Written by Roland Clarke
Each year at Christmas time people round the world sing, Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. But how many grasp the real reason to rejoice? Millions of people are familiar with the carol, Hark the herald angels sing, including the words of the chorus, Glory to the newborn King. However, few people really understand what this celebration is all about.
Let us begin with a simple statement that many people would agree with: Jesus the Messianic King is born. Pause for a moment and ask yourself, “How many people in the world agree with this statement?” To begin with, there are two billion Christians who believe this but you might be surprised to learn that one and a half billion Muslims also have a similar belief! So if you combine these two figures it comes to a total of 3.5 billion!
Admittedly, there could be some doubt whether all Muslims feel totally comfortable referring to Isa/Jesus as King. However, one needs to bear in mind that the Qur'anic account of Jesus’ birth implies a meaningful link between Messiah and King.(1) Moreover, most Muslims believe Jesus will be the highest ranking world ruler when he returns to earth in the end times. Islamically, the world-wide rule of Isa will end after seven years, nonetheless, it is amazing to imagine more than half the world anticipating the coming of a god-fearing Messiah-King!
But what does the title ‘Messiah’ actually refer to? Pilate instructed those crucifying Jesus Christ to nail a title above his head which reads, King of the Jews. But is that all it means? Could there not be more to it? Is it not possible that Christ’s Messianic dominion will ultimately encompass the whole world? (as implied in the hymn, Joy to the World)
Perhaps you find these questions perplexing? I trust you feel inspired with a sense of awe at envisioning Jesus Christ as King of the world. Regardless how you feel, one thing is certain: we’re not talking about a trivial matter.
Considering the incredible significance of this topic, let us ponder some words of warning from Jesus, “On judgement day many will say to me, Lord, Lord ... Not everyone who calls out to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:22,21 NLT)
From where does the idea of a kingly Messiah come?
As we begin looking at Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah, bear in mind that the carol, Joy to the world, was inspired by Psalm 96. This psalm praises the Lord as the One who reigns over the world, judging it with ‘righteousness’ and with ‘equity’. Both qualities – justice and fairness – give cause for us to rejoice. In fact, they prompt the psalmist to invite not only mankind but the earth, the sea and everything in it to rejoice!
Moreover, the psalm concludes with a crescendo of joy evoked by a sense of anticipation that the King is “coming.” If you read the following quote carefully you will notice that the word “coming” is repeated. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 96:11-13)
Anyone familiar with the prophets knows the expectation of a Messiah-King pervaded their writings. One can see clearly in these prophecies that the Messiah is tasked with ruling in the name of God. A famous Messianic prophesy reads, “But you Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” The prophet continues, “Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God... for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.” (Micah 5:2-5)
This prophecy provides a clue to help answer our earlier question, “Is the Messiah’s kingdom local or global?” In other words, “Is Jesus the King of the Jews (only) or is he also King over the whole world?” Since the Messiah’s greatness extends to “the ends of the earth” the implication is that his kingdom would be worldwide. Fortunately other prophets shed further light on what this means.
Speaking of the Messiah Zechariah prophesied, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, ... He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)
Lets summarize what we’ve explained so far about Psalm 96 (and the carol, Joy to the World). The world is invited to celebrate the coming of its King. Next we examined, “Who is this King?” We traced various prophecies that foretell Messiah’s reign, notably the worldwide scope. Now we’ve reached a point where we need to consider, “Have these predictions really been fulfilled?” We will look at seven clues in the life of Christ which show that he was indeed, a King.
1) Wise men from the east came to see King Herod in the capital city, enquiring about the new born king because they had seen his star (see Matthew 2:1-12).
2) The religious leaders resolved Herod’s dilemma as to who this new born king might be, quoting Micah 5:2. (It is intriguing to also consider the prophecy of Balaam, a Gentile, regarding a star rising out of Jacob and a scepter out of Israel (Numbers 24:17).)
3) Jesus Christ repeatedly preached about the “good news” of the kingdom. We also read that, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:17,23)
4) Towards the end of Christ’s earthly life we read how the Jewish religious leaders objected strongly when Christ’s disciples exuberantly welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus firmly rebuked the leaders, while at the same time, accepting the adulation of his followers (Luke 19:28-40). Of course, Jesus was fully aware that riding a donkey signified an attitude of humility in fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9-10! (Note: this Scripture foretells Messiah’s worldwide reign.)
5) Shortly before the crucifixion Jesus was interrogated by the Roman governor. Pilate pointedly asked Jesus was, “Are you the king of the Jews?” To which Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” (Luke 23:3)
6) Jesus acknowledged his rightful position as king of the Jews but that’s not the end of the story. It is clear that Jesus also taught he will ultimately judge “all the nations” as King. We read this in Matthew 25:31-34, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ...”
7) Further testimony to the Messiah’s worldwide reign comes from the last book of the Bible, Revelation chapter 19 verses 1,6,7,11,16: “I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God ... for our LORD God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice ... I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war... On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written, ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.’”
From this title it is clear that Jesus Christ wields worldwide authority and dominion.
