It seems that many don't know Jesus' true identity. Sure, they've heard Him called "king," but lots apparently think that is a euphemism, for "a really neat guy." They analogize His title as King of Kings to mean something like, "king of my heart," or "king of spiritual things." Loads seem not to realize that when the Bible talks about Jesus as King, it means it literally. When He returns, He will return with blazing power. He will rule. The angel who appeared to Mary, in talking about Jesus' eternal career, gave this job description:
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give 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.
Sounds pretty literal, doesn't it? Although Jesus may be a king in many figurative ways, the Bible presents Him as a literal king who will rule in the hereditary line of King David. That means His throne will be located in Jerusalem, Israel. His rule will last forever. Not only will He rule over Israel but the whole world. In his letter to the Romans Paul explained one of Isaiah's prophecies:
There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.
“He will reign over the Gentiles,” Paul said. The term gentiles (in the plural) is often used as a designation that means the whole world. Jesus is going to be the King of the whole world. That’s not a figure of speech. He’s going to have a government administration which He manages from Jerusalem.
It turns out he's not a stingy King who hoards power. Instead, He is interested in giving you a slice of the pie, so to speak. He's looking for worthy servants to manage portions of that world-wide kingdom. He's watching to see if you'd make a good counselor, judge, shepherd, or even king or queen. Even right now, he's considering what job might fit your particular skill set and level of faithfulness. Notice how readily He is willing to share His governance with His servants when He said:
And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations.
Who can say stuff like that? Imagine if I went around telling my friends, “If you obey me I’ll make you president of the country.” They would think I’m nuts. So, either Jesus is crazy to think He can pass out positions of power, or He is going to be king. There is no middle ground here.
Jesus said that He would give power over the nations to those who obey. If you are faithful to him, He will remember your faithfulness when He begins to pass out posts in His government system. By the way, this is no new idea. The prophets had been talking about this opportunity for centuries before Jesus arrived. There are lots of examples, but my favorite comes from Daniel. He said:
But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’
Daniel points out that the saints (that's us) will possess the kingdom forever. The implication seems to be that once Jesus appoints His ruling class, they will always be His ruling class. There is a permanence to the kingdom arrangement. That's one of the reasons it matters so much that you get with the program. If you play loose with your Christian life, you may be missing out on a tremendous opportunity not just for a little while, but for all eternity.
In Revelation, there is a song that will be sung in Heaven. A verse of it goes like this:
For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth.
What a fantastic praise and worship song. Notice that one of the things that the Lord is being praised for is "making us kings and priests" and allowing us to "reign on the earth." His work was not only to give salvation but so that those who receive salvation would be made into priests and kings.
In the Old Testament, priests could only be from the tribe of Levi. However, here we find out that God will use people from every tribe and tongue for His class of priestly rulers. Peter adds to this idea by telling us a little bit about what the career of a royal priest will look like when he says:
But you are… a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him.…
The royal position that faithful believers will have will not be for the ego-bloating of the royal priest. The purpose is to glorify God. The work that Jesus’ royal class will engage in will be a job of God-honoring duties.
Wanting to be among the ruling class is not a self-centered aspiration. If you think it is, it's probably because so many earthly kings have been so bad. Instead, in the Kingdom Jesus will appoint people to positions of priestly rule so that they can honor, praise, and worship God through their work. They will, likewise, be leading the inhabitants of the earth to do the same. What an amazing job. I can't wait!
Paul gave us another indication to what it will take to be appointed to this royal priestly vocation when he said:
For if we died with Him, We shall also live with Him. If we endure, We shall also reign with Him.
Once again we see the common thread of endurance. Short-lived enthusiasm won't do it. A spiritual sprinter is not the one for whom Jesus is watching. He's looking for someone who can run the marathon and not faint. Like a skill-eyed coach, he's assessing His servant's commitment to the long distance race. Certainly, some rewards will be "laid up" for those who demonstrate isolated stints of faithfulness. However, rulership in the order of the heavenly priesthood is not a job for the faint-hearted.
We get a sense of what kind of attributes He values in His royal priests from words spoken during His ministry. Most forget the context of the verse I’m about to show you. Jesus was explaining what heavenly rulership would be like when He said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.
