As you read the Christmas story, do you see how rulers today still rely on evil and death as Herod the Great did? The spirit behind Herod reigned in the rulers who came before him: Antiochus Epiphanes IV, Nebuchadnezzar, Pharaoh Neco, Sennacherib, …
When Fidel Castro died, some rulers like Canada’s Justin Trudeau sparked a social media storm for eulogizing him (#trudeaueulogies). Michael Bird chipped in with examples of how rulers still reign through the power of death:
- Chairman Mao implemented highly effective means of dealing with over population in China by removing surplus citizens.
- Saddam Hussein was an outsider artist who painted the sands of Iraq in vibrant shades of blood red.
- Romanian leader Nicolae Ceaușescu fixed youth unemployment by removing large numbers of the country’s youth.
- Idi Amin united Uganda in a way that only the threat of seeing your family disembowled before your eyes can.
- Robespierre was a man of liberty, he liberated the heads of people from the shackles of their body.
- Pinochet taught 30,000 Chileans how to play hide and go seek so well that they were never found again.
- Osama Bin Laden changed the New York skyline and was a role model for nerdy rich kids with daddy issues.
- Fidel Castro killed tens of thousands of his own people without remorse but compared to his brother Raoul, he was a saint.
It’s not that all rulers are 100% evil. That’s too simplistic. In a world where people are in rebellion against God’s rule, we can’t cope without human rulers. But even those who enter politics through good motives face the temptation to misuse power. Power corrupts. Ultimately, God alone can handle this kind of power, and the earth won’t be restored until all power is handed back to our heavenly sovereign.
As Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, Jesus’ greatest threat is the powers that refuse to relinquish their authority. Since they won’t recognize him, they must get rid of him. Jesus doesn’t fight them in the usual way. He won’t use evil to defeat evil. He won’t use death to keep his power alive. Jesus is a radically different kind of ruler.
He relies on the fact that God has appointed him to reign. He trusts that, even if human rulers do their worst, God will still raise him up to reign. He is raised up, and he calls humanity into submission under rulership. He will continue to reign until all those who oppose his rule fall into line and submit to him, “until all his enemies are under his feet.”
Then the man from Nazareth to whom God has given all authority will do something remarkable, something no human has done since the original rebellion. He will take the kingdom, and give it back to the heavenly sovereign:
1 Corinthians 15:24 (NIV)
Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
That’s the goal of history. This is the ultimate action that restores everything, that brings the whole creation back under the Creator’s rule. Our hope is Jesus, the only ruler who will bring humanity home.
Jesus reigns now. Some of us already acknowledge him. He calls us to be the community that represents his reign. Our king is rescuing and empowering us to be the living image of the kingdom he envisioned in the beginning, the one he will bring in the end.
What others are saying
J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 282:
The overall thrust of the biblical canon (from creation to eschaton) unveils for us—if we have eyes to see—a vision of the kingdom of God that is both applicable to every dimension of earthly life and open to the entire human family. Let us not reduce the gospel of the kingdom to anything less.
Tom Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), 217:
Heaven’s rule, God’s rule, is thus to be put into practice in the world, resulting in salvation in both the present and the future, a salvation which is both for humans and, through saved humans, for the wider world. This is the solid basis for the mission of the church.