4 Ways Jesus’ Reign Makes Discipleship Possible

Steve Seamands writes more about the ascension of Jesus in The Unseen Real: Life in Light of the Ascension of Jesus. It is May’s Book of the Month offer, which means when you buy at least one, you’ll get one free to sow with your order! Learn more here.

Ascended into heaven and sitting at God’s right hand, Jesus is now enthroned as King. As we seek, then, to draw out some of the practical implications of his reign, let’s briefly consider some particular ways his kingship applies to each of those four spheres.

1. Jesus’ Reign is Personal

Enthroned over the Floods. Psalm 93 begins with a confident voice declaring: “The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty . . . He has established the world; it shall never be moved; your throne is established from of old” (Ps. 93:1–2). Yet the psalmist seems also profoundly aware of the threatening forces around him contradicting what he’s just said. Yes, the Lord is King, but his world is chaotic and out of control. So he fearfully cries out: “The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring” (Ps. 93:3).

A confident voice, a fearful voice—all in the span of three verses! Which one will prevail? The voice that expresses what he proclaims as true—the Lord reigns—or the voice expressing what he is experiencing as real—“The floods have lifted up”? The next verse tells us: “More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters, more majestic than the waves of the sea, majestic on high is the Lord!” (Ps. 93:4). In the midst of the floods, declares the psalmist, the Lord rules as King.

The challenge for us, likewise, especially when the floods are swirling all around us, is to declare that the Lord is King. That was what Paul was telling us to do when he commanded us to set our minds on things above, where the enthroned Christ is seated at the right hand of God. We need to get in the habit of affirming it throughout each day. In the words of another psalm, “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever” (Ps. 29:10). Do you need to stop and repeat those words in relation to your life right now?

Who Is Our King? Are there areas of our lives where we are bowing down to other kings even as we proclaim Christ is King? Have we submitted to Jesus and made him Lord and King over all? Where are we still sitting on the throne? In which areas of our lives are we still insisting on being in control? Like the Israelites did so often, are we worshipping and serving both the Lord God and other gods? Remember Joshua and Elijah’s challenge to the people to choose whom they would serve (see Joshua 24:15; 1 Kings 18:21).

Often we won’t submit because we are afraid of the King. Like Adam and Eve, we’ve believed the serpent’s lie that God wants to rule over us in order to dominate, oppress, and enslave us. We may have had parents, spouses, or other authority figures who have ruled over us like that, but Christ the King—remember he is the Lamb who sits on the throne (Rev. 7:17)—has no such desire or intentions. He is a wise, gentle, and gracious King. True to what the prophet Isaiah said, his throne will be established and upheld “with justice and with righteousness” (Isa. 9:7; cf. Psalm 72).

Remember in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy anxiously asked Mr. and Mrs. Beaver if Aslan, the lion she had been hearing so much about, but hadn’t met yet, is safe? Mr. Beaver responded, “Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe.   he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” He’s not safe, but he’s good. What a wonderful description of Jesus. That’s why it often gets quoted. But don’t stop there. Mr. Beaver goes on to tells us why: “He’s the King, I tell you.”1

The truth is—as strange as it may seem—wherever Christ rules, whenever the government is on his shoulder (Isa. 9:6 kjv), the more we humans flourish and find fulfillment and freedom. So the worshippers around the throne cry out in jubilation, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Rev. 5:10, italics mine). Where Christ reigns as King, we reign too! A couple of verses from George Matheson’s hymn wonderfully convey the paradox:

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword and I shall
conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall
be my hand. . . .
My will is not my own till thou has made it thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on thy bosom it has leant, and found in
thee its life.2

Have you experienced that to be true in your life? Where in your life do you need to surrender and crown him King in order to flourish more, reign more, and enjoy more freedom?

2. Jesus’ Reign is Communal

It is interesting how in Ephesians, Paul linked Christ’s ascension and enthronement as King with the church. God “raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” Paul declared. And then he added, “He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body” (Eph. 1:20–23, italics mine).

Often local churches forget who the rightful King and head of their church is. Sometimes pastors or prominent members and families act like they are! Much more could be said about that! Later in Ephesians, he did speak of Christ’s kingship along these lines—of his being head in the church, and the church being subject to him (Eph. 5:22–24). But notice that here he said all things are under his dominion, not in the church but for the church.

So what did Paul mean? Since he didn’t explain, we can’t be absolutely sure. However, I think in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, in his discussion of Christ’s present reign as King, pointed us in the right direction. Despite the plots and efforts of his enemies, Calvin said that Christ the King presently rules over them all in protecting, defending, and preserving the church. “Hence, amid the violent agitation with which it is continually troubled, amid the grievous and frightful storms that threaten it with unbridled calamities, it still remains safe.”3 Calvin then quoted Psalm 110:1, which proves that no matter how many strong enemies plot to overthrow the church, “they do not have sufficient strength to prevail over God’s immutable decree by which he appointed his Son eternal King.”4

Being certain of this ought to renew our confidence, fill us with hope, and enable us to persevere through fiery trials and tribulations. As Calvin eloquently concluded, “Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles—content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph. Such is the nature of his rule that he shares with us all that he has received from the Father. Now he arms and equips us with his power, adorns us with his beauty and magnificence, enriches us with his wealth” (italics mine).5

You don’t have to be a Calvinist to say a hearty Amen to that! As King for the church, Christ defends and sustains her. As King, he arms, adorns, and enriches her. Remember his promise: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 KJV).

