Lectionary Commentaries for November 25, 2018
Christ the King (Year B)

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 18:33-37

Lucy Lind Hogan

In 1925, Pope Pius XI instituted a new liturgical observance, the Feast of Christ the King.

The Pope felt that the followers of Christ were being lured away by the increasing secularism of the world. They were choosing to live in the “kingdom” of the world rather than in the reign of God. Therefore, as we prepare to begin a new church year with the First Sunday of Advent, the coming of Jesus, not only in Bethlehem, but the second coming as well, we pause and reflect upon who Jesus the Christ is in our lives. To challenge our thinking we turn, not to stables and shepherds, but to the final trial of Jesus. If we are to live in God’s reign we, like Pilate, need to know who this man Jesus is, “are you Christ the King?”

In her exploration of the Gospel of John in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Gail O’Day plots Jesus’ trial before Pilate (John 18:28 -19:16a) into seven scenes.1 The opening scene of the trial begins when Jesus is brought to Pilate’s headquarters. The procurator asks the Jewish officials with what they wish to charge Jesus. The only response they give is that Jesus is a criminal. While they do not specify his crimes, we know that they have been seeking for ways to arrest and kill him because of his challenging proclamations, “Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?” (John 7:26) Since their goal is to have Jesus put to death for breaking religious law, something they cannot do, the Jewish leaders must rely on the Romans to do that.

Our text, according to O’Day, is scene two. Having heard the demand of the Jewish leaders, Pilate goes into his headquarters and speaks with Jesus for the first time. He asks Jesus, not if he is the Messiah, but rather, if he is the “King of the Jews.” This is a political rather than religious charge. Pilate would not care if Jesus was the anointed one of God because as he asks ironically, “I am not a Jew, am I?” (John 18:35). But he would care if a new political ruler was arising, one who might challenge the Roman rule. Jesus asks Pilate what has prompted this question — the procurator’s curiosity, or charges brought by the Jewish leaders, and in doing so takes control of the interrogation.

The author has been telling us, from the beginning of the gospel, that Jesus is in fact the King of Israel. When seeking Jesus, whom his brother, Phillip, has told him is the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets, Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). The gospel then goes on to explore that Jesus is not a king that the world would ever recognize. This is a king who speaks to the lowly and the rejected. This is a king who serves rather than being served. This is a king who enters the holy city, not triumphantly on a horse, but seated on a donkey (John 12:14).

He is a king unlike any other king, and his kingdom is unlike any other, for it is not of this world. What is this kingdom, this reign, like? That is the important question for us today as we reflect upon Christ as our king.

Pilate asks Jesus what he has done. Why have the authorities handed him over to be killed? What terrible thing has he done? Jesus then, in a seeming non-sequitur, declares to Pilate that he does have a kingdom, but it is not a kingdom of this world.

We know that Jesus is the Word of God that has become “flesh and lived among us.” Jesus has come from God and has come “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16b). We also know that, in order to recognize this king, this only Son, we must be “born from above” (John 3:3). Unless we have experienced this new birth we are unable to recognize the reign of God that surrounds us on all sides. And if we do accept that Jesus is the one who has come from God, if we are willing to listen to the truth he speaks, then one is no longer part of this world, but is a part of the reign of God.

In the end, Pilate mocks Jesus and mocks the Jews. He can never understand that Jesus is a king unlike any king of this world. Yet ultimately Pilate unknowingly speaks the truth. He declares to the Jews, “Here is your king” (John 19:14). And over the cross Pilate places the announcement for all to see, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

This text challenges us to answer important questions. Are we willing to accept Jesus as our king? We, too, are tempted by the allure of secularism and the power of the world. In the end, according to John, the Jewish leaders rejected their faith and bowed to the empire, “We have no king but the emperor” (John 19:15). In what ways do we bow to the empire?

