We come to the end of our Lectionary Year. Every symphony has its crescendo and finale and the Sunday of Christ the King is that for the lectionary year.
All our readings look toward the end of things brought to completion by the King of Kings. David’s final words. Daniel’s final vision. Revelation’s NT version of that, much of it a recycling of OT apocalyptic visions and figures. We leave Mark for John and Jesus’ own final words to Pilate.
We begin with the last words of David. A man like other men, and a king like those who would follow him, in the steps of God’s Anointed. But also a king inside a special providential place, which in time will be occupied by the King of Kings. And so he is given to see this when, like Moses looking across into the Promised Land, he comes to the end of his days. The Holy Spirit has gifted him quite concretely – a feature Luther paid close attention to in his lectures on the psalms of David, where David is given to see the beloved exchanges between God the Son and God the Father. “He said to me you are my son, today I have begotten you.” “The Lord said to my Lord.” The line he paid attention to we find at verse 3: “The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.” And so David speaks of things pertaining to the house of God’s making in him. “Is not my house like this with God—like the sun rising on a cloudless morning—for he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure.”
The Psalm allows another to reflect on David, one of the few psalms where David is mentioned as the subject of the psalmist’s discourse and not his own. “Lord, remember David and all he endured.” David is himself but he also betokens all of God’s promises through time in him and leading to the King of Kings. “For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of your Anointed.” He continues, “The Lord swore an oath to David; in truth he will not break it,” even in the face of seeming abandonment – in David’s day, so Psalm 89 – nor in the day of God’s Son the Christ. “A son, the fruit of your body will I set upon your throne.” And “I have prepared a lamp for my Anointed.” Mashiach. Messiah. Christ.
Daniel’s vision as recorded in chapter 7 uses the language of Son of Man for the kingship of his conception. The Ancient of Days is on this account the LORD God almighty seated at court, with attendants without number. A royal scene of final judgment, at which time the books recording all deeds done are opened. The Son of Man appears and enters the celestial courtroom. He is presented to the LORD God, and from his hand he receives a kingdom that has no end. In this dramatic depiction we have the OT’s equivalent of the creed’s “of one substance with the Father.” The identity of God and the identity of the Son of Man is both different but profoundly shared. To “sit at the right hand” is to share the selfsame identity of God Almighty. We see a kingship that is never destroyed for just this reason.
The apparel the LORD puts on, as the psalmist depicts it, is indeed, in the fullness of time, the flesh of the Son of Man. In so doing we see an enthronement that in fact has its origins from everlasting, from before the world’s beginning. Eschatology and eternal generation: two sides of the same divine identity and purpose before and through all time.
Revelation speaks of “the one who is and who was and who is to come”, the “I am who will be good on my promises through time,” the LORD, solemnly revealed to Moses. The grace and peace that come from God the LORD come in the same manner from Jesus Christ, who is the firstborn of the dead and the ruler as such of all the kings of the earth. Now the author turns his attention to this same Jesus as he comes a final time, not from the emptied tomb but from the eternal throne. Using the language of Daniel he comes on the clouds. And now we see the nail wounds born for us and permanently identifying the eternal Son of Man. All now see him. All. Every eye he has made, from the creation of Adam through all time. All will stand before the Cross and wail as they bear witness at last to the love shown forth there and from the very heart of God through all time. Crucified before the foundations of the world.
The Gospel reading for Christ the King Sunday comes from the passion account of John’s Gospel. Jesus has been arrested and condemned by Jewish officials. Yet because they seek to put him to death they must bring him to the Roman civil authorities, from the house of Caiaphas the high priest to the headquarters of the Roman governor Pilate. This begins a 35 verse string of episodes involving Pilate, the Jewish officials and Jesus. This is the only scene in which Jesus and Pilate are alone, since the Jewish officials cannot enter the praetorium due to the laws regarding defilement. These they respect, but they need another law to kill Jesus.
In a way the word “king” is a motif word running across all the scenes to follow. Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, somewhat out of the blue. Jesus responds that he has a kingdom different from the kingdoms of this world. Pilate again asks if he is a king. Jesus does not answer yes or no simply, but turns the question back on him. His is a kingdom of truth, and those who belong to this kingdom hear his voice. Pilate’s question “what is truth” tells us he is not of this kingdom.
But then as we read on it is Pilate who insists on calling Jesus a king, indeed, the king of the Jews. He has Jesus invested as a king, in mockery. The soldiers address him as King. In one final scene of desperation we learn the most powerful man on the scene is now afraid. He has said he is the son of God, the officials tell Pilate. Now it is their turn to call Jesus king, in an effort to corner Pilate. Pilate bring Jesus out one last time, and now the word is in the air without footnote. Behold your King. Shall I crucify your king? We have no king but Caesar. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. What I have written I have written.
And the rest is, as they say, history, under the King of History to whom God almighty has given all times and all dominions. The King “crucified under Pontius Pilate,” as a creed compactly says, “in accordance with the scriptures,” with Daniel, and Samuel, and Isaiah and psalms we read for today and all the scriptures from beginning to end. “And on the third day he rose again,” in accordance with the scriptures. And because of that inaugurated kingdom of truth, “he will come again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.”
As our lectionary year comes now to its end, we will let the scriptures have their last according word.
For he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
The LORD has sworn an oath to David; *
in truth, he will not break it:
“A son, the fruit of your body *
will I set upon your throne.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
that shall never be destroyed.
Ever since the world began, your throne has been established; *
you are from everlasting.
Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come Lord Jesus.