3. Jesus’ Reign is Social

Herod and Pilate understood well that calling Jesus King had profound social and political ramifications (Matt. 2:3; John 18:33). So did the Roman Caesars when the early Christians confessed that the risen, ascended Christ is Lord and King. It meant that Caesar wasn’t! As the angry mob cried out, in trying to persuade Pilate to crucify Jesus, “Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor” (John 19:12). Yet even when it meant death for them, the early Christians would not stop confessing it.

So how should our awareness that Jesus is King shape our approach to politics? In his insightful book To Change the World, James Davison Hunter analyzed the three major approaches among American Christians today—the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and the “neo-Anabaptists.”6 On the surface, they stand in stark contrast to each other, but actually all three share common assumptions. All three, Hunter observed, operate with a narrow, truncated view of power, conceiving of it primarily in political terms. Real power, it seems, is political power.

Furthermore, all three are driven primarily by something negative—what they are against—rather than something positive—what they are for. The Christian right fights against secular humanism; the Christian left fights against economic injustice (and the Christian right!); and the neo-Anabaptists fight against capitalism and the Constantinian state. As  a result, Hunter maintained, they have become captive to ressentiment, the term the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche coined from a French word for the rehearsal of grievances, to refer to a political psychology driven primarily by anger, envy, hate, and revenge.

If Hunter’s analysis is right, I wonder, regardless of our approach, what might happen if instead of letting these negative things drive us to political action, we let something positive draw us. Again, Paul’s words come to mind: “Set your minds on things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). How might focusing less on our enemies and more on our enthroned King shape the approach and tone of our politics?

For example, think of the way it shaped the apostle John in the book of Revelation. Most scholars agree that this book, filled with powerful, evocative images and symbols, was written to Christians during a time of intense persecution, opposition, and evil, when their world was falling apart. Yet according to Richard Bauckham, the throne of God is “the central symbol of the whole book.”7 In spite of the heavenly and earthly conflict swirling around him, he kept inviting his readers (and hearers) to behold God’s throne in heaven and join in the worship surrounding it (Rev. 4:5, 7). In the book’s final climactic scene (Rev. 22:3–5), we are once again brought back to the throne, where God’s servants worship him and reign with him forever and ever.

In the midst of the conflict and upheaval around us, how might a greater certainty, conviction, and awareness of that unseen reality (the throne where Christ the King is reigning and being worshipped) shape our approach and affect the tone of our politics? And since that is where history is moving and the story ends (heaven and earth becoming one, all creation worshipping the King around the throne and reigning with him), how might working to prepare the world for its intended future positively define our political task?

4. Jesus’ Reign is Global

In the last fifty years we have witnessed an explosion of growth in the number of Christians worldwide, especially in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. However, most people on planet Earth still don’t know that Jesus is King, and those in political power ignore his rule. In fact, according to the psalmist, “the nations conspire . . . The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and his anointed [king]” (Ps. 2:1–2). They stubbornly refuse to bow their knee to the king. How then does Christ reign in such a world? In the final chapter of this book, when we consider the close relationship between Christ’s ascension and the church’s mission, we’ll be directly seeking to answer that question.

Here, however, we simply want to touch upon one particular aspect of mission closely tied to Christ’s kingship. “Sit at my right hand” says the Lord God, in Psalm 110:1, the verse that New Testament writers quoted so often in order to establish that Christ the Son had been installed as King. Then, in the next verse of the psalm there is a promise: “The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion” (Ps. 110:2 NIV). The King can be confident, then, that his scepter, the sign of his rule and authority, will stretch out and increase.

But what exactly is that scepter? Christian commentators and theologians, as far back as Clement of Rome in the late first century, have said it is the preaching of the gospel. Contemporary theologians like T. F. Torrance agree. Following Clement, he maintained that through the proclamation of the gospel the ascended Christ “rules over the nations and all history . . . until he comes again to judge and renew his creation.”8

Christ has commissioned us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). We have been sent forth as his ambassadors to proclaim the good news that Jesus is King and call upon others to submit to his rule. According to Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow, our job, as heralds of the King, is to “go to the citizens of a country and say that a king is coming who rightly claims their allegiance. Those who currently rule them are usurpers and tyrants. But the true king is coming and He will be king. He will reign.”9

Of course, this message has always been scandalous and offensive, and especially so in an age of hyper-individualism, relativism, and pluralism like ours. How can you dare be so exclusive and dogmatic, so harsh and unfair? Aren’t there various kings we can choose from, depending on which one best suits us? And just look around—how, in this kind of world, can you claim he is reigning at all? Richard Neuhaus described the difficulty and challenge of our mission well: “We are premature ambassadors, having arrived at the court before the sovereignty of our king has been recognized. It is awkward, of course, and our authority is very much in question. We must resist the temptation to relieve the awkwardness by accepting a lesser authority from another kingdom.”10

Given our predicament, and coupled with growing opposition and pressure, how easy it is to keep silent or to dilute the gospel message to make it more palatable to our hearers. And how crucial it is, if we are to faithfully proclaim it, to keep our eyes fixed on our King and our minds set on things above, where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand.

Steve Seamands writes more about the ascension of Jesus in The Unseen Real: Life in Light of the Ascension of Jesus. It is May’s Book of the Month offer, which means when you buy at least one, you’ll get one free to sow with your order! Learn more here.

1. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 146.
2. George Matheson, “Make Me a Captive, Lord,” in the United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 421.
3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. I, eds. John T. MacNeil and Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 497.
4. Ibid., 498.
5. Ibid., 499.
6. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
7. Richard Bauckham, The Theology of the Book of Revelation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 141–42.
8. T. F. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 121.
9. Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2013), 43.
10. Richard Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1992), 71.

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Dr. Stephen Seamands is professor of Christian Doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary, where he has served since 1983. He is also the author of several books including, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service (InterVarsity Press, 2005), Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return (InterVarsity Press, 2012).

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