“Jesus is King.” That’s not a phrase we are used to, though few would disagree with the statement. “Jesus is Lord” is more familiar. More familiar still is “Jesus Christ.” But it’s easy to miss the fact that “Jesus is Lord” and “Jesus Christ” are both saying the same thing: Jesus is King.
It’s easy to miss that, given the “Lord” has come to mean “divine” and Christ has essentially become Jesus’ surname, like Jones or Smith. But in Jesus’ day, no one missed the meaning of these two words. The first, “Jesus is Lord,” was a statement explicitly countering the declaration used throughout the Roman empire that “Caesar is Lord.” Though it did have connotations of divinity as the Roman emperors began to claim divine aspects, it was mainly an assertion of kingly dominion, especially in the conquered territories. It was a demand for obeisance, subservience, and obedience.
Similarly, “Christ” is often taken by Christians as referring to Jesus’ divine nature, sometimes in contrast to his “human” name Jesus. But “Christ” is simply the Greek word for the Hebrew word “messiah,” which means “anointed one.” Though the Jews in Jesus’ day were looking for a messiah, not one expected that he would be divine. They weren’t looking for a god, they were looking for a human king who would lead them to independence from Rome and establish God’s kingdom. To call Jesus the messiah—or the Christ—was to declare that he was king. He was the one Israel had been waiting for, and it was to him, not Caesar, that allegiance, loyalty, and faithfulness was due.
But he’s a different kind of king than anyone’s used to. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but...the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." The rulers of this age find ways to enrich themselves and the expense of the average person, even at (especially at?) the expense of the poorest and weakest of people, the ones least likely to be able to defend themselves, but Jesus’s rule actually serves the poor, the weak, and the defenseless.
It’s a weird kind of kingdom, a weird way to rule. Really, it is.
The Sermon on the Mount is often read as a set of rules that no one can really keep, that are unrealistic in the real world, that will only be realized in Heaven. Some have even said that the only purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to show us how impossible it is to earn God’s favor so that we’ll stop trying and simply accept God’s grace. Once we’ve gotten over our legalism and depend on God’s grace for our salvation, the Sermon’s work is done. Jesus doesn’t actually expect you to do that turn-the-other-cheek, love-your-enemy stuff.
Really? Whew, what a relief!
The Sermon on the Mount is a description of the kind of rule that Jesus wields on earth and is therefore the kingdom agenda for his followers through whom he is establishing and maintaining his kingdom. The Sermon opens with the Beatitudes, the first of which is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus isn’t merely providing an ethic for his followers or some formula for getting into heaven when you die. He is rather stating the kind of people through whom he will be working so that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. “When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God’s justice, the peacemakers, and so on.” (Wright, N. T., Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (pp. 218), Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.) Jesus rules the world through those who launch new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing things.
Jesus is a new kind of king doing a new kind of thing in a new kind of way. His followers are to be a new kind of people doing new kinds of things in new kinds of ways.