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02: Coming to Grips with Kingship and Collective Amnesia

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series The John the Baptist Experience: Book 2

The John the Baptist Experience
Book 2: The Extraordinary Message
Chapter 2: Coming to Grips with Kingship
and Collective Amnesia

Copyright © 20231

by
Jim Kerwin

The Downsides of Democracy

Title tile for 'Coming to Grips with Kingship and Collective AmnesiaCan we forget what we never learned?
How can the phrase “Kingdom of God”
mean anything if we don’t really know
what a king is?

If the message of John the Baptist was a plow to prepare heart-soil, then the sharp, sod-busting point of his plow’s blade was summed up in this simple phrase: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Yet how little impact those nine words have on us, because we understand neither the word “King” nor the word “repent” as we should. Although “repent” is the first word, let’s first focus on the why of, the motivation for, repentance — the King and His Kingdom. Then we’ll follow up with that most important subject of repentance.

As wonderful as it is to live with the freedoms guaranteed in a democratic republic,2 democracy has a decided downside for Bible readers. Living as we do under a government in which we can elect our leaders, from the local sheriff (in many cases) up to our nation’s president, the very concept of living under a sovereign, all-powerful ruler is almost inconceivable to us. And what conception we can muster must needs be tainted with mostly negative connotations.

When we look abroad to monarchies like the ones in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Spain, and Japan, the royalty involved are more of a living link to a glorious history than being influential in the day-to-day affairs of governing their nation today. I hope it is not unkind to call them figureheads; they function, in an important way, as part of the national identity and living heritage of their country. If we consider biblical Kingship in this light, we’re left trying to apply a vague sense of romantic irrelevance to a far more serious spiritual subject.

It doesn’t help matters to look at current non-figurehead rulers and dictators, especially those who govern poorly, unwisely, or cruelly; they are living reminders of Lord Acton’s observation that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Our reflections on such people confirm our prejudice against absolute authority in any form. Subconsciously, we carry this prejudice against absolute authority with us into our relationship with God.

With history and its ever-repeating abuses of power in mind, our founding fathers conceived and created a federal government divided into three branches — executive (represented by the Presidency), legislative (represented by Congress), and judicial (represented at its apex by the Supreme Court) — in a system of “checks and balances” to power and authority. If you’ll permit me the use of an American colloquialism, we can “throw the bums out” in the next election cycle if they aren’t doing their jobs properly; we can change leadership we don’t like. (Unfortunately, we often make these changes for the flimsiest of reasons, reasons usually based on self interest or herd mentality.) In our national character, we aren’t very submissive; we think (or we’re manipulated to think) that “we know better.”

The Deck Stacked Against Us

So we have to come to grips with the fact that in our Western psyche, we have ingrained in our deepest recesses “three strikes against us” — our unsubmissive “we know better” attitude, our prejudice against absolute authority, and our view of the “romantic irrelevance” of royalty — in trying to comprehend the Person of a Divine, Absolute, All-Powerful, Heavenly Sovereign, as well as our need for Him and His rulership over us — that is, His Kingdom.

Even we who are Christians drag behind us this cultural, historical, and political “programming” of generations (almost on the level of a psychological “DNA encoding”) when we consider such phrases and concepts as “the Lordship of Jesus,” “the Kingdom of God,” and even “God, the Judge of all” (Hebrews 12:23).

With “the deck stacked against us” in understanding these Kingdom concepts, is there any hope? Yes. It comes in the form of a powerful provision from heaven: a Spirit-inspired metamorphosis of mindset that only God Himself can grant and administer — the gift of repentance.3 This gift is the ability to see truth from God’s point of view. It may be that before the Lord can grant that gift and revolutionize our thinking about this matter (and many others!), we must first appreciate the severe limitations of our cultural blindness.