Do we live in the reign of God following the servant king? Do we live lives that reflect that service? Do we reach out to the least and the lost? Do we seek to serve rather than be served? Do we testify to the truth of God? It is the truth that Jesus came to the world to bring love and forgiveness. Are we citizens of that kingdom?


  1. O’Day, Gail, The Gospel of John in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995, p. 813.

First Reading

Commentary on Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

Roger Nam

Since the earliest churches, Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 have informed a wider picture of the person of Jesus of Nazareth, particularly aspects of his divine being.

Thus, it is a fitting passage for the Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. But in studying the text, I would like to briefly encourage you to take a moment and consider the reading of Daniel within its narrative context. Daniel is set within a group of Judeans under oppression from the Babylonian Empire. As you think through the text, try not to think of Jesus. Instead, consider the perspective of a Judean long before the time of Christ.

The immediate context indicates that the oppression is much more severe than a colonized group of displaced Judeans struggling to maintain their identity as in the earlier chapters of Daniel 1-6. Rather, the opening dream in Daniel 7 suggests a very different realm of direct persecution and a fight for physical survival, as symbolized by a set of terrifying beasts.

This context leads way to the introduction of a divine being. Within forms of poetic apocalypse, the passage displays rich imagery for this “Ancient of Days.” The moniker “Ancient of Days” articulates a defining characteristic of this person. He is literally one of many days, meaning that he surpasses any temporal boundaries of the specific events of the narrative. Immediately after the introduction, the “Ancient of Days” sits on a throne, an act of authority and a precursor for enforcing judgment. You can think of a modern parallel moment when someone of ascribed authority enters a designated space, like a judge entering a hushed courthouse, or a principal entering a classroom filled with anxious children.

The text then gives a physical description of God, a rare occurrence in the Old Testament. The few physical descriptions of the divine within the Bible are laconic and mysterious. This particular example of Daniel 7 is within an apocalyptic dream. God is pure and in this particular passage, it is symbolized through physical whiteness, a known literary association in the ancient Near East. This description contrasts with that of wicked rulers in earlier chapters, such as the Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar.

The “Ancient of Days” is surrounded by a burning throne and wheels made up of fire. In the midst of a night vision, the image of a massive fire transforms the setting. The fires represent multiple meanings. This is a dominant fire, which “burns” (verse 9) and “flows out.” (verse 10) Primarily, the fire symbolizes a mysterious divine, similar to Exodus 3:2. It also illuminates and reveals. It purifies. It punishes. None of these symbolic functions are mutually exclusive.

This pure and fiery deity then sits with many, who “serve him” and “stand before him.” (verse 10) Whereas the opening lines shift the scene from four beasts of the night, these lines move the setting to a much more ordered place. The image depicts the setting of justice and power, mediated through a proper council with legions of attendants. The reference to opened books reveals an impending execution of justice.

The tension reaches culmination with the appearance of “One Like a Human Being.” (verse 13) He appears before the “Ancient of Days,” and accordingly receives the promise that all will serve this “one” and his dominion will last for the ages.

Were you able to read and meditate the passage without thinking of Jesus? Without the Christian lens, one can see that this passage brings great relief to a community that is scattered in fear. I would suspect that many of the readers could relate to the themes of fear and uncertainty within the preceding verses of Daniel 7, particularly the fourth beast (verse 7). Collectively, such fears are certainly relatable during this present season of our nation’s history. Individually, we all have experiences of loss and fear.

But today’s passage shifts this narrative of loss to a narrative of victory. The people knew suffering, but they longed for a time of deliverance. This deliverance is promised by the “Ancient of Days,” a pure and fiery ruler, who brings forth a divine figure who is also “Like a Human Being.” This is good news. Fear will not reign. Justice will be restored. For the fearful refugee seeking protection, the natural reaction would be joy and gratitude to both the “One Like a Human Being” and the “Ancient of Days,” who commissions him.