Up to this point our attention has focused almost entirely on the idea of king/kingdom. We’ve give very little attention to the theme of joy. It is fitting, therefore, that we include a few more comments about the kind of King who inspires rejoicing in his subjects.
Salvation inspires rejoicing
Earlier we noted two traits which contribute to the well-being and joy of citizens in God’s kingdom, i.e., a King who rules with justice and fairness. There is, however, another attribute that we shouldn’t overlook – one that is highlighted in the first 3 verses of Psalm 96. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth... proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise.”
You probably noticed three words are in bold font. They correspond to the divine trait which is prominently positioned at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, i.e. the marvellous feat of rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 20:2). It is precisely this attribute which God purposely made an integral part of the first commandment, i.e., “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
Indeed, the attribute (mighty to save) features throughout scripture as a special trait distinguishing the one true God from false gods. Not only so, you recall Revelation 19:1 which tells of a multitude in heaven glorifying God for his ‘salvation’. We see, therefore, from the beginning to the end of Scripture, that God’s salvation is prominently featured. Indeed, God’s saving power is described as ‘the cornerstone’. (Psalm 118:21-25; Acts 4:11-12)
The latter passage is particularly significant because it correlates with the birth of Christ which focuses on the main reason for celebrating Christmas. Acts 4:11-12 plainly states, “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Can you think of a more appropriate way for God to underscore this “cornerstone” truth than to call Mary’s son Jesus – a name that literally means “salvation of God.” We read in Matthew 1:20-21, “... an angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.’”
Salvation is closely linked to mercy. (These two words are used almost synonymously in Jonah 2:6-9.) Is it appropriate to apply these twin traits (merciful, rescuer) to our discussion? Let’s suppose that a certain King shows mercy by pardoning a subject. Is it not true that such an act of mercy would inspire exuberant joy?
So we can see how fitting it is that the Psalmist rejoiced in the LORD as reigning King, knowing he is mighty to save. Another example of rejoicing in divine saving power is seen in the response of Mary to the heavenly messenger. After the angel had informed Mary she would have a special son, she said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)
Concluding Points to Ponder (especially for Muslim readers)
1) Does it perplex you that the Messianic kingdom as portrayed in the Bible is eternal whereas the Hadith teaches that Isa’s (Christ’s) reign over the world will only last 7 years? If you want further clarity on this, I suggest you read, Converging Destinies: Jerusalem, Peace and the Messiah (*).
2) Did you notice that God’s power to save – salvation – is hardly mentioned in the writings of Muslim scholars, much less in the 99 beautiful names of Allah? (Notice particularly how the name Savior is omitted.) For further reading on this I recommend you read, Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? (*). Also I commend Signposts to Paradise (*).
3) Have you ever noticed that there seems to be a note of joy missing in Muslim worship in contrast to biblical worship? For further reading on this I suggest you read Singing the Praises of God (*). Also I would commend to you Khomeini’s evaluation of Islam: (*).
4) Do you realize that the title given to Jesus in the Bible, “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” is at odds with the Qur'an? Not only does the Qur'an denounce calling any human being LORD, the ahadith state: Allah’s Apostle said, “The most awful name in Allah’s sight on the Day of Resurrection, will be (that of) a man calling himself Malik Al-Amlak (the king of kings).” (Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, number 224) This issue of Messiah being King, typifies the contradictions underlying some of the outward similarities between the three main monotheistic faiths. In fact, the root issue that is at stake here is the Deity of the Messiah. The doctrine that God could become man is unthinkable to Muslims. This marks a decisive fork in the road and underscores the necessity of making a choice. John Gilchrist has written a helpful chapter on this in his book, Facing the Muslim Challenge (*).
All Biblical quotations are taken from the New International Version unless stated otherwise.
(1) We noted that the Qur'an testifies implicitly to Jesus Christ being a King. We will also consider how the Hadith explicitly testifies to this truth. Surah 3:45 quotes the angelic messenger as instructing Mary to name her virgin born son ‘Al Masihu Isa’. Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur'an which is one of the most widely circulated Qur'an translations, explains the term Messiah in a footnote. He freely admits that Messiah means ‘to anoint’. He adds that this term comes from the Old Testament practice of anointing “kings and priests to symbolize consecration to their office.”
The Hadith speaks of Jesus Christ coming in the last days as “a just judge” and “a fair leader.” He will wage a massive war that has worldwide ramifications including the conversion of everyone to Islam, peace will prevail across the entire world under the Messiah’s rule for 7 years. (Muslim, Ahmad, Hakim, as referenced on pg. 39 in Signs of Qiyamah and the Arrival of the Maseeh by Mufti Mohammad Shafi) Interestingly, the effects of this peace correspond with a number of biblical prophesies regarding Messiah’s rule, notably the one about the wolf and the lamb living together and the baby playing safely near the hole of a cobra (Isaiah 11:6-8). These details are echoed in authoritative Muslim Ahadith (Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah as quoted by Mufti Mohammad Shafi in ‘Signs of Qiyamah and the Arrival of the Maseeh’, p. 38, Hadith #13).