Today is the Feast of Christ the King. My sense is that for contemporary people, this feast can be difficult insofar as those of us living in a democracy don’t resonate well with the notion of kingship itself. When I was in elementary school, my image of a king was King George III of England, the “bad guy” whom the colonial Americans left behind in order to form a new land of greater freedom. I suspect that for most of us, the image of God as “king” might resonate more with some of these negative kinds of images of God as a powerful ruler, interested in our subjection.
The good news is that Jesus speaks about God’s kingdom in a remarkably similar context. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jewish people?” and when Pilate asks this question, he clearly has in mind a notion of political power and rule. No doubt, Pilate is wondering about Jesus’ power over the people and whether or how this power aligns with his own position as a Roman prefect. Pilate understands kingship as political power, and perhaps even as political power where the interest of the ruler takes precedence over the well being of those who are ruled.
Jesus tells Pilate that he has the idea entirely wrong: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). We could understand “not of this world” to mean that Jesus is king in some other worldly heaven, separate from this earth. But this would not make sense of the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Clearly, Jesus’ life was meant for us, here on earth, we who are still alive. So for Jesus to say that his kingdom is not of this world, cannot simply mean that when we die, we will finally discover God’s kingdom, but meanwhile, we still wait. Neither can it only be about the Second Coming, although we do affirm that there will be one.
Instead, we can look at Jesus’ life as a whole to understand what his kingdom is about, and his life was a life of love. God’s kingdom exists in this world not in locations of political power, but everywhere that love is found. Where there is peace where war once existed, there is God’s kingdom manifest. Where there was separation and now there is reconciliation and harmony again, there is God’s kingdom. Where we see people say to one another, “I love you” and the reply is, “I love you, too”—whether in words or in loving actions—the kingdom of God is at hand.
We do still wait for the fullness of God’s kingdom. This is why we have Advent, and why we await the second coming of Christ. The love of God working through human history is not yet complete. Many places and situations in our world still need that love to redeem, heal, and reconcile. People still suffer from war, poverty, injustice, and even our natural world is in need of redemptive justice. We wait in Advent—and we also remember that no matter what time of the year, we are also a Pentecostal people where the Spirit continues to work through us, our lives and our loves. We cooperate with and participate in God’s gracious love whenever we let it work through our lives.
Christ is king. His kingdom is not “of” this world, but it is “in” this world (as well as, no doubt, the next one). His kingdom is hidden in a way, but can be clearly seen if we look for the right kinds of signs. Let us look for signs of the reign of Christ’s love, and the places of light. Let us also ask God to continue to bring that love into more and more spaces in our world, through and in our own lives, as we await the final coming of the kingdom.