At this point, one can then overlay the place of Jesus Christ in this position. Jesus quotes Daniel 7 to refer to himself in Mark 14:62, as well as Matthew 24:30. The New Testament adjusts some of the messianic expectation of Daniel 7 and perhaps gives insight on what it means to be “Like a Human Being.” Rather than focus on this glorious image of purity and fire, the “Son of Man” in Mark is decidedly human. Jesus makes the claim of messianic identity, but it is so ironic that the high priest declares blasphemy, and the others call for a punishment of death. Within a few more verses in Mark, the Son of Man is abandoned, condemned to death, and crucified.

Of course, we can celebrate that this crucifixion leads to the crowning glory and the fulfilment of the explicit messianic expectation of Daniel 7. Jesus emerges from divine space and receives a divine commission. God will give this “One Like a Human Being” all of the kingdoms and it will be eternal. The persecutor will meet judgment, and the persecuted will find relief, as “All peoples, nations, languages shall serve him.” The victory is assured. Acknowledging Christ the King must include full recognition of dominion and power, but it is also kingship informed by the reality of fear and loss, personified by the cross.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 23:1-7

Kathryn M. Schifferdecker

On this Christ the King Sunday, we hear about the ideal king from the “sweet singer of Israel,” himself, King David. Like Jacob (Genesis 49) and Moses (Deuteronomy 33) before him, David before his death speaks of God and God’s blessing for Israel.

This song along with Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2) serves as bookends to the story of David. Both songs speak of God’s “anointed” (in Hebrew, meshiach or messiah). Hannah’s song foreshadows the anointing of David. David’s song claims and rejoices in that anointing — this is the song of “the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1).

At this end of the liturgical year, we look back on the story of David, which has occupied many weeks of the alternate Old Testament readings. At the same time, we look forward to the promised Son of David, the ideal king, whose coming we anticipate in the season of Advent.

Given the placement of the song of David at the turning point of the liturgical year, it is helpful for preaching to note three primary claims that the song makes about God and about kingship, claims which are relevant to David himself and to his descendants.

The king is ordained by and answerable to God

The poem is clear: David’s kingship is established by God and is dependent on God’s choosing. We know from earlier in the story that David does not come from a royal lineage. He is the youngest son in a family of many sons, overlooked by his father when Samuel comes to anoint a new king (1 Samuel 16). He is the runt of the litter, one might say, and is from the insignificant town of Bethlehem. And yet, David becomes the most beloved king in Israel, the one who unites the kingdom, establishes Jerusalem as its capital, and restores the ark of the covenant to its rightful place at the center of Israel’s worship life.

David does all this not by his own strength, but because God has “exalted” him, God has “anointed” him (2 Samuel 23:1). As Walter Brueggemann notes, “The royal office is derivative.”1 There was no claim in Israel, as there was in Egypt, that the king himself was divine. According to the biblical witness, God is the true sovereign of Israel. The human king, even King David, rules only by God’s favor.

Because the royal office is derivative, the king is answerable to God. The righteous king rules “in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3), that is, in the knowledge that God is God and the king is not. The king is not above the law. Indeed, the king is subject to the law, which requires that he rule justly (23:3).

Now, of course, David himself does not always live up to the ideal of the just king, as the biblical narrative makes clear (2 Samuel 11-12). But the song attributed to David at the end of his life continues to hold up this ideal for David’s descendants.

The king who rules justly is a great blessing to his people

The song uses a striking image to describe the significance of a good king. He is “like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Samuel 23:4 New Revised Standard Version [NRSV]).

The New International Version (NIV) translation is somewhat better than the NRSV at the end of this verse: “He is…like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.”

The light of morning, especially after a good rain — that’s what a God-fearing king is like. In the semi-arid land that is Israel, rain is a very precious resource. A good, soaking rain during the night, and then the sun rising to bring forth grass and grain and fruit from the earth — these are priceless gifts of God. And so is a good, just king, one who rules in the fear of the Lord. Both enable life to flourish.

