By Rob Beames
Mankind has hungered for power and control since the beginning of time. Many societies have suffered at the hands of greedy monarchs throughout man’s history. Most of us know something about the evil regimes of such dictators like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Saddam Hussein, whose hideously cruel tortures and thoughtless killings kept their kingdoms under control. We might know of other famous kings like King Henry VIII, who frightened his subjects into submission with impetuous and insane antics. There are throngs of lesser known rulers throughout history whose lasting legacy consists of unbelievable brutality utilized to regulate their kingdoms.
For example, Vlad Tepes, Prince of Wallachia (1431 – 1476), was overthrown on three separate occasions, and given the inhuman treatment of his people, it’s no wonder. His bloody methods of torture and murder may have been the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Vlad the Impaler, as he was known, was legendary for atrocities which included almost every imaginable evil one could impart on another human being, including his preferred method of execution which earned him his nickname. Impaling exacted torture for hours, or even days before the victim’s death, and was intended to strike fear into the populace, much like crucifixion did in the Roman Empire during the time of Christ. Reportedly, Tepes imposed these barbarous methods of death on anyone who broke his laws, especially for the crimes of lying, stealing and adultery. It is said that both men and women, regardless of age, religion or social class were subject to these gruesome punishments with absolutely no exceptions.
As Christians, we often talk about God as our King, and rightfully so. He reigns over the inhabitants of His kingdom by residing within their hearts. He governs very differently than any other ruler. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment…” (1 John 4:18). Our King is the personification of perfect love.
One day, our God will rule, not only spiritually in our hearts, but physically over us in space and time. When that happens, His enemies will be totally and completely destroyed, which is an accomplishment no previous king can claim. Not one individual will remain in His realm with the hope of usurping His power, and no person in the expanse of His Kingdom will ever want anything other than for Him to occupy His rightful place on the throne. It’s the grand, old story which has been repeatedly, though incompletely, told in books and movies, and it’s the hope of all His faithful from every generation.
Ever wonder what it will be like when Christ physically returns? If we were to imagine, we might envision a vast plain as far as the eye can see in every direction, filled with a countless multitude attentively standing in eager anticipation. This nation, unlike any other seen before, is a massive gathering of all the righteous men and women who have ever lived from every race and position—all are equal here. They stand as perfect, physical specimens of health, strength and maturity. They do not appear to need the protection, provision or the direction of a king. They lack nothing, and yet stand in unison with an expectant gaze fixed toward a magnificent chair lifted high across a vast crystal sea awaiting the official enthronement of their King for all time. From the throne lightening streaks across the sky. Thunder continuously rumbles from this grand chair. Before the throne seven brilliant lamps are blazing.
Then, the long-anticipated One approaches the throne and is seated. With no further cue—the masses drop to a knee at precisely the same time. The singular sound of every knee simultaneously hitting the ground is deafening: like a sudden clap of thunder. The earth shakes from the force. Immediately, a unified chant erupts and continues with the volume of crashing waves against a rocky shore, “Praise Yahweh! Glory, honor and power belong to our Lord and God! We are His, and He is ours!”
The actual event is more accurately described the last book of the Bible, and will undoubtedly be much more fantastic than the musings above, but there will be a notable difference between Christ’s coronation and that of Vlad the Impaler. There will be no presence of fear; only awe and respect. Every enemy who might have cringed at this ultimate show of power will have been exiled far away, never to be seen again. Every knee that drops—and all of them will—bowed willingly, anxiously and out of a love which will never be duplicated. Every tongue which confesses allegiance to this King will do so with great desire and an eagerness to express what it feels in the heart.
The New American Standard Bible expresses God’s invitation to His people in this way, “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:22-23).
Those aren’t the words of a tyrant seeking to dominate the masses, but rather the words of the only One with the power to save, inviting anyone who wants to share in His kindness. His people will pledge their allegiance out of love, gratitude and a sincere affection for their King. Although some kings obtained involuntary, short-lived submission with the threat of cruel death—not so with this King. When the “ends of the earth” bow to Him, it will be for an eternity, and out of a deeply devoted loyalty to Him. His subjects will truly love and adore Him, as opposed to the subjects of other kings who only verbalized that sediment out of fear.
This genuine relationship God has with His own may help answer a question we may have all asked ourselves at one time or another, “If God does exist, why doesn’t He simply come down and prove it to everyone?” Well, His ways are not our ways. We have come to expect this type of intimidation from sinful rulers—a sort of “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” mentality. God certainly “has it,” but He has no need to “flaunt it.” If He were to do this, every soul would indeed submit to Him, but for many, their homage would be forced out of pure fear. It would not flow sincerely from the hearts of the vast majority, and sadly, there would be no chance left for them to do so.
But does He really deal with us in kindness today? Sometimes it’s difficult to feel His love, and it doesn’t always seem like we escape His punishment either. The answer in one word is: propitiation. This is a word theologians define as God’s just wrath which was intended for us—once His enemies—but was satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross. Basically, it means God doesn’t need to punish us, because He punished Jesus in our place. Jesus atoned for our crimes against God, so we could have a loving relationship with Him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This completed atonement, or propitiation, allows our King to deal with us in kindness, rather than with threats of punishment.
This was God’s plan from the very beginning. Although in the Old Testament, God can sometimes appear to be no different than any other power-wielding sovereign, He was then continuously pointing His people forward to the coming Messiah who would seal His covenant of grace. Through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks about this aspect of propitiation which Christ accomplished for us, “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
When Israel begged Samuel for a king, they asked for the most impressive physical representative among them, and crowned Saul as their first king. After Saul’s unfaithfulness, God lead Samuel to crown the unimpressive looking David, saying, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Throughout the Bible, we discover that this is His primary concern: the attitude of our hearts.
Anyone in power can take the easy pathway to submission by a show of brute force, but the response won’t be genuine, and it won’t be lasting. No, He desires heartfelt devotion, which can only be earned. He purchased our adoration at a great price. As the only true God, He already deserved this kind of devotion from us, but He paid a king’s ransom to get it anyway. Wow! Who else loves us like that?
This means that we can trust that God doesn’t use the fear of punishment to motivate us now. This gives us the peace to accept the decisions we have made in the past, and in some cases this means forgiving ourselves. It can also give us the courage to step out of our comfort zones in the future. We can hold fast to the fact that our King deals with us in love like no one else can. That’s a story which is not found in the annals of our earthly kingdoms. That’s the story of a King like no other.