Context of Christmas: from kings to the King of kings

ImageIf it is fitting that we Christians celebrate the Birth of the Jesus (Christmas), then we should endeavor to do so in Truth, the Word of God. It isn’t enough to simply reject the santaism that competes with the message of Jesus, or the materialism that robs us of our peace and joy and even goodwill toward men. I’d like to devote the next few articles to the wonder of the birth of Jesus. Luke 2 and Matthew 2 are wonderful passages chronicling the birth of our Savior, but I’d like to look at this event as the centerpiece of the bible, rather than simply the beginning of the New Testament. This will be my humble attempt at an overview of the Bible in many ways. As such, I will be using a lot more references to scripture (without including the texts here) than I am accustomed. I pray you will find the time to look up the passages referenced for your edification.

Today, I want to look at the significance of title “King of kings”. It is a title of the ultimate supremacy of God over all of the kings of men, and it is a title specifically worn by Jesus in Revelation 19:

Revelation 19:16 (NASB) 16 And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

In the Beginning, when God created man, His desire was to be with us. He desired to have us freely choose to love Him, and live in His presence. To do so, we simply needed to obey Him (Gen 2:15-18). Adam failed in that regard, seeking rather to be like God knowing both good and evil. God immediately spared man from eternal separation from Him by removing man from the garden (Gen 3:22-24), and promising to make a way for the redemption of man by the seed of woman (Gen 3:15). As an aside, I’d like to point out that the enmity is between Satan and mankind. We too often falsely elevate Satan to being the opposite God. He is merely “in opposition” to God, but by this time he had already been cast out (defeated) by God. He remains a viscous foe only to created beings (men and angels, and the lesser creatures). We know that he opposed Jesus to the cross, at which point Jesus crushed Satan’s head and gained victory over the darkness. A second victory for God, the first victory for man, for He was both fully God and fully man (the seed of woman, but not of man, for He was born of a virgin. Isaiah 7:14, Matt 1:18-25; John 1:1-4,14).

What follows next is a long succession of mankind demonstrating their desire to do evil, all the while God is reaching out to creation to return to Him. Finally, one man finds favor with God and seeks to serve Him faithfully. God makes a covenant with Abraham:

Genesis 17:1-8 (NASB)
1 Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him,
“I am God Almighty;
Walk before Me, and be blameless.
2 “I will establish My covenant between Me and you,
And I will multiply you exceedingly.”
3 Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying,
4 “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you,
And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram,
But your name shall be Abraham;
For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. 7 I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

Notice that God’s promise is to be the God of Abraham’s decedents. Kings will come from him, and a multitude of nations, but God promises He will be their God “throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant”. Again, God’s purpose remains to be our God and to make us fruitful. This takes place roughly 2100 years BC. So then we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (whose name gets changed to Israel in Gen 32:28). This whole time, there are other peoples who worship false gods and have their own kings. God uses Egypt to preserve Israel through a terrible famine, but the Children of Israel tarry too long in their comfort under Pharaoh… a situation that declines rapidly once Joseph dies and a new Pharaoh chooses to treat Israel harshly. And so, God raises up a leader (Moses) from among them, raised within the very house of Pharoah until his exile… an exile where Moses meets God in a burning bush (Exodus 3), and is called by God to rescue God’s chosen people, the children of Israel. God identifies Himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He was moving mightily to rescue Israel and honor the covenant. In Exodus 12, God delivers Israel out of Egypt, just as Jesus’ sacrifice delivers us from the kingdom of darkness (1 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:25-28). The exodus beings in roughly 1446 BC.

But Israel would have a terrible time walking in freedom. The generation that was pulled out of Egypt just couldn’t let go of Egypt, it’s rulers or its gods, and for their sin God had to wait for the next generation to lead them into the promised land. Joshua follows God (and so leads Israel) into the promised land… but Israel failed to follow God completely, and as soon as Joshua dies, they chase after false gods and marry foreigners. And so begins a period of raising up judges to rescue Israel from oppression, only to see a period of piece, followed by sin and its consequential oppression once more (the book of Judges and 1 Samuel).

So it continues until the time of Samuel. The story of Samuel is awesome, but that’s for another time. Though Samuel served God faithfully, his sons did not. Samuel appointed his sons as judges over Israel, and they fell into sin, seeking dishonest gain and taking bribes for perverting justice (1 Sam 8). It is at this point that the elders of Israel came to Samuel and demanded that he appoint a king to judge over Israel. This greatly troubled Samuel.

