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A New Year's Eve Reflection on Christ as King from "Christology, Ancient and Modern"
I can hardly believe it, but we are on the cusp of yet another new year. For some of us this means a new set of classes—taking and teaching. For others of us a book or two will release. Some are launching or transitioning into new ministries. And yet others of us stand with a bit of trepidation, unsure of what is to come.
Whether you stand at the precipice of 2014 in great expectation or great dread, we can be sure of this: Christ is King.
It's a simple idea for most of us. Yet for me it's profoundly comforting as I enter another new year. So I’ve compiled some thoughts on the kingship of Christ using the wonderful new edited book of essays from the Los Angeles Theology Conference, Christology, Ancient and Modern: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics.
Reflecting on Christ as King draws our attention to at least three themes: His exaltation, glory, and grace leading to participation. I hope these three facets of Christ's kingship will help center our hearts this New Year's Eve, because they have profound benefits for our new life as believers as we waltz into 2014.
First, the exaltation of Christ. In his essay Jeremy Treat writes how the goal of Christ's exaltation was for us, not for Christ; we needed to be exalted, not King Jesus: "the exaltation that Christ acquired in himself was not because he needed to be exalted but because we need to be exalted: it was 'for us.' He acquired glory 'for himself as a king so that it could be given 'for us' in his kingdom." (112)
This kind of exaltation leads to the kind of new life that many of us long to more fully lean into next year. Christ's exaltation to the right hand of God in heaven is for the benefit of God's people, for the sake of realizing their kingdom hopes of a new heaven and new earth. Of course this newness is made possible through the cross of Christ, which is held together with the kingdom of Christ.
Treat explains, "the kingdom and the cross are held together by the Christ—Israel's Messiah—who brings God's reign on earth through his atoning death on the cross. The kingdom is the ultimate goal of the cross, and the cross is the means by which the kingdom comes. The cross is not the failure of Jesus' messianic ministry, nor simply the prelude to his royal glory, but the apex of his kingdom mission, the throne from which he rules and establishes his kingdom." (114)
So Treat reminds us this New Year's Eve that Christ's exaltation is for our benefit. Its aim is the advancement of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven so that we can experience his new life made possible through his atoning work on the cross.
Peter Leithart turns our attention toward another aspect of Christ's kingship: His glory, made evident in the life of the believer.
"Because the Word has show his glory in flesh," Leithart writes, "human beings see and know the Father, and knowing the Father in the Son is eternal life. By knowing the Father and the Son, the believer himself becomes a temple of the Father and Son, both dwelling in him by the Spirit. The glory of the Word is thus displayed in the flesh of the believer, as each follows Jesus in self-immolating obedience to the Father." (134-135)
It is through continual acts of self-sacrifice that we will fully experience the glory of the Word living in us and the life that comes from the Word. In a footnote Leithart explains: "Through death, resurrection, and the outbreathing of the Spirit, the Word who pitches His tent in flesh pitches his tent also in us, who become sons in the Son and this is eternal life." (134)
The exaltation and glory of Christ inevitably lead to the grace of Christ, which Alan Torrance captures in his essay reclaiming the continual priesthood of Christ. He explains "the priesthood of Christ points to three fundamental affirmations that constitute the ground and grammar of a biblical understanding of the grace of God: the eternal communion between the Son and the Father in the Spirit; the vicarious or representative humanity of the incarnate Son—the One on behalf of the Many; union with Christ by the Spirit—the participation of the Many in the One." (195)
Participation in the Triune communion between the Son and the Father and the Spirit is a profound mystery. And it is ours because of the new life given us through the grace of Jesus. We are reminded of this possession every time we partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Torrance explains:
Jesus Christ "took bread (took our humanity), gave thanks (lived that life of gratitude which fulfills the law), broke it (offered up his life for us on the cross), and gave (gave us his sanctified life) such that as we received his life, he unites us with himself by the Spirit. In this way, we are lifted up by his Spirit to participate in his praise, in his thanksgiving, and in his intercessions as he makes our meagre, confused worship and intercessions his own, thus sanctifying them.(196)
Through King Jesus' new life in which we participate, our offerings of praise for 2013 and prayers for 2014 are his as well. This is profoundly mysterious. For me it is profoundly comforting.
May you be comforted and challenged this New Year's Eve by the kingship of Christ, whose exaltation, glory, and grace has beneficently provided you life in all its newness and fullness.
Jeremy Bouma (Th.M.) is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds a Master of Theology in historical theology; and writes about faith and life at www.jeremybouma.com.
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