The Secret King

(3 of 8 in a series)

Based on the testimony of the Old Testament prophets, the promised coming of the Messiah was to have a distinctive King aspect to it.  The Messiah was to “destroy the world powers in an act of judgment, deliver Israel from her enemies, and restore her as a nation.”¹  Just as Jesus appeared to set aside the judgment aspect of the expected Messiah’s rule, He downplayed His king identity as well.  If He was a king at all, He appeared to keep it a secret.  Jesus often instructed those He had healed to keep it under wraps as if He didn’t want His popularity to get too big.  An odd instruction from a would-be king. 

As it was, Jesus’ fame did eventually reach king-like heights.  But when the people were ready to embrace Him as king, Jesus fled the scene.  Look at what happened just after the feeding of the five thousand.  “And so they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’  So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” (Jn 6:13-15).  If Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah King, why did Jesus refuse their coronation?

A similar story is recorded by John in the next chapter.  “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Tabernacles, was at hand.  His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here, and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may behold Your works which You are doing.  For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be known publicly.  If you do these things, show Yourself to the world.’  For not even His brothers were believing in Him.  Jesus therefore said to them, ‘My time is not yet at hand; but your time is always opportune.’ ” (Jn 7:2-6). 

Jesus brothers were essentially saying, “You are doing all these miracles here in the backwater of Galilee.  If publicity is what you are after, go to the big city, Jerusalem, and put on a show there in front of the big crowds.”  Of course, publicity was not what Jesus was after and He initially passed on their suggestion for the same reason He did not accept the crowd’s attempt to make Him king;  His time to be revealed was not yet at hand.  But it is coming.

Jesus did end up going to the feast in Jerusalem shortly after, and while there, announced Himself to the crowd.  “Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, “From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” ‘  But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  Some of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, ‘This certainly is the Prophet.’  Others were saying, ‘This is the Christ (i.e. the Messiah).’ “ (Jn 7:37:41).

Something is stirring.  Could it be that the promised Messiah King has finally arrived?  Could Jesus of Nazareth fit the bill?  Is Jesus about to go public with His kingdom?  All questions for next time.


¹ Tenney, M. C., ed.  The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1967.

Last of the Old Testament Prophets

(2 of 8 in a series)

In the early chapters of the gospels, John the Baptist arrived on the scene and announced that the coming of the Messiah was imminent.  “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals.  He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor, and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11-12).

Notice the imagery used by John the Baptist.  The great day of salvation and judgment is just around the corner.  John the Baptist is clearly a prophet in the Old Testament mold and as such expects the coming of the Lord to include His judgment; “cleaning His threshing floor and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  One of the proclamations John may have been familiar with referring to the coming Messiah is found in Isaiah 61:1-2.  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.”  In keeping with many of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, these verses contain both a rescue and judgment promise.

But a curious thing happened when Jesus of Nazareth, our proclaimed Messiah, showed up.  Jesus downplayed the political aspect, the king aspect, of His identity and the judgment thought to accompany His coming was left out altogether.  In fact, look at Jesus own reading of Isaiah 61 at the start of His earthly ministry.  “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’  And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.  And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ “ (Lk 4:16-21).

Remember the last phrase in our Isaiah 61 passage quoted previously:  “and the day of vengeance of our God”?  It is missing in Jesus’ reading in Luke 4.  Is this significant?  Did Jesus just randomly decide He had read enough?  Is it a New Testament typo?  I don’t think so.  It is significant because it fits the nature of the rest of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus did not come, in His first advent, to fulfill the judgment aspect of the Messiah promise.

Jesus said as much in John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.”  This concept, that Jesus first advent was not to involve the judgment, threw just about everyone off balance regarding His identity.  The Jews were looking for the Messiah King, judgment included.  Even John the Baptist was taken aback.  Remember his prophecy regarding the coming Savior; “cleaning house and burning up the chaff.”  Jesus’ failure to pick up that mantle even had John the Baptist raising questions.  Shortly before his death, John sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Mt 11:3).  This from the prophet who baptized Jesus and heard God’s voice from heaven, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt 3:17).  Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 61 in His answer to John’s disciples, “Go and report to John the things which you hear and see:  the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Mt 11:4-5).  Jesus was saying, “You can assure John that I am the Anointed One, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.”

What happens next will be the topic of our next post.

The New Kingdom

(1 of 8 in a series)

One of the best ways to understand what changed between the Old and New Testaments, between the Old and New Covenants, is to explore, study, and evaluate what exactly Jesus did when He ushered in the kingdom of God.  We often comprehend the meaning of Jesus’ first advent totally around His substitutionary death on the cross.  But we cannot separate Jesus’ delivery of a new covenant, a new arrangement with God that was made true by His death and resurrection from His broad description of initiating the kingdom of God on earth.  The two are inseparable.  When we accept the new arrangement with God that Jesus wrought on the cross as our substitute, when we embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we become citizens of His kingdom immediately in the here and now.

Jesus began His earthly ministry with this proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15).  That Jesus announced the kingdom of God has arrived should be of no surprise to us looking back since we believe that Jesus is indeed the Messiah King promised as the one to come by various Old Testament prophets.  However, in real time 30 AD, it soon became apparent that Jesus was not fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy as His contemporaries expected.  Their familiarity with kings and kingdoms involved political and military might, subjection of populations, and ruling with power.  Since Jesus avoided these power structures altogether, what kind of kingdom could He be proclaiming?  And what is its nature?  One of the more perplexing aspects of Jesus’ kingdom is its secret nature.  This nature is brought into sharper focus as we investigate the Old and New Testament timeline in the announcement of the new kingdom; the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of His beloved Son as it is variously called.

In the Old Testament, proclamation was made loud and clear that a Messiah is coming.  And this Messiah carries with Him a strong political significance.  Quoting the “Messiah” entry in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, we read, “[The Messiah] is to destroy the world powers in an act of judgment, deliver Israel from her enemies, and restore her as a nation.  The Messiah is the King of this future kingdom to whose political and religious domination the other nations will yield.  His mission is the redemption of Israel and His dominion is universal.  This is the clear picture of the Messiah in practically all of the Old Testament passages which refer to Him.”

In essence, The Messiah was to come with power and bring deliverance, judgment, and restoration.  His future coming was called “the Day of the Lord,” and this proclamation, taking various forms and spokesmen, is a prominent theme throughout the Old Testament.  Joel 1:15, 2:1,11,31, 3:14, Amos 5:18, Zeph. 1:14-16, and Mal. 4:1,5 use this phrase – the Day of the Lord – with various adjectives such as great, awesome, and terrible.  The summary of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah King is that He would appear at the great and awesome Day of the Lord.

With this background of Old Testament prophecy regarding the nature of the Messiah’s coming, we will continue our timeline next post with the arrival of the last of the “Old Testament” prophets; John the Baptist.