This Sunday is “Christ the King Sunday,” the last Sunday of what liturgical churches call “Ordinary Time” or the “Season of Pentecost.” It is also the last Sunday of the liturgical year. Next Sunday, these churches will celebrate the beginning of Advent, the annual celebration of the coming of Christ. The year ends with an affirmation that the one whose birth we celebrate about a month from now was, in fact, the king of kings, the king of the universe, the Lord of Lords, the power above all other powers, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
The Reformed churches will mostly sing “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” which begins:
Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee,
And hail him as thy matchless king through all eternity. 
The hymn takes two passages from Revelation and puts them together. On his throne in heaven sits the Great King, who is worthy of all praise, and Christ, the son of God, having defeated death on the cross, is the king of kings (Rev. 4:2). Not everyone in the modern world believes this is a good or holy text, but it would seem that God is taking the role of the ultimate warrior king. A king that will defeat all the enemies of his people. The imagery of Revelation is often war-like, which can hide that the text is not about an earthly war. John knew better than that. He had seen Christ on the cross. He knew the love of God shown on the cross. He also knew of Rome and its kings and lords.
The King of Kings as Lamb of God
To understand what it means to speak of Christ as the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords,” we must begin with a text from Revelation not quoted in the hymn. The scene is as follows: Christ is on his heavenly throne (v. 2). Around the throne are twenty-four elders sitting on thrones representing the tribes of Israel in the Old Testament and the twelve apostles in the New Testament (v. 4). Before the throne, are seven torches of fire symbolizing the seven spirits of God (v. 5).
This is not any earthly throne. It is a symbolic throne that reveals something about God outside of time and eternity. For as those who stand around the throne sit before it and worship the Lord God Almighty, who was and is, and is to come (v. 8), John, perhaps, troubled by the oppression of the church by the Roman Empire, sees a scroll upon which the history of the world and its future is written (5:1). There is no one worthy to open that scroll and break the ski seal (v. 3).
Then John is told to look again at the throne. There, he sees “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” on the throne (v. 5). He then looks again and sees the lamb of God as though it had been slain (v. 6). This is no ordinary lamb. It is a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, an eternally powerful and wise lamb (v. 6).
Then, suddenly, all of those gathered around the throne begin to sing, and this is what they sing:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (v. 9-10).
Then John looks and hears the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircle the throne and the living creatures and the elders and are crying out in a loud voice (v. 11):
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (v. 12).
Then John hears every creature in heaven and on saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation v. 13).
What Kind of King is This?
From the beginning, one of the biggest problems the Jewish people had with the Messiah was the fact that the Messiah was supposed to be a certain kind of leader. He was to be the true son of David, the lion of Judah, the liberator of his people, the savior of Israel. He was not supposed to be a traveling rabbi who annoyed the governing class and ended up dying on a cross. Nevertheless, the apostles make just that proclamation almost immediately after the resurrection (Acts 3:14-18). It had never been the intention of God to give the people of Israel a military Messiah. Instead, the prophets of the Old Testament indicated that he would be a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, a person whose life was given for the sins of others (Isaiah 53). They saw in Jesus the fulfillment of those prophecies.
John knew all this. In 1 John, we learn that Jesus the Messiah is a Messiah of love. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). The love of God is not the love of a particular people or race. It is a love that gives itself to all human beings—even those who reject him. As Paul put it: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). The love of God is not a love reserved for just a few, for God intended in Christ to save everyone (I Timothy 2:6) The love of God that was revealed in Christ is a special kind of love—it is a love extended in self-giving sacrifice for all people whether or not they are open to that love or accept and appreciate the lover.
Implications of the Love of the King
In the past few weeks, we have been exposed to a return of antisemitism by some and, of course, a renewed fear of Palestinians or Muslims by others. It is worth spending a moment thinking about the love of God that has purchased at great cost “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). The nature of the King of kings is such that his followers must also love everyone since the King of kings himself loved everyone.
We can quibble about how exactly this desire of God that all men should be saved from every tribe and nation works. We can spend time debating how predestination plays into this. But, for practical disciples of Jesus, perhaps it is best to think most about the fact that we are called in his name to love everyone and work for the salvation of everyone with the same kind of love Christ showed on the cross. We will find out exactly how predestination works in heaven.
In addition to working for the salvation of everyone, Christians are called to pray for everyone. The reference to God’s universal desire for the salvation of every human being is contained in the following passage:
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time (I Timothy 2:1-6).
God does not just want people to be “saved” in a vague way. He wants Christ-Followers to pray and intercede for all people, even those in authority with whom we disagree, so that we may become godly and holy, as Christ was godly and holy. There’s a reason for this: God wants all people to come to a knowledge of truth and to receive the same blessing of godliness and holiness he reserved for his church. This means that God has the same desire for Jews, Palestinians, Iranians, and others as he has for us. This means that God has the same desire for Republicans and Democrats. It means he has the same desire for Donald Trump and Joe Biden. God wants everyone to receive the benefits of his salvation. He wants it so much that he died on the cross to make it available to anyone and everyone.
If you were like me, the past few years, months, weeks, and days have been a source of some anxiety. When John had his vision and wrote Revelation, he was in such a time. There were wars and rumors of wars. There was an evil or at least incompetent emperor on the throne. The church was experiencing persecution. John himself was in prison. In the midst of all, John looked beyond current events and saw a vision of the future. This vision was a vision of hope, based upon the fact that the work, the real work of the world’s salvation, had been accomplished on the cross; Christ was indeed the Messiah. Therefore, no earthly ruler who did not embody the character of Christ could ultimately prevail. There might be suffering, persecution, and pain, but it would pass away. For the risen Christ rules in heaven.
Perhaps this Christmas season is enough for us to ponder that simple fact. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are persecutions and rumors of persecution. There are manipulations and rumors of manipulations. All of that is real, but it doesn’t matter in the end. The king of kings and Lord of Lord is on the throne, and the lamb that was slain has paid the price of our release from the worst kind of captivity—our own brokenness and alienation from God.
Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns” (1852).