[T]he majority of men [have] thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; … these [therefore have] no place either in private affairs or in politics… [A]s long as individuals and states [refuse] to submit to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
These words, first declared in 1925 and clearly relevant today, identified a major problem within the culture of the world: people are acting as if there is no High King and the ‘kings’ of this world fall woefully short. “Christ the King Sunday” was introduced to the Church year as a way to address this problem and it must be admitted that the problem and the solution (a call for submission to God’s Kingship) are as relevant today as they were at the beginning of the 20th century. This article outlines that original argument for Christ the King Sunday, highlighting the points that evangelicals can readily embrace.
“The rise and fall of human authority”
The Bible affirms that God is the Creator and thus Ruler of all things and yet since our first ancestors, our race has tended not to accord to God the kingly authority that He deserves. As a consequence, at various points in history and to varying degrees, human beings have claimed for themselves supreme authority over the earth.
The result has not been good: even now we recognize the shortcomings of governments and leaders whose authority has been undermined by the sins of greed, self-centredness and idolatry. “With God and Jesus Christ … excluded from political life, with authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated. The result is that human society is tottering to its fall, because it has no longer a secure and solid foundation.”
“The ‘alternative’ authority”
Thankfully, God, the Ruler of the World by virtue of His Creation of the World, saw fit to again assert His authority as Ruler by redeeming for Himself a people out of their sin by giving Himself as a Servant King.
The Old Testament bears witness to the need for a divine King: in the time before the Hebrew kings, it was clear that a sovereign ruler was needed to deliver the people out of their downward spiral of sin and selfishness. When earthly kings were finally given though, they bore witness to the fact that no merely human king could ever be sufficient, because of their own human shortcomings. A divine King, like that foretold by Isaiah (9:6-7), was necessary.
The New Testament confirms that Jesus, given as the Messiah, is in fact the long-anticipated King. He Himself acknowledges “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mat 28:18 ESV) and John’s vision at the end of the age sees Him clothed in garments identifying Him as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19:16) – the Highest King.
The Messiah reigns now over the lives of believers and in regard to spiritual things, He is supreme, having triumphed over the rulers and authorities (Eph 2:15). He is though also ruler of the material realm, holding all things together until His arrival in power at the end of the age (Col 1:17, 2 Pet 3:7).
The already not yet rule of God is far superior to any human authority, free in every way from sin and in fact compelled by humility and compassion.
“Christ the King Sunday as an intentional submission to the rule of God”
Given the ultimate superiority of God’s rule over any earthly power, opportunity ought to be given to promote and celebrate God’s Kingdom. Christ the King Sunday was established to that end, to heighten awareness of the supremacy of God’s Kingdom, to believers and unbelievers alike so that they “…may so order their lives as to be worthy … faithful and obedient subjects of the Divine King.”
Christ the King Sunday was originally set into the liturgical year as ‘the crowning glory of the life and work of Christ already proclaimed throughout the year.’ This is an important aspect of the timing (as the culmination of the Church year), but it also affords the opportunity to explore the eschatological implications of the Advent season: as surely as the Messiah King came once as a baby, He will surely return as the conquering King of kings. The supreme reign of God should inform our understanding of Advent as we approach Christmas. The baby in the manger is in fact the supreme ruler of the world – ruling even now – and He will come again.
There is much in the celebration of Christ the King Sunday that evangelicals can affirm, and our lives of faith can surely benefit from the opportunity to affirm our loyalty to Christ our King. We may just find ourselves singing ‘Hark the herald angels sing’ in a whole new way:
Glory to the newborn King!
Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and consultant currently serving Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario. An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at jbdomusic.com or @gwgladstone.
 Pope Pius XI, Encyclical on the Feast of Christ the King, December 11, 1925, i. https://www.newadvent.org/library/docs_pi11qp.htm.
 Quoted in Pius XI, xviii.
 Pius XI, xxix.
 Pius XI, xxix.