In statist mythology, distorted versions of Romans 13 could be seen as the trunk of a theological tree. But it is a tree with many branches, and several secondary scriptures have been thought to bolster the idea of the state as a divinely ordained institution:
In one popular classical composition, Handell’s Messiah, the term “King of Kings” does directly quote from the book of Revelation. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that. However, the implication in the minds of most listeners is that the kings and lords of government are specially exalted alongside, or just slightly below the Saviour. Their belief being that the lords and kings of this age are rightful associates and caretakers, specially charged with reigning supreme until heaven finally merges with the “good” kings and lords.
Of course, the music does apparently exalt Christ as supreme, satisfying the religious requirement, but in doing so it does also seem to glorify and endorse the co-holiness of heads of state – for the present time and by implication, on into the foreseeable future – “…forever more” in fact.
Not long ago, a YouTube of this music went viral. Many genuinely Christian people loved it. One church I visited even ran it on a big screen. Like so many others, it was full of good people, but deeply ensnared in the “social justice” doctrine – a teaching which all but abolishes personal, family and church social responsibilities in favour of organised theft by state and the rule of its officials.
On instinct, I later had one of the young men in my household look up the composer’s credentials. And it was as suspected: His was a life lived at other royal subjects’ expense, on the king’s dole, travelling Europe from king’s court to king’s court.
There was no evidence the man was not sincere. Yet at the same time, there can be little doubt that any composition which bit those hands that fed him, would never storm the royal music charts. And there can be little doubt that any composition which glorified those hands would be much more likely to receive a warm royal welcome, critical royal acclaim – and a rich royal reward.
But the song directly quotes scripture, so how can it be wrongly interpreted?
Note first of all, that even Satan directly quoted out of context portions of scripture to Jesus in the wilderness temptation. However rather than this, the problem here seems to have more to do with a preconditioned pattern of thought in the listeners, in combination with a possible ambiguity in the phrase, “King of kings”.
Actually, there are three types of kings mentioned in the Bible:
The True King
The first is Christ, the only true supreme King:
“…the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom [be] honor and everlasting power. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6:15-16
The King Jesus is however, to be differentiated in nature from the current, usurping “rulers of this age” which the Apostle Paul referred to as worthless in 1 Corinthians 2:5-6:
“…your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God… not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.”
These would be the second type of king the Bible refers to. These government rulers exist as a reality, due to the sovereign will of human beings on earth, but their evil nature is clearly documented in 1 Samuel 8 – and their origins go back to the first kingdom of Nimrod, as recorded in Genesis 10 and 11.
This nature was spectacularly underlined and demonstrated miraculously to God’s ancient people of Israel by the senior Judge and prophet Samuel as recorded in 1 Samuel 12:
“Now therefore, stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes: Is today not the wheat harvest? I will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves.
So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.”
It is inconceivable that the same God who identified this wickedness so clearly under the Old Covenant would suddenly offer full endorsement to the kings and governments of this age under the New. In God’s mercy and for our sake, the rulers of state systems may be tolerated for the present, but as the ongoing “enemies” of God, their destiny is only to be abolished:
“Then [comes] the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.”
In the meantime, our mission as believers is to exercise our God-given authority and dominion on earth, including through prayer, in order that the present systems may be restrained from their evil tendency – and to hasten their demise:
“In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name
Your kingdom come
Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven…
…For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen”
This spotlights the third and more legitimate form of “king” or ruler on this earth – as set out in the very first chapter of the Bible:
“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness… …Let them have dominion …over all the earth”
Human beings were here given personal dominion on earth as sovereign individuals. Although this was compromised through Adam’s fall, those restored by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, are in reality the true “kings of the earth”. And not only at some time in the future or in the hereafter, but our status under God is a past-tense accomplishment by Jesus and therefore, a present tense reality:
“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him [be] glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Revelations 1:5-6
In fact, the original dominion of humankind was never actually lost, but was rather submitted to Satan by Adam in the Garden of Eden, resulting in “death” or separation from God and the de facto prevailing dominion of Satan on earth. In the Epistles of Paul the devil is therefore called, “the god of this world” – and whose manifested operation on earth is in large part through the government force of earthly kings.
However, with the triumph of Jesus, “the last Adam” at the cross and his resurrection from the dead, legally this dark demonic hold over humanity was broken. At the resurrection Christ made, “a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it“.
Moreover in Ephesians, the Bible says Jesus did this as our representative and that those who believe,
“have been raised up together with Christ and seated together with him in heavenly places“.
Which is why Revelations chapter 1 says that God, “made us to be kings” – a status also confirmed in Romans 5:
“…death reigned from Adam to Moses… those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life through Christ“
At least one other translation reads, “…shall reign in life as kings” – because here the original word “reign” is from the Greek root word “basileao” for royalty.
The Gospel message is in large part about not only the restoration of, but also a massive increase in, the sovereignty of mankind through Jesus’ victory. Through the resurrection, Jesus snatched the keys of death and hell – and kicked the prison door wide open for “whosoever will” to go through. In His Kingdom there is no violence and no theft; but also of course, no one is forced to be there either.
It may well be that some who enjoy the music of Handell’s Messiah have interpreted the refrain, “King of kings and Lord of lords” to emphasise the superiority of Christ over his/our enemies. Indeed, the Book of Daniel does use the term in this way. In which case, may they long continue to enjoy the music – however unlikely it may be that this was the composer’s original interpretation…
In conclusion, Jesus is indeed the eternal “King of kings” – but in that phrase, it is those who believe in him which are the true “kings” in the eyes of God. Our task is to teach and proclaim the all sufficient Kingdom of God; so that those enslaved in darkness under the ruling systems of this world can freely choose to become the sovereign individuals they are intended to be, as a free gift from the Sovereign Creator.