But we of the Twenty-First Century aren’t the only ones culturally blinded to the meaning of Divine Rulership. Transport yourself back in time to the birth of Christ for a moment. Look at “history” through the eyes of First-Century Jews and see how over 700 years of national experience distorted their expectation of God’s promised kingdom. For nearly seven centuries, dating back to the time before the Captivity of Judah,4 the Promised Land had been dominated by overlords of various nations — first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, followed by the Medes and Persians, then Alexander the Great and the descendants of two of his generals. Only for a brief respite of 103 years, from 140-37 b.c., had the Jewish state been relatively independent, before once again being subdued — crushed under the iron boot of the Roman Empire. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Rome ruled the Holy Land through its puppet king, the Edomite5 Herod “the Great.”

Memories of that 103-year-long respite, beginning with the revolt led by Judas Maccabeus and his family, and followed by the century-long Hasmonean Kingdom born of that revolt, kept alive the patriot hope of the Jewish people. Once before, in recent memory,6 the Jewish people, with Divine aid,7 had thrown off their oppressors and succeeded. Surely, when God’s Mashiach appeared, he would permanently throw off the yoke of the foreign overlords, right? Ah, if only!

Collective Amnesia

Thus when John (and not much later, Jesus) came proclaiming the message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” there were many who heard a “political message” which was not intended. Most seemed to have forgotten that once Jehovah had been their one and only King, and that their forefathers had rejected His Rulership.

As far back as the end of the Wilderness Wandering, Moses had declared Yahweh’s rulership over Israel (Deuteronomy 33:2-5):

2“The Lord came from Sinai,
And dawned on them from Seir;
He shone forth from Mount Paran,
And He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones;
At His right hand there was flashing lightning for them.
3Indeed, He loves the people;
All Your holy ones are in Your hand,
And they followed in Your steps;
Everyone receives of Your words.
4Moses charged us with a law,
A possession for the assembly of Jacob.
5And He was king in Jeshurun,8
When the heads of the people were gathered,
The tribes of Israel together.

Even a spiritually conflicted quasi-believer like the prophet Balaʿam could clearly perceive the Royal Presence that permeated and protected Israel:

“He has not observed misfortune in Jacob;
Nor has He seen trouble in Israel;
The Lord his God is with him,
And the shout of a king is among them.”
– Numbers 23:21 –

“Water will flow from [Israel’s] buckets,
And his seed will be by many waters,
And his king shall be higher than Agag,
And his kingdom shall be exalted.”

– Numbers 24:7 –

But during the period of the Judges, due to Israel’s disobedience to God’s law and revealed will, this King allowed disciplinary hardship to come upon His people repeatedly in the form of foreign incursions and periodic dominations by the surrounding peoples. Finally, the threat of one particular invader was so terrifying9 that the people demanded from the judge Samuel a human king. Here is the key passage from 1 Samuel 8:

6But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 8Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day — in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods — so they are doing to you also. 9Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”

There are those times in the life of a believer when an unwise choice is made, but the initial results seem to support the path taken. The same is true of nations. Israel, and the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead in particular, were delivered from Nahash and his besieging Ammonite hordes. In the midst of the people’s celebration of this glorious deliverance and their self-congratulatory revelry, godly Samuel makes the people face their true condition. They had traded the Lord God for their tall, powerfully built, handsome, charismatic leader.

  • “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the Lord your God was your king.
  • 1 Samuel 12:12

“The Lord your God was your king.” Past tense. “They have rejected Me from being king over them.” Ongoing condition. In the light of these words of God we have to evaluate all that followed in Israel’s history. Whether ruled by good, wise, godly kings (like David, Solomon [for a time], and Hezekiah), or wicked, idolatrous, bloodthirsty men (like Ahab or Manasseh), the same state underpinned all that transpired — “They have rejected Me from being king over them.”

