When God spoke to the Israelites through Moses, prior to giving them the Ten Commandments, He promised them, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6a; ESV).”
A “kingdom” is a country belonging to a king, and God desired to be King over His people. But the people of Israel did not honor God as king, nor keep His word as they should so that the Scriptures state that, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; ESV).” Instead of obeying the voice of God, they followed their own desire.
Eventually, they further rejected God by demanding that God appoint a human king for them. This displeased the prophet Samuel, but God comforted Samuel saying, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them (1 Samuel 8:7; ESV).”
Many years later, God sent His Son, anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be the King of Israel. Concerning Jesus it was prophesied, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33; ESV).”
Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, declaring it was at hand. Those who had rejected God as their king would have the opportunity to accept His covenant, obey His voice and begin again.
But the Jews, represented by their leaders, walked in the footsteps of their ancestors and rejected God’s will. They were not satisfied with the King God had chosen for them but instead declared to Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar (John 19:15b).”
Consider what a sweeping statement that was, and how utterly it condemned the chief priests as the uttered it. No king but Caesar meant that they recognized no law but that which Caesar gave, that they would be a part of no kingdom except that which belonged to Caesar. They were confessing their rejection of God’s will, God’s law, and God’s kingdom. And because they rejected God, He rejected them as both His priests, and His nation, allowing Jerusalem and the Temple to be destroyed forty years later as foretold by Jesus Himself (cf. Matthew 24:1-2).
But not all rejected Jesus as King. There were those who accepted His authority. There were those who desired to heed the voice of God and be a part of the Covenant with Christ. In these the desire of God to be King was fulfilled. Of these, the Scriptures, echoing the words of Exodus, declare “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9; ESV).”
Elsewhere it is declared of the followers of Jesus, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14; ESV).” Christians are joined by God to the Kingdom of Christ and are a holy nation for the glory of God. What an honor to be a part of that divine nation.
But to be that Kingdom that God desires we must still heed His voice, keep His covenant, and walk in His word. We must honor Christ as the King and honor His words as our Law. We must choose to serve Him over all others and submit ourselves to His will.
How many, having that blessed opportunity to partake of the Kingdom of Heaven instead live as if they have no King, doing only that which is right in their own eyes? How many, having been given the perfect monarch, yearn instead to be led by men, thus rejecting God as their sovereign? How many, out of political expediency or earthly motivations, choose to instead give their allegiance to those who cannot save? When they do this are they not in effect declaring, “we have no king but Caesar,” in harmony with the Jews of yore?
Its easy to fault, with hindsight and the removal of years, the choices of the Israelites in rejecting God as King. It is easy to shake our heads at their foolishness and observe how their choices led to suffering. But if we are to be honest with ourselves, we must recognize that we today are given the same choice and an even greater opportunity to be a part of God’s people, and that a great number of us make the exact same choice as they did.
If we make the same choices, we should not expect much better results.
The church of Christ invites you to worship with us and study God’s word with us, at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. If you have any questions or comments, we invite you to share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.