winning side.
The victory won on the cross
From the great crowd rejoicing over Jesus’ victory let us return to the streets of Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Jesus was sentenced to death a few days after entering the town. The only human being that has not sinned and therefore not deserved death, he is killed on a cross. But what looked like a defeat is the climax of the victory for us. His death was according to God’s plan, as he sacrificed himself. The king who came to be with his people went down so low that he even died for them. And he did not stay dead, but rose again. This is the promise of new life for all who trust in him. If you trust him, then you have already died on that cross. And you will be raised to new life, an eternal life with him.
So what about the judgement? It is right to fear God. It is a good thing if it makes us aware of our sin and need for forgiveness. But we also need to know that we have a secure hope. It is this: The same Jesus who came in peace on a donkey, who died and rose again, this is the same Jesus that will return and judge. Now look with me to the description of Jesus in Revelation 19:13. All his army is dressed in white, but his robe is dipped in blood. Why is that? There has not been any battle just yet? Some see a reference to the messianic prophecy in Isaiah 63. There is certainly an allusion to this, but I think there is more: Jesus’ robe is stained with blood before the battle because he has already shed his blood. He has already died. The battle is already won. He won it through his death on the cross and resurrection. And so he is already coming in victory.
The Jesus who judges is the Jesus who has won the victory. The judge of all sinners is the one who died for sinners. His robe is stained with blood so that our clothes are white. What an image! What a saviour!
This is the difference that King Jesus makes. He is different to any other king. He leads us on. He has already won the victory. So the most important question for you is this: Which side are you on? Are you part of his people? Are your sins forgiven? Are you dressed in white?
If yes, then do you trust his leadership? Do you follow him gladly? Do you look to him in trouble? Has this moved you to love and worship him? Life is still a battle, but you follow the victorious king.