For almost 1,100 years, from the reign of Saul (c. 1040 b.c.) to the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist (c. 30 a.d.), this rejection hides just behind the curtain, just below the surface of a millennium of Jewish history. How things had been, how they should have been — Jehovah Himself ruling over His people — seems to have been lost in a collective amnesia. From this point forward, God’s people almost always look to a man — another David or Hezekiah or Josiah — for leadership, for deliverance, for protection. Apparently they were still in this amnesic state when Messiah’s forerunner announced the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Not Without Reminders

David: Songs of a King to His King

This was true even though God didn’t leave them without reminders. For instance, King David was thrust into a kingly role he never sought. And he was keenly aware of the reality of royal affairs; for him, Yahweh was King. He seems to have seen himself as a vassal king to a sovereign Overlord.10 Jehovah’s rulership is a theme that weaves through many of the psalms:11

Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God,
For to You I pray.
– Psalm 5:2 –

Save, O Lord;
May the King answer us in the day we call.
– Psalm 20:9 –

For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.
– Psalm 22:28 –

8Who is the King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.…
10Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.
– Psalm 24:8,10 –

You are my King, O God;
Command victories for Jacob.
– Psalm 44:4 –

11They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
12To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
­– Psalm 145:11-13 –12

It seems that David, that godly king, was keenly aware of the true role of his Kingly God. He was acutely aware that God is the actual king of Israel. Perhaps for that reason, as David wrote what we now know as Psalm 2, the Holy Spirit flowed through Him prophetically about the Messianic King who was to come:

2The kings of the earth take their stand
And the rulers take counsel together
Against the Lord and against His Anointed [King], saying,
3“Let us tear their fetters apart
And cast away their cords from us!”
– Psalm 2:2-3 –

Inspired by this blessed Spirit, David even hears the words of God the Father to and about His Son:

6“But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
7“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
9‘You shall break them with a rod of iron,
You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
– Psalm 2:6-9 –

And rebellious kings are exhorted to submit to the Son, God’s Messianic King… or else!

10Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
11Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry,
and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
– Psalm 2:10-12 –

Such a kingly Messianic psalm could only have been written by a ruler who recognized the true King of God’s people.

The Kingly Theme of the Prophets

But David wasn’t the only Old Testament figure who escaped the national amnesia. The Lord provided repeated reminders through His prophets.

Isaiah, Whose Eyes Saw the King

For instance, Isaiah’s breathtaking revelation of his holy God (and of Isaiah’s own sinful state) culminates in these words:

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
– Isaiah 6:5 –

From this brief glimpse of the Lord — on His throne, please note (v. 1) — come mentions of “the King in His beauty” (33:17), “the King of Jacob” (41:21), “the Creator of Israel, your King” (43:15), and “the Lord, the King of Israel” (44:6). Through Isaiah came the Messianic prophecy of the Child and Son (9:6-7), about whom it was said there would be “no end to the increase of His government,” and that He would sit “on the throne of David and over his kingdom.” But for me, perhaps the most telling verse comes in Isaiah 33:22—

For the Lord is our Judge,
The Lord is our Lawgiver,
The Lord is our King;13
He will save us…

Jeremiah

Isaiah isn’t the only prophet who remembers what Israel forgot. For Jeremiah the truth was also clear:

“Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not within her?
– Jeremiah 8:19b –

Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
Indeed it is Your due!
For among all the wise men of the nations
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You.
– Jeremiah 10:7 –

(Note here that God’s rulership is conceived of as being over the nations — the Gentiles ­— as well as Israel.)

But the Lord is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
– Jeremiah 10:10a,b –

Daniel

Remember how the theme of Jehovah’s overlordship is a key to the prophecies of Daniel:

    • The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.”
    • Daniel 4:17,25,32
    • In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.
    • Daniel 2:44
    • [Nebuchadnezzar] answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.”
    • Daniel 2:47
    • His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed,
      And His dominion will be forever.
      – Daniel 6:26 –

And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That all the peoples, nations and men of every language
Might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
– Daniel 7:14 –

  • His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him.
  • Daniel 10:10

Zechariah

The prophet Zechariah joins the chorus:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.14
– Zechariah 9:9 –

  • And the Lord will be king over all the earth; in that day the Lord will be the only one, and His name the only one
  • Zechariah 14:9
  • 16Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. 17And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them.
  • Zechariah 14:16-17

