There is a play on words going on in the New Testament Gospels, especially in John. They all record Jesus as being crucified, the Roman punishment for rebellion, with the charge written up on the cross ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. Set aside for a moment the fact that Pilate was intending a deep insult to the Jews whom he controlled and despised. The word ‘kingdom’ was indeed at the core of Jesus’ own preaching. Something called the kingdom of God was coming – and you need to be ready.
Soon after the baptism of Jesus and the symbolic coming of the Holy Spirit with power, he wrestled with his calling and his destiny. His initial message is identical to that of John the Baptist before him: ‘the kingdom of God is coming – get ready’. You will recall that Jesus is tempted in the wilderness to bring in that kingdom by spectacular means. He is indeed to be Messiah, Christ, the anointed king – but in complete contrast to Caesar, whose army controlled the known world and whose power would eventually put him to death, mocking his kingship claim. Jesus preached an allegiance which was not ultimately to Caesar, the earthly power.
We need that message, too. Maybe the language of kingship can help us understand our own place in the purposes of God. Our personal identity has a similar duality. We must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s – our worship, our obedience and our love. Of course the kingdom of God is not an alternative to UK citizenship! But we must never forget that we belong as much to the one as to the other.
As we sometimes sing: ‘So be it, Lord, thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away; thy kingdom stands and grows for ever till all thy creatures own thy sway.’
For believers, our loyalty to Christ the king is certainly deeper and more important than any earthly loyalty – and much longer-lasting! I am happy to have this dual citizenship.
Revd Peter Brain