The mother of two of the disciples had just asked Jesus to appoint her sons to high royal positions in the kingdom of God. He was explaining that rulership in the Kingdom won't look like the rule of human kings of the past. Instead, servant leadership is critical. Those who desire authority to "lord it over" others are not suited for this job. This is an occupation for those who understand what it means to be a servant. In a more concise statement Jesus put it this way in another place:
Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth.
Do you want to inherit the earth? If your answer is “Yes,” then be careful. If you want to inherit the earth to exercise power over other people, you probably are not acting meekly. Sometimes the best leaders are the ones who don't desire to lead. In this case, Jesus is judging who He will put in charge of portions of His kingdom based on meekness. Those who will take the attitude of a servant may well hear these words of Jesus when they enter the kingdom of God:
‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’
What a powerful thought that Jesus will decide whether you are suited for being heavenly royalty based on your actions now. So consider this a job interview, the longest job interview of your life. In fact, the job interview is your life.
As with most things, it's easy to get the focus off of Jesus. This is especially true when we start talking about our destiny as Heaven's royal authorities. The thing to remember is what the true reward is. Though it's a beautiful reward to reign with Christ, reigning without Christ would not be a reward at all. It's Jesus and our proximity to Him that makes the reward worth having.
All believers will be “with Christ” throughout eternity. However, the higher the position a resurrected believer is appointed to, the closer he or she will be to the King of Kings, Jesus. There will be those who performed so poorly during their life that they will be blocked from some of the privileges shared by faithful believers. Others will receive a partial reward and a lower position. For these there will be waiting a kind of middle management role, so to speak. Jesus reveals that there are even positions at His right hand and at His left hand.
The greatest reward will not be the job we are given, but the closeness that job affords us to the boss. Though all saved people will have a satisfying relationship with the Lord throughout eternity, those at the right hand and left hand of Jesus will have much more interaction and contact with Him than those in middle management, or lower.
A lot of people seem to panic when they consider existing forever. Add to that the idea propagated by popular culture that our cloud-sitting eternal existence might be a bit boring. Anyone who thinks Heaven will be boring has failed to see the incredible satisfaction that heavenly work will afford the worker.
Let’s imagine you’re looking for a job. You start by looking for local, “now hiring” signs. When you finally find an opening, what’s the first thing you want to know about that potential job opportunity? You probably want to know the size of the paycheck. We’ve spent pages talking about that. So what’s the next thing you want to know about a job opening? You want to see the job description.
As it turns out, we have a description for the job of Christ's co-rulers. Though we have to piece it together, since it appears all through the Bible. Let's find out what Heaven's royalty will be doing with all that time we are going to have on our hands. The job is probably not like what you're thinking.
There will likely be much more to the job than we know, but a common thread runs through descriptions of the kingdom of Heaven. Scripture mentions a time when God will restore righteous leaders and counselors. Isaiah reports God’s words thus:
I will restore your leaders as in days of old, And your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward, you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.
This verse is talking about a time that hasn’t happened yet. It’s talking about the future kingdom of Heaven on earth. God says that He will once again put people in places of leadership and counselorship who guide the people as God desires. He compares them to the days of David’s rule when David followed after the heart of God and led the people accordingly. This is a big part of the job description for those who will be royalty in the Kingdom of God. They will be leaders and counselors.
It's worth noticing that the verse doesn't say, "I will restore a leader and a counselor." Instead, it says that there will be many leaders and counselors. Being a leader of people in the kingdom of Heaven will not be a lonely job. There will be many others who are working alongside you. Jesus always sent His disciples out in groups of at least two. Leading and counseling will be teamwork. What sweetens the deal is that the team you get to work with is one that you love perfectly. There will be no interoffice squabbles or managerial power plays. Instead, your team of glorified leaders will have a single-minded unity as they drive toward the goal.
And what of the goal? Notice also that the leaders and counselors get the work done. They don't toil in vain, endlessly fighting against incredible suffering only to end their tenure to find that there is still insufferable cruelty throughout their domain. The verse says that after these leaders and counselors are restored, the city will be called "the city of righteousness." In other words, these leaders and counselors get results. Their governing works, which is not what we see in the world today.
