A familiar Advent scripture says that a child will be born to us and the government will rest on his shoulders. A less obviously Advent-related scripture explains what that government will be like. The child, of course, is Jesus. In both scriptures, he has an extensive list of important titles.
The more familiar scripture is Isaiah 9:6-7
6 For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of armies will accomplish this. (NASB)
Isaiah does not describe an ordinary baby, or even an ordinary prince. Among his titles are Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Therefore, Isaiah predicts that God himself will rule from the throne of David. Pious Jews expected a Messiah who would be a son of David and, like David, a military leader. They did not expect the Messiah to be God himself. When Jesus did not fulfill their expectations and threatened the existing power structure, they killed him.
That, it turns out, was part of God’s plan. Paul spells it out in Colossians 1:13-23.
The transfer of citizenship
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The king who governs on the throne of David is both son of David and Son of God. His kingdom has only one rival, the domain of darkness. Other scriptures, especially Revelation, describe its final destruction. In this passage, Paul describes the outcome for the church: Believers who had been subjects of the kingdom of Satan become instead subjects of the kingdom of God.
Subjects of the domain of darkness undergo constant temptation to sin and usually give in to it. Sin is such a great offense to God that it cannot enter his presence. Therefore, the transfer of citizenship requires redemption and forgiveness of sin, which Paul says we have.
Elsewhere, he points out, “You have been bought for a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). In the Old Testament, a redeemer was a close relative who had certain responsibilities, including paying debts to buy family members out of slavery. That costly role serves as a type of Jesus as redeemer.
Jesus is the image of God
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation: 16 for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also the head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
No one has ever seen God. Moses and Isaiah both had brief visions of his back, but the only way to know what God looks like is to look at Jesus. Now, there is no record of his physical appearance. Thousands of pictures of Jesus represent only the guesses of the artists, and artists view Jesus as looking like themselves. White artists paint a white Jesus. Black artists paint a black Jesus, etc. But physical appearance is not at all what Paul means here.
Jesus testified that he did what he saw the Father doing. Therefore, we can see what the invisible God is doing by looking at what Jesus did in Scripture. At the very least, he
- went around doing good
- modeled servanthood
- exemplified love
- taught what God is like
- associated with outcasts
- comforted the afflicted
- afflicted the comfortable
- sharply criticized religious leaders who opposed him
Jesus is the firstborn
In the societies of biblical times, the firstborn son in any family had special rights and privileges. God occasionally exalted a younger son in place of the firstborn. In fact, King Jesus rules from the throne of David, Jesse’s seventh-born son! But God will not exalt anyone above Jesus.
Firstborn means more than first in time. It means supremacy in rank. According to John 3:16, Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. There will never be another begotten Son of God, but firstborn is not the same as only begotten. It implies others will follow. Paul wrote in several places that believers become part of God’s family by adoption. Jesus as firstborn outranks everyone else.
Jesus raised several people from the dead. They all died again later on. Jesus rose never to die again. He is firstborn from the dead, and the believers’ adoption becomes fully manifest after we die never to die again.
This passage calls Jesus the firstborn of all creation as well as firstborn from the dead. In fact, he created all that has been created. Everything that exists, whether visible to human eyes or not, exists for Jesus.
The more we learn about the complexity of the universe, the more it astounds us. Jesus understands it all completely and keeps it operating. The “laws of physics” are not some impersonal principles that run the universe. They describe the outworking of the creative power of Jesus Christ.
Jesus has a special relationship to the church, which is his body. He is the head, and the head cannot say to any other part of the body, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Jesus has chosen to need his church.
The fulness of deity
Scripture proclaims one God in three persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God, distinguishable but not separable. Here, we see that the Father makes the ultimate decisions. It was his pleasure for the fulness of deity to dwell in the human Jesus. Not part of deity, the fulness. And the fulness did not visit Jesus or just hang around with him. It dwells in him. Dwelling implies a certain permanence.
Jesus, therefore, is every bit as divine as he is human. The human Jesus accomplished the task of reconciling all of creation not only to himself but also to the Father. He did so by allowing the forces of darkness to kill him. The son of David died. The Son of God cannot die. As Jesus rules the world from the throne of David, it makes no sense to ponder whether he does so as human or God. He is forever fully both.
The practical significance of Jesus on the throne of David
21 And although you were previously alienated and hostile in attitude, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His body of flesh through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.
The prince of darkness is a usurper who stole what never belonged to him. In Eden, Adam chose to obey Satan rather than God and turned the title deed of all creation over to him (Romans 8:20-21). Satan thereby became the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). By the blood of the cross, Jesus descended into hell and took back everything Adam forfeited. Then he ascended to heaven to occupy the throne of David.
Because we were born under Satan’s government, we were born alienated from God and hostile to him. Satan’s subjects sin habitually and prefer sin to righteousness. The transfer of citizenship first mentioned in verse 13 makes once-sinful humans fully reconciled to God. That is, they become acceptable in his presence, and his character and standards become acceptable to them.
But there is a catch. The Bible does not preach universal salvation. Only people who continue in faith and obedience will benefit from that reconciliation. The gospel, the offer of reconciliation, brings hope. Shifting from that hope brings destruction. Therefore, choose hope.