Here in the U.S., we are far removed from having a king. We have a veritable pantheon of elected officials to whom we give great power over us, but we do not have a solid concept of a king. The Israelites had over them the priests, judges, and prophets. Each office was a position of authority over the people of Israel; however, the seat of their authority was firmly established in God. The priests, prophets, and judges were advocates of the people to God. A king is something different. What the Israelites were saying was that they no longer wanted to be judged and ruled over by God or His advocates, they wanted to carve out their own identity, have their own kingdom, patterned more after the kingdoms around them that served false gods. So God gave them over to their desire for a king, with a strong warning of what would come of it (read the remainder of 1 Sam 8). Saul becomes the first king of Israel in roughly 1050 BC.

When Saul sins against God, the Lord leads Samuel to anoint David as King. Now David being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) serves God mightily and wanted to build for God a Temple. God denies his request (1 Chr 28:3) but David gathers up materials for the Temple that would be built later by Solomon in roughly 970 BC.

1 Chronicles 28:6-7(NASB) 6 [God] said to [David], ‘Your son Solomon is the one who shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be a son to Me, and I will be a father to him. 7 I will establish his kingdom forever if he resolutely performs My commandments and My ordinances, as is done now.’ (emphasis mine)

Solomon did not keep God’s commandments, and as a result, he was the last king over a unified Israel. Israel was split into 2 kingdoms, “Israel” to the north, and “Judah” to the south. Jerusalem, where the Temple was built, remained the capital city of Judah, and Samaria became the capital of Israel. In 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded Israel and scattered its tribes in exile. These are known as the lost tribes of Israel, because they never again returned to the land of Israel as a people. Their final king was Hosea. Judah lasts a bit longer until approximately 586 BC, when Babylon takes Jerusalem and destroys the Temple. King Nebuchadnezzar takes as captive “some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:3b-4). But not all of Israel was taken to Babylon. Those that remained, suffered greatly. Without a king, without their nobles, best craftsmen leaders, intellectuals… they were left to starve and fend for themselves. The book of Lamentation was written in Judah during the Exile.

Now Cyrus, a Persian king, had conquered all of the kingdoms. The book of Ezra picks begins with a proclemation made by Cyrus:

Ezra 1:1-4 (NASB)
1 Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:
2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.’”

Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, so in his mind, he was simply supporting all “good gods” in the epic struggle against the “evil gods”. Aside: How awesome is it that God can use and has used pagans and pantheists to work His Will! But God used Cyrus and the Persian empire to not only put an end to the Exile, but to commission the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple using Persian funding! Ezra and Nehemiah cover the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem. This second temple is dedicated in roughly 516 BC, but Israel does not regain its independence, only it’s Temple and its identity under Persian rule. Alexandar the Great defeats the Persian empire, and the Greeks then rule over Jerusalem beginning roughly 333 BC. The Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes reigned over Judah from about 175 BC to about 164 BC and tried to destroy the Jewish religion and copies the Torah. He also defiled the Temple in Jerusalem by making it a temple to Zeus and demanding pigs be sacrificed within the temple (Daniel 11:31-35). The Maccabees revolted and gained some independence until  the Romans took over in 63 BC.

Now the stage is set. The throne of David seems all but abandoned. Israel is but a shadow of what it once was. For nearly 400 years now, the Prophets have been silent… and the people are looking for a Messiah. When the Romans took over, they placed Herod as governor over Jerusalem. He commissioned many an architectural wonder in expanding the Temple Mount (actually enlarging the mountain around the Temple, we’ll discuss this in greater detail later). But many Jews suffered under Herod. He would appoint High Priests in the Temple of his choosing, and should any of them disagree with Herod, He’d remove them and place another. Israel, wanted to be made free. This is why the message of Jesus was so completely difficult for the Jews to accept… especially for those who recognized Him as possibly the Christ:

John 10:22-24 (NASB) 22 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

Now that we have established a historical and biblical context for the birth of Jesus, in the next blog I plan on looking at some of the really cool statements made in the Luke and Matthew accounts of the birth of our Savior. We will be looking at prophecies from Daniel and Isaiah for sure. In the meantime, I hope this has been at least interesting for some of you.

May the Lord bless and keep you in His Will,

FS

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