A common refrain in some Christian circles is “Jesus is Lord”, or the similar “Jesus is King”. I like these images, and they are certainly Biblical. Jesus accepted both of those titles when used in reference to himself. However, the average US believer has little to no first-hand experience with lords and kings. For me, the word “king” evokes a fatherly figure in a fairy tale, or else some litany of historical figures from the middle ages whose names I should know but likely don’t. The caricature of this amalgam of images is someone gentle and kind, old with a beard, rather befuddled and backwards, probably self-aggrandizing and out-of-touch with reality. This is a person who is good at diplomacy, makes compromises, suffers from anxiety at the poor state of his kingdom, and serves mostly as a figurehead. I believe that this image is far from what the authors of the Bible were envisioning when they used Kingly metaphors.
In the ancient near east, kings had power. In Israel’s case, kings served as military conquerors who judged the pagan nations and ushered in the blessings of God. Think of Saul, who defeated the Philistines (with the help of David’s sling against the mighty Goliath). Kings were a strong source of centralized power; checks and balanced didn’t exist. If a king said something, then it was so. This of course lead to all sorts of abuses against the common people and failures in leadership–so it makes sense that God would send his prophets the message that he would bring a Messiah, a wise and good king like David, to his people Israel. This was a person of power who would provide hope for the nations.
The best picture of a centralized power figure in modern times is a dictator. A dictator’s subjects are to be, well, subjected to his every whim, whether it be fair or foul. In a world of bad dictators, a good dictator would be a dream come true! And that is who Jesus is: he is the good dictator. Although this might grate against modern ears, it has the potential to jolt us into a better understanding of the full weight of the power of God.
It is not the task of a Christian to understand all of the motivations of their dictator Christ, but to follow even when it makes no sense. And since Jesus is a GOOD dictator, he does not ask us to follow blindly, but instead leads us after him gently, and towards rest and peace. Jesus’ burden is easy, and his path is light, so it is in our best interest to follow.
To paraphrase John 6:68, if I don’t follow Jesus, where else could I go? What other way leads to eternal life?