Malachi

God’s last Old Testament word on this, the “amen” of these Kingly prophecies, as it were, is spoken by God Himself through the prophet Malachi:

  • “But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and My name is feared among the nations.”
  • Malachi 1:14

Was Israel’s collective amnesia offset in part by God’s prophetic, royal reminders of His once and future Kingship? There might have been a few who remembered what the rest forgot, to wit, that the Rejected King of Samuel’s days was coming to reclaim His rightful place in Israel’s heart. But for most, it seems, even in looking forward to their Messianic King, the Jewish people were still looking for the “man” they had substituted in their thinking, rather than for God, as their King. Little did they realize that God was combining the two into One Person. How great the irony, then, when they rejected Him again.

The Collective Amnesia of the Church

But if Israel suffered “collective amnesia” about her royalty-rejecting past, what shall we say about the Church’s collective amnesia concerning its Kingly Gospel? Think about it for a minute: How often have you heard a soul-winner or evangelist or pastor declare and explain “the Gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 16:16)?15 If your answer is “never” or “almost never,” join the club. Compared with the New Testament proclamation of “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” our modern God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life message is a conveniently king-less, contemporary, compromised version.

The proclamation of the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven16) is the “gold standard” of soul-saving preaching in the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles. It would require a lengthy extra chapter in this book just to list the New Testament verses about the Kingdom and Jesus’ Lordship, much less comment on them. As a source of wisdom and enlightenment about this Kingdom Gospel, the reader can (and without doubt should) commit to a personal and thorough study of this subject from Matthew to Revelation.

But for the sake of time and space, and our focus on our subject of the John the Baptist experience, let’s limit our thoughts here to some of the highlights.

The Good News of the Kingdom in Acts

In an overview of Acts:

  • We see Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:12) and his tremendous results among the Samaritans.
  • We listen to Paul’s preaching and testimony: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (14:22); “I went about preaching the kingdom” (20:25). Right to the very end of Acts we find the great apostle engaging his Jewish brethren in Rome, solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus” (28:23), “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered” (28:31).

Perhaps no more eloquent testimony could be given to the Kingdom-centric orientation of Paul’s gospel than the accusation of his mob-leading religious opponents in Thessalonica (Acts 17:6-8):

6“These men17 who have upset the world have come here also; 7…they all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8They stirred up the crowd and the city authorities who heard these things.

Note this from the tense of their accusation: Paul wasn’t preaching that there will be another King, or that there is a King reigning in the heavenly afterlife of our future. No, Paul’s proclamation was that there is a another King reigning now.

The Epistles: Worthy to Inherit the Kingdom

There are three New Testament epistle writers who speak of the King and His Kingdom.

James

  • Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
  • James 2:5

Peter

  • 10Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
  • 2 Peter 1:10-11

Paul: Eye Toward the King and His Kingdom

If you review the above quotes from James and Peter for a moment, each writer brings up a theme. The word “heirs” in James’ comment shows that he understands that the Kingdom is inherited. Just below the surface of Peter’s exhortations to being diligent, making certain, and practicing are the ideas of qualification and worthiness.

Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles, develops both of these themes in his epistles. We have already shown in our final quote from Acts that Paul actively preached the Kingdom of God, because the King and His Kingdom were ever in the forefront of Paul’s mind. To him, Christ is “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Timothy 1:17); He is “the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15). Paul’s service was ever with an eye towards Christ’s “appearing and His Kingdom (2 Timothy 4:1), with a loving submission towards Christ, God’s anointed King, who would bring him “safely to His heavenly Kingdom (2 Timothy 4:18).

  • For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:20
  • For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son
  • Colossians 1:13
  • …these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God who are from the circumcision, and they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
  • Colossians 4:11

Paul: Being Worthy of the Kingdom

Serving even an earthly monarch is no small matter; such service requires diligence and care. How much more care needs to be exerted in order to be worthy of the Heavenly King and His Kingdom!

