Jesus H. Christ, the King

The Upside Down Kingdom of God

Todd Brewer / 11.17.21

Christ wasn’t Jesus’ last name. And “H.” wasn’t his middle initial. If Jesus had something like a last name growing up, it was simply “son of Joseph.” Whenever he ventured away from his small town, he was called “Jesus, from Nazareth” — to distinguish him from all the other Jesuses traveling around. The “Christ” addendum came much later.

Christ isn’t a name, but a title, a kingly title that bore the weight of centuries of expectation. His nation of Israel had long lived under the thumb of occupying foreigners, whether it be the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, or the Romans. When Peter confessed that Jesus was “the Christ” (i.e. the Messiah) he said so in hope that the endless years of oppression would cease, that Israel had finally been found by its true Davidic king. With that unique kind of anticipation born from suffering, Peter confessed that Jesus would be the one to overthrow the Romans, to cast the mighty from their thrones and lift up the oppressed. It was a statement of political self-determination. The law of the land would finally be the law of Moses, and all would be made right in the world.

Peter believed that the wrong person was sitting on the throne. For the nation’s fortunes to improve, a change of administration was desperately needed. Peter knew his scriptures. Throughout its history, Israel had always fared as well as the king’s own righteousness would permit. Having traveled with Jesus across the countryside, seeing the miracles, and hearing Jesus’ radical teachings, Peter believed Jesus was the kind of person who could rule the nation with justice and equity. Jesus would not be like all the other kings before him, whose immorality led the people and the nation astray. With Jesus, things would be different.

Peter believed that life would be better if the right person was holding the keys of power. He thought a revolution was coming, but the kind of revolution Peter envisioned was far too meagre, far too unimaginative — and far too similar to our own hopes.

It could be said that suspicion of authority might be the one ideology that spans the political divide. No one has a monopoly on the feeling of anger at those in power. But an absolute suspicion of authority isn’t quite right. It’s perhaps more accurate to say that we only really believe authority to be oppressive when it’s someone we didn’t vote for. The impulse to shout “you can’t tell me what to do” arises precisely when its the our perceived enemy doing the talking. The issue isn’t so much how authority is used, but whether the person who wields it is on our side. 

Everyone becomes a punk when they’re not in power. Give them a seat at the table, though, and most will happily become staunch institutionalists.

For his part, Peter stood ready to join his Christ and fight the power. It was not an accident that Peter brought a gun to the garden of Gethsemane. He was armed for the impending regime change, ready to give his life for the cause. Peter had been with Jesus for three years and still didn’t understand. Every time he heard of the Kingdom of God, he imagined Jesus ascending his Jerusalem throne in a procession of his faithful followers. His golden crown would glisten in the sun as he grasped a scepter and exercised his power and authority for the good of the people. The rightful king would reign forever.

Jesus could have opted to sit on Caesar’s throne and rule his empire. Even up to the last minute, he could have called down his angels from heaven to execute justice with the sword. Good Friday could have been the long-awaited day of reckoning and the streets could have been filled with the blood of the unrighteous. But Jesus wasn’t that kind of king. His power and authority were exercised in a manner wholly unknown to Peter. In ways misunderstood by Peter. 

To those who believe that authority is unavoidably coercive, the kingship of Jesus simply does not compute. He was not a lawgiver whose rules compelled his subjects to do what they otherwise would not do. He was not the kind of doctor who prescribed a regime of pills one needs to stay healthy. Nor was he a teacher who pointed his pupils toward the path of wisdom. Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life, the one who reigns by freely giving of himself to his rebellious people. His power and authority is made perfect in weakness. 

Jesus, the Christ, was enthroned on a crucifix. The crown he wore was made of thorns. His kingly purple garments were stripped from him by soldiers. Jesus was anointed the Christ of the world by his own blood dripping down his head. Surrounding him, his subjects jeered him. He wasn’t their king, but some version of “Jesus H. Christ.” But to these unworthy ridiculers, this Christ did not scorn or judge. With his dying breath he issued his first kingly proclamation: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”