It’s written into our DNA to want to help others. Though our sinful flesh gets in the way, we have an innate desire to teach those who want knowledge, to encourage those who need confidence, and to enrich those who have questions with answers. Think of the times you’ve helped someone, and they have deeply appreciated it. Didn’t that make you feel great? Now imagine that being your job. Counseling, and leading people toward a greater and more fulfilling life. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying.
Let me pause here to say that if leading, ruling, and reigning sounds scary or difficult to you then you're not alone. Being in charge of a company of strong-willed people will turn your hair grey. Being in charge of a country of sinful citizens will shorten your life, sometimes by firing squad. Governing is the hardest job there is, and it seems that only the foolish are willing to do it. In fact, I've had many people reply after a discussion about ruling with Christ that it doesn't sound all that great.
They’re not alone. Many think this, but they think this because they imagine what it would be like to rule over sinful, fallen people. However, the verse we are about to look at gives us a peek into how it will be different to rule and lead in the kingdom. I hope you will begin to reconsider your trepidation as you look at what Isaiah said about the job description in this beautiful statement:
I will also make your officers peace And your magistrates righteousness. Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, Neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; But you shall call your walls Salvation And your gates Praise.
These verses point to a time when Heaven will finally be on earth. Governing in the future kingdom will not be the toilsome laborious job it is today. The job will be pleasing because peace and righteousness are the governing forces that drive the population. In the kingdom, people will be committed to these lofty ideals. Imagine offering direction and governorship to a group of people who are sinless. It would be a different task than governing today's thick-headed, stiff-necked people.
Jeremiah sweetens the job description when he says:
At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.
People who act like that would be a joy to lead and guide. In fact, I get excited just thinking about the kind of shared eagerness that the world's inhabitants will manifest toward worshiping and learning about God. In that same section, Jeremiah gives us another look at the job description for the King's faithful followers. He says:
Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.
Isn't it cool to think that Jeremiah was talking about you if you endure when he mentions these godly shepherds? God will give the people leaders who guide them like gentle shepherds. They will be led into knowledge and understanding of God. Imagine being the teacher of the most eager-to-learn, respectful, and obedient class ever imagined in the history of education. They hang on every word. They hope the lesson never ends. They beg you for an encore. That is what reigning in the kingdom of Heaven will be like. It's not about pushing the little guy around; it's about feeding the hungry minds and hearts of a people who have a passion to learn more about God.
Paul talked about our eternal job description when he said:
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
We are an eternal object lesson, a class of redeemed teachers who can speak first hand about God’s mercy and grace. In the “coming ages” He will use us to show how rich in grace He is. We often forget that God has an eternal purpose for saving us that goes beyond our own enjoyment. He is planning to use us for this specific job throughout the ages. As we counsel, shepherd, and teach, we will be fulfilling His plan to bring Him fame through our own story and descriptions of what he’s done for us.
I can imagine the enthralled faces of sinless future inhabitants of the kingdom of Heaven. They will marvel at your description of what the world once was. They will gasp at the stories you tell about what God did in the ages past. They will celebrate at your description of what God has done for you and them. The work of sharing the knowledge of God which you’ve gained and been given will be a never-ending journey of satisfaction.
Although we looked at an abbreviated copy of this verse a few pages ago, it's worth repeating in its entirety. Peter explained the job description with these words:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
Though we proclaim His praises in this life, this verse will have a fuller fulfillment in the kingdom of Heaven when it finally comes to earth. The royal redeemed will speak publicly and privately about the God who gave so much to call them out of the darkness into brilliant light. They will lead the flock with stories about their powerful experience that echoes back through dark times. They will guide and counsel faithful sinless people with their worshipful words.
Being royal, having authority over the nations, being a counselor, or a shepherd is probably not quite what you had imagined at the beginning of this chapter. The job will be incredible and infinitely satisfying. It's a job that will take meekness to accomplish. It's a job of service. It's a job of sacrifice. It's a job that we will love doing down through the ages. Yet, its greatest satisfaction will come from the relationships it offers us; relationships with others; but more importantly, our relationship with the one whom we will be praising. We will discover more about that in the next chapter.