Jesus was the king anointed to restore God’s reign on earth. That message was often so subtle that we miss it, but there was this time when he made an astounding claim to kingship.
Israel’s first king had been corrupted by power, so God chose David to represent divine kingship on earth. A descendant of David would always be on the throne (2 Samuel 7). David’s son Solomon represented this ideal kingship.
Solomon received the kingdom from his father, and reigned in peace. He received wisdom to implement God’s laws in his kingdom. He invited Israel’s heavenly sovereign to live among them by building him a house.
Other kingdoms noticed. The Queen of a southern kingdom came to see God’s wisdom in Solomon’s reign. She recognized him as the earthly servant of the heavenly king, implementing God’s rule in his earthly kingdom:
2 Chronicles 9:1–8 (ESV)
1 Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions …
5 And she said to the king, … 8 “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on his throne as king for the Lord your God! Because your God loved Israel and would establish them forever, he has made you king over them, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”
It’s a glowing report. But over time, power corrupted even Solomon. He used his power to amass whatever he wanted for himself — war chariots, women, and wealth — at great cost to his people (1 Kings 11). It led to the breakup of Israel (1 Kings 12), and ultimately to the demise of the kingdom (2 Kings 25).
After the exile, still living under foreign rule, the Jews were inspired by the old stories of David and Solomon, the kingdom ideal they hoped to recover one day. The Chronicler spends 40% of his book on the short period of David and Solomon’s rule (1 Chronicles 11 – 2 Chronicles 9).
That’s the hope Jesus tapped into when he revealed his identity to his hearers: “Something more than Solomon is here” (12:42). After centuries under foreign rule, his generation struggled to believe that the son of David was among them.
How ironic! A foreign ruler came all that way to see the wisdom of divine sovereign in Solomon, while the people of Jesus’ generation could not see David’s greater son among them.
The king of Assyria recognized Jonah as a prophet and humbled himself when he heard that God would judge Nineveh for threatening God’s kingdom. The Queen of the south recognized that Solomon was expressing God’s reign, showering him with wealth and honour and praise.
Foreign rulers had recognized God’s sovereign reign in Israel. Was it too much to ask that God’s own people would recognize the one God had appointed to restore his reign on earth in their generation?
Matthew 12:41-42 (my translation)
41 The men of Nineveh will stand up to judge this generation and condemn it, because they repented in response to Jonah’s message. And look: there’s something more than Jonah here. 42 The Queen of the south will rise up in judgement of this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. And look: there’s something more than Solomon here.
That’s the thing about acknowledging Jesus as king in our generation. It won’t do for the church to just tell people they can be forgiven. We’re called to be the servants of the king, giving allegiance to Jesus and embodying his kingship in such a way that even the authorities want to see how it’s done. He raises us up to be his kingdom, servants of the ruler greater than Solomon.
What others are saying
N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, (London: SPCK, 1996), 535:
To claim that Jesus is greater than him [Solomon] is to claim that he is the true Messiah; that he will build the eschatological Temple; that through him the Davidic kingdom will be restored. The context also suggests that this Messiah will be the one to whom the nations will come and bow in obedience: through his kingdom the prophecies of messianic worldwide restoration will be fulfilled.
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 493:
As Jonah represented the prophetic office, Solomon, the son of David, represents not only Israel’s wisdom tradition … but also its monarchy.
… If “something more/greater” than all these key authorities is now present, and if moreover all their functions have now been brought together into a single person, Jesus’ questioners have a thought-provoking basis on which to consider the question of his authority. Temple and priesthood, prophet, king and wise man—something greater is now here.
W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, ICC (New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 359:
According to 1 Kgs 10:1, the queen of Sheba came to Solomon ‘to test him with hard questions.’ So like the Pharisees she tested a king. But unlike them, she could see the truth.
[previous: How Jonah inspired Jesus]
[next: Worse off with Jesus?]