”All peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Dan. 7:14)
This Sunday, known officially as the Last Sunday after Pentecost but unofficially as the Feast of Christ the King, ends the liturgical year. Its theme of the kingship of Christ follows one or two Sundays (depending on the cycle) that feature the theme of judgment, and precedes the Sundays of Advent that begin with the theme of judgment. Christ’s kingship is squarely set, then, amidst lessons that emphasize judgment. Understanding the nature of Jesus’ kingship can begin there.
As we consider the lessons for today, we are taught more fully the nature of the kingship, the supreme authority, that is Jesus’. We are immediately presented with an apparent paradox. Paradoxes are by no means unusual in the gospel. Jesus teaches, for example, that his disciples will find proper greatness by being willing slaves of all. They will find joy in being caused to suffer unjustly. They will find life through death.
Yet even with the concept of paradox so well established in the gospel, today’s lessons present a forceful contrast. Daniel imparts the well-known image of the Ancient of Days surrounded by thrones with “ten thousand times ten thousand” in attendance. “One like a human being” (i.e., a “Son of Man”) appears in clouds of glory and is given an everlasting, indestructible dominion. Similarly, in Revelation Jesus Christ, the “Alpha and Omega,” is shown as having “glory and dominion forever and ever.”
Turning to the gospel, however, we see this same Jesus, a prisoner before Pilate, rejected and condemned by the Jewish authorities. Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33) Under the circumstances it’s a good question, yet Pilate is probably not asking Jesus whether he is the Messiah; Jesus had been accused of a capital crime, treason, by claiming to be a “king other than Caesar.” Pilate is most likely asking whether the charge is true, i.e. whether there are grounds for prosecuting Jesus.
Jesus’ answer to Pilate makes it clear that he is no rival to Caesar — yet he does not deny the claim, either. “So you are a king?” presses Pilate. Jesus’ enigmatic answer, “You say that I am a king,” can be interpreted in several ways; perhaps one way is to infer that Jesus is saying to Pilate, “Your own words, though uttered without understanding, are telling the truth.”
Therefore, Jesus’ final words in this passage make sense at multiple levels: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). And there is the real, deep meaning of his everlasting kingship!
Look it Up
How does verse 37 in the gospel give meaning to the entire theme of Christ the King?
Think About It
Many Anglicans throughout the world believe that not having a central authority in our Communion is a virtue. How, then, do we understand the notion of supreme authority such as Jesus’ kingship?