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“Christ is King” Has Always Offended Phoney Kings and False Gods

“Christ is King. It has always been a costly profession because if Jesus is Lord supreme, then every alternative and every system to the contrary must be regarded as compromised and false.”


Christ is King.

One of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith is the proclamation of Christ’s universal Kingship. Since the earliest days of the church, Christians made the profession that “Jesus is Lord.”

That phrase, however, was unlikely to be uttered without a proper understanding of what it meant. This is because voicing such a bold statement could have both devastating and often deadly, consequences.

Under the Roman Empire, there was only one lord, and his name was Caesar. To the Roman authorities, this basic confession of the Christian faith was considered treason, and treason was a capital offence.

Kaiser Kurios! Caesar is lord! That was the mantra all Roman citizens were required, not only to acknowledge but religiously affirm. It was not simply an assent to earthly authority, as one might acknowledge the authority of a President or a Prime Minister. It was to acknowledge Caesar as supreme – divine even!

This was what the Empire endeavoured to imprint on the minds of the people. So much so that citizens could not buy or sell without that confession being imprinted on much of the currency exchanged.

For Rome, there was one state, one empire, and one lord. It was through this repeated confession that Roman authorities sought to maintain social harmony. It did not matter what the citizen’s social differences were. At the end of the day, they were all children of the Empire, and as such, they were all subjects to the same lord.

What this meant was that anyone who refused to acknowledge Caesar as king supreme would promptly be regarded a national threat. They were considered a risk to the stability of the Empire under their sovereign unifying ruler. What’s more, their rejection of Caesar as lord risked angering the gods.

The Empire could not tolerate such blatant defiance. Potentially competing lords were swiftly removed. Anyone who refused to confess Caesar as supreme was made a public example by being thrown to wild beasts, burned alive, or at best, beheaded.

But who would dare not pledge their allegiance to Caesar as supreme? Who would confess any other man to be lord? Well, the only reason why someone wouldn’t affirm Caesar as lord was because they did not really believe Caesar was lord. And the only reason why someone wouldn’t believe Caesar is lord was because they believed that title belonged to somebody else.

When the early Christians confessed Jesus as “Lord,” it was a direct indictment against the Empire. It wasn’t just a profession of faith, it was a denunciation of Rome’s grossly idolatrous Emperor worship.

Of course, Christians have always believed that God has established earthly governments and set the boundaries in which nations and kingdoms are to operate. But the Emperor was claiming more authority than he had any right to. In effect, he was demanding that the people render to Caesar the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21). He was demanding the throne of Christ the King.

When the early church began, not only to refuse to bow to Caesar as supreme but to confess Jesus as Lord, it was clear in the minds of the authorities exactly what they were saying: To say Jesus is King was to say Caesar was not.

That was the accusation brought against the Christians in Acts 17:7: “They all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king, one Jesus.” To make that assertion in Rome was to forfeit your life. Simply consider the martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna.

Polycarp was said to have been a disciple of the Apostle John, so as first-century persecution against Christians increased, the bishop, an influential figure within the church, became a wanted man.

When the authorities eventually captured him the captain of the local troop tried to convince Polycarp to save himself by confession that Caesar, not Christ, was King.

Polycarp refused, and as a consequence, he was arrested and taken as a prisoner to the arena.

When he was brought forward, there was a great uproar from the crowds. When the proconsul arrived, he too tried to persuade Polycarp to recant, saying, “Swear by the genius of Caesar! Repent! Say, ‘Away with the atheists!’”

Now that might sound like an odd thing to require a Christian to say. This is because early Christians were branded “atheists” by the Empire for denying the divinity of Caesar and the pantheon of Roman gods.

We’re told in the account that after the proconsul charged the bishop to curse the atheists, Polycarp looked solemnly at the crowd of lawless heathens in the stadium, motioned towards them with his hand, and then said, “Away with the atheists!”

The magistrate persisted and again charged him to: “Swear the oath to Caesar, and I will release you! Revile Christ!”

Polycarp then replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”

The Roman authorities then prepared a pyre, fastened Polycarp to it with ropes, and burned him to death.

Christ is King. Christ is Lord. It has always been a costly profession because if Jesus is Lord supreme, then every alternative and every system to the contrary must be regarded as compromised and false. If Jesus is Lord supreme then, as Abraham Kuyper once said, “There is not one square inch in the whole of creation over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!”

This confession is the basis of the Christian’s marching orders. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, [because of this truth] go, and make disciples of all nations” over which Christ now reigns.

To say Christ is King is to say that Jesus holds supreme authority, not only in heaven, but on earth also. As such, all authority must, by necessity, be delegated authority. It is for this reason that Peter famously said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

In A Christian Manifesto, Francis A. Schaeffer explains the implications as such:

“The civil government, as all of life, stands under the Law of God. In this fallen world God has given us certain offices to protect us from the chaos which is the natural result of that fallenness. But when any office commands that which is contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogate their authority and they are not to be obeyed. And that includes the state. . . . God has ordained the state as a delegated authority; it is not autonomous. The state is to be an agent of justice, to restrain evil by punishing the wrongdoer, and to protect the good in society. When it does the reverse, it has no proper authority. It is then a usurped authority and as such it becomes lawless and is tyranny…

“But what is to be done when the state does that which violates its legitimate function? The early Christians died because they would not obey the state in a civil matter. People often say to us that the early church did not show any civil disobedience. They do not know church history. Why were the Christians in the Roman Empire thrown to the lions? From the Christian’s viewpoint it was for a religious reason. But from the viewpoint of the Roman State they were in civil disobedience, they were civil rebels. The Roman State did not care what anybody believed religiously; you could believe anything, or you could be an atheist. But you had to worship Caesar as a sign of your loyalty to the state. The Christians said they would not worship Caesar, anybody, or anything, but the living God. Thus to the Roman Empire they were rebels, and it was civil disobedience. That is why they were thrown to the lions.

Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto

Yes, we’re sure to face opposition when we profess Christ as King. But that is exactly what Jesus told us to expect. That truth will always offend phoney kings and false gods. Some may even preach Christ as king from envy and rivalry! But whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that, we can rejoice with Paul (Phil. 1:15).

There are many forces grasping for the throne of Christ and many would-be tyrants and false gods who desire our unquestioning obedience. The more we pledge our loyalty to Christ as King, the more they’re going to rage against us. But they rage in vain, and he who sits in the heavens laughs (Ps. 2:4).

So, let’s celebrate the truth we all celebrate at Christmas. The truth we ought to celebrate every day. To quote the famous Christmas carol by Isaac Watts: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”

#ChristIsKing

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