Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? We’ve heard the saying time and time again. Even worse, we’ve seen so many examples of corrupted power we now take its truth for granted as a sort of social law. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Indeed, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes told us, “…there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). He saw oppressions, with power on the side of the oppressors and the oppressed having no one to comfort them (Ecc. 4:1). It seems like this corruption infects all authority. However, the source and standard for all authority, Jesus Christ, gives us a different picture. As we consider Jesus’s mediation for the marginalized, we see the Serving Sovereign, who “raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap and makes them to sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor” (1 Sam. 2:8).
As King, Jesus upholds the cause of the poor and organizes a beloved community of mutuality. In doing so, He mediates the reign of God, which brings shalom to all. The reign of God appears at the outset of biblical revelation. In Genesis 1-2, God is a King who rules reality by His word. Under His rule, creation flourishes as a harmonious kingdom. He places mankind at the center of His creation, in Eden to exercise dominion as His vice-regents. However, Adam’s sin vandalizes shalom, so that sin and death reign (Romans 5:17, 21). Satan becomes “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4), the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Under sin, humanity walks in ruin and misery and practices violence (Ro. 3:10-18). What’s In a context where hostility and ruin characterize human society (Tit. 3:3), the poor and weak suffer the most (Ps. 12) because they don’t have the means to protect themselves.
As King, God rescued His people from oppression in Egypt (Ex. 20:1, Ps. 114, 135:8-12) and created a beloved community. By “beloved community,” I mean a community of God’s beloved children (Dt. 7:7, 33:12, Eph. 5:1) where the focus of all relationships is love (Dt. 6:5, Lv. 19:18). This love manifests in mutuality, a conviction that everyone’s flourishing is interconnected and interdependent. Under God’s rule, Israel was so concerned with this sort of love that they were to build their houses with their neighbor’s safety in mind (Dt. 22:8). If they found an enemy’s stray animal, they were to return it (Ex. 23:4-5). They understood that the poor had a right to their possessions, in a sense (Lev. 19:9-10). As King, Yahweh formed a community that was to embody His concern for the poor (Ps. 12:5-6, 82:1-8, 146:5-10). After establishing a human monarchy in Israel, the Prophets and Writings hope for the ideal king who will defend the cause of the weak (Ps. 72, Pr. 31:8-10). Unfortunately, Israel’s authorities fall woefully short, instead devouring the poor (Jer. 23:1-4).
Because of this, the prophets look forward to the king who will “faithfully bring forth justice” (Is. 42:1-4). The Branch of Jesse, the Son of David, will “decide with equity for the meek of the earth (Is. 11:4). Jesus arrives on the scene as the Son of David (Matt. 1:1, Luke 18:38) who redefines authority. Rather than “lording it over” those without power (Matt. 20:25, 1 Pet. 5:3), Jesus the King uses His authority to serve (Mk. 10:45, Php. 2:5-8). Such an authority alleviates the poor and weak from being left to the insufficiency of their own resources. The King of Kings stoops to serve and care for them, calling His people to do the same (Matt. 25). As King, Jesus makes war on the most tyrannical of all authorities oppressing the poor, namely sin, Satan, and death (Ro. 6:6-7, Col. 2:11-15, Heb. 2:14-15) and defeats them. He also judges unjust earthly authorities (Psalm 7:2-4, Psalms 58 and 82), symbolized as Babylon in Revelation.
All of this happens as Jesus establishes the kingdom of God. Since Jesus is God, His kingship restores the dynamic reign of God over the world, thus re-establishing shalom. This reign, though not fully consummated, is realized in this age primarily in the church, the beloved community of mutuality Jesus establishes. In the church, “all are one in Christ” (Gal. 3:28), serving love is the ethic (Ph. 1:28, Gal. 5:6, 13-15, Ro. 13:8-10), and those in need receive impartial care (Eph. 4:28, Ja. 2:1-13, Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37). This love so defines Christ’s kingdom that Paul calls churches to provide for the church in Jerusalem financially without qualification (2 Cor. 8-9, Rom. 15:22-29). Christ the King exalts the lowly (Lk. 1:51-53, cf. 1 Sam. 2:7-8) and brings shalom to poor and weak.