  • …walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:12
  • This18 is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:5

Although Paul probably didn’t write the Epistle to the Hebrews,19 the same theme of obedient worthiness for the Kingdom comes through clearly in that letter as well:

  • 28Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29for our God is a consuming fire.
  • Hebrews 12:28-29

Paul: Disqualification from Kingdom Inheritance

The opposite of worthiness is the unworthiness of disobedience. The Kingdom cannot be inherited by those who continue in sin, because sin is known, active, willful rebellion against the King and His commandments:

  • 9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
  • 19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
  • Galatians 5:19-21
  • 3But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
  • Ephesians 5:3-6

One wonders how many have been “comforted” by the deceiving, empty words of those who teach that continuance in sin is no barrier to their relationship with God or their eternal destiny. Such belief proves that the amnesia regarding God’s Kingship is still very much in effect. The King requires obedience from His subjects. Those who claim to be in God’s Kingdom, but who do not obey His laws, effectively remove themselves from His Kingship, and therefore from His Kingdom.

It is abundantly clear that the Kingdom — requiring worthy obedience to enter and remain, while barring and disinheriting willful sinners from entry — is a major underlying theme of New Testament doctrine.

Paul: The Culmination of the Kingdom

For Paul, the culmination of redemptive history is expressed in Kingdom terms:

  • …then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:24

Here is the culmination of worthiness! “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” — to be God’s Sacrifice, to be the long-awaited King, and to be the One turns everything over to His Father in the end.

The Apocalypse: The King(dom) Revealed!

The “Book of Revelation” (actually “the Revelation of Jesus Christ” — Revelation 1:1) kicks off with the King and His Kingdom, and both of those glorious themes run throughout:

  • 4John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood — 6and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father — to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
  • Revelation 1:4-6

This, and what follows, are all faithfully recorded by “John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus” (1:9).

From this point forward, the worship in heaven and the declarations from heaven are replete with the King and His Kingdom:

    • “You have made them [i.e., those redeemed by the Lamb’s blood from every nation and tongue] to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”
    • Revelation 5:10
    • Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”
    • Revelation 11:15
    • Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.”
    • Revelation 12:10
    • And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, — “Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!
    • Revelation 15:3
    • “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.”
    • Revelation 17:14
    • 11And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. 12His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. 13He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. 15From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. 16And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
  • Revelation 19:11-16

Yes, in the end, the conquering King establishes His Kingdom, the embodiment of Old Testament prophetic reminders and New Testament apostolic declaration. But we are in the here and now, living, like Israel of old, in a state of amnesia about our ignorance or rejection of Jehovah as King. The problem with amnesia is not being able to remember identities — one’s own or the identities of those in the amnesiac’s life. Unwittingly, we have come into relationship with God under a gospel omitting the the Kingdom of God; we view our Creator and Savior “democratically” — with an unsubmissive, self-centered, “we know better” attitude, with a “I’ll do it when I feel like it” commitment, with a prejudice against absolute authority, and with a “romantic irrelevance” conception of royalty.

But perhaps there is now a longing for a cure to our amnesia. Where can the cure be found? You’ll note that we haven’t yet touched on any Kingdom-related passages from the four Gospels. It’s time to turn there to initiate our transformation, as we seek to understand the message of John the Baptist and Jesus: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”


Endnotes:


  1. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book The John the Baptist Experience: Book 2: The Extraordinary Messenger; copyright © 2023 by Jim Kerwin. All rights reserved.

    Unless otherwise stated, all Scripture quotations are taken from New American Standard Bible (nasb) Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA. All rights reserved. Used by Permission. www.lockman.org

  2. The author lives in the United States.
  3. We will look more closely at God’s granting of repentance in the next chapter.
  4. The year of the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar was 587/6 b.c.
  5. Idumaen and Edomite are synonyms.
  6. For the sake of dealing with round figures, let’s peg the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist at 30 a.d. For a First-Century Jew, the Maccabean Revolt of independence (140 b.c.) would have occurred no farther back in history than the Mexican-American War (1848) is for a modern-day American. Or reduce the intervening years by 13 and now the time difference is between today and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861.

    In another comparison, the time of Israel’s conquest by Rome would have been as recent as the end of World War II (1945) is to us.

  7. I would recommend to any reader interested in this period of history to read First and Second Maccabees in the Apocrypha. Yes, it’s true that these two books are not inspired scripture; but they are good history, and nearly “required reading” for anyone wishing to understand the political landscape and underpinnings of the New Testament world in Palestine.
  8. Jeshurun, meaning the upright people, is one of God’s poetic or “pet” names for His people Israel. The name appears not only in this passage (above), but also in Deuteronomy 32:15; 33:26; and Isaiah 44:2.
  9. The writer of 1 Samuel has the unique habit of assuming his readers are so familiar with the story that he needn’t mention key facts until after it would appear they are needed. For instance, it is in chapter 8 that the people come to Samuel petitioning for a king “like all the other nations” (v. 5). But only in chapter 12, after King Saul’s coronation (1 Samuel 10:17-27), and after his reign has been incontrovertibly established by his decisive victory over King Nahash and the Ammonite army (1 Samuel 11), do we learn that the very existence and threat of this formidable foe had been the impetus for desiring a human king. See 1 Samuel 12, especially verse 12.

    The author of 1 Samuel does much the same thing later in the book, giving a key interpretive fact which is needed to unlock the statement, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft (or divination)” (1 Samuel 15:23). I have heard some fanciful interpretations of this phrase, because the author’s after-the-fact key hadn’t been considered. It’s through the lips of the “witch” (medium) of Endor that we hear what had been going on for years by the king’s decree: “Behold, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off those who are mediums and spiritists from the land” (1 Samuel 28:9). Allowing this new piece of information to illuminate 1 Samuel 15:23, we can hear Samuel’s condemnation of Saul in a fresh, clear way: “Saul, in some matters, like your destruction of pagan idols and extermination of mediums / spiritists / witches {according to Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:27}, you have carried out God’s will. But in this matter of exterminating Agag and the Amalekites, you have been disobedient. How is your sin of disobedience, in which you excuse yourself, any different from this sin of witchcraft which you have been prosecuting during your reign? Aren’t both born of rebellion against God’s revealed will?”

  10. Even if David never used the phrase “King of kings,” he was quite humbly settled in the concept. If he wrote Psalm 136 (which may be his, even though it’s not attributed to him), there we find the exhortation to “Give thanks to the Lord of lords” (verse 3). The only earlier appearance of the phrase occurs in God’s words to Moses in Deuteronomy 10:17 —

    “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe.”

  11. The sampling of verses above is cherry-picked from a larger list of psalms specifically ascribed to King David, including: Psalm 29:10; 68:24,29,32; and 145:1.
  12. Other psalms, both attributed (e.g., to the sons of Korah) and unattributed, also carry the theme along, including such passages as Psalm 10:16; 45:1,5,6,11,15; 47:2,6-7; 48:2; 74:12; 84:3; 89:27; 95:3; 98:6; 99:4; 102:15,22; and 149:2.
  13. Note here in Isaiah 33:22 how the three “branches of government” — the judicial (“our Judge”), the legislative (“our Lawgiver”), and the executive (“our King”) — come together in the person of the King. We will have cause to consider this verse and concept again.
  14. If nothing else, this prophecy alone should have strongly hinted at the manner of the coming King and His Kingdom.
  15. This is not to be confused with something which might sound like the Gospel of the Kingdom. See the Deeper Dive entitled “Kingdom of God or ‘King’s Kids’?”
  16. In a footnote in Book 1: The Exceptional Messenger, Chapter 4: Jesus Reveals John in Malachi, we make a short exploration of how the phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven” are synonymous, and why Matthew chooses the latter phrase in deference to his readers.
  17. I.e., Paul and Silas.
  18. “This” — i.e., “the persecutions and afflictions which you endure,” verse 4.
  19. The authorship of the letter is still debated.
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