Psalm 72 uses this same analogy: “May he be like the rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth” (Psalm 72:6). The psalm also fills out the picture of the just king. “He delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the life of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life” (Psalm 72:12-14).

A good king, a good prime minister, a good president — these are gifts of God. And what are the characteristics of a good king or leader? He or she fears God, helps the vulnerable, rules justly. A good king or leader is someone whose policies and decisions cause life to flourish, especially for those threatened by violence and oppression.

May God give us such leaders.

God has made an everlasting covenant with David, and God is faithful

The final claim that the song makes is that God has made an everlasting covenant with David. “Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Samuel 23:5).

This claim is based on God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).

This theme of the covenant with David reverberates throughout the biblical witness (Psalm 89; Isaiah 11:1; 55:3; Jeremiah 33:19-22, etc.). But the covenant doesn’t rest on David’s worthiness. Indeed, the biblical record shows that he is a deeply flawed individual. The covenant rests on God’s faithfulness. The psalmist puts it this way: “I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens” (Psalm 89:1-2).

David’s throne will be established forever, not because of David’s faithfulness, but because of God’s, the “Rock of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:3).

Of course, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, burned the Temple, and took the last Davidic king into exile, it seemed that the covenant with David was broken (Psalm 89:38-39). It was then that the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 began to be understood as a promise for a future time, when the Messiah, the anointed Son of David, would come and establish God’s peaceable kingdom. The tragedy of the exile gave rise to eschatological hope, rooted in the faithfulness of God.

David’s song at the end of his life speaks of both earthly hope (the hope for a just ruler) and eschatological hope (the “everlasting covenant”). As we celebrate Christ the King, this text helps us focus on what true kingship/leadership looks like; and at the same time it points us forward to the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in Jesus, the servant King, born in a manger. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).


  1. Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1990), 346.


Commentary on Psalm 93

Beth L. Tanner

Today’s psalm gives the opportunity to provide some content to the phrase “God is King” or “LORD is King.”1

Psalm 93 focuses particularly on God as Creator and Sustainer of the creation. It is a brief psalm with only 5 verses moving through 3 stanzas.

The first stanza declares, “The LORD is king!” and then continues to declare the majesty and strength of God that has firmly established the world for eternity. This fits well with Jesus’ declaration in John that “my kingdom is not of this world.” Indeed, it is God’s kingship that established the world. Pilate was thinking too small when he asked if Jesus was “King of the Jews.” The psalm places the words of Jesus within their greater context, a context that Pilate and the powers of the world cannot see.

The second stanza leaves the realm of humans to remind us that there is more to God’s reign than human issues and concerns. The image in the psalm is intense and frightening. Many of us have seen the devastation brought when the “rivers lift up their pounding waves.” This was a frightening image to the ancients also. The churning waters were the very definition of chaos. In a world gone crazy, it is comforting to realize that even the chaotic waters obey God. Again Pilate did not know what he asked. Read with the enthronement psalms, Pilate’s worldly power as prefect of the Roman Empire seems small indeed in the face of someone that the rivers rise up to praise.

God controls even the most chaotic natural forces on the earth. Yet this does not mean God sends natural disasters. Just as with the rest of the universe, the creation runs by a set of natural laws. Weather changes and earthquakes all function by their own set rules. The problem comes with the growing human population. We no longer are migratory and we live in places that sometimes receives the negative side of that natural order. These disasters are sometimes simply unexplainable and in those cases many reasons are provided, yet we remain unable to completely control the chaotic side of the creation. It appears this is one of the limits that is set for humans in the universe.

The final stanza (verse 5) places God’s decrees as part of God’s vast kingdom. God’s commands and holiness are as constant as the natural order. We do not often think of the decrees of God and the maintaining of creation together. Yet here and in several other psalms, this is exactly what is declared. God decrees that the sun runs its course and God decrees that we should care for the least of the world are linked in God’s kingdom, even if we do not notice it. It takes both decrees to make our world run in the ways God intended. It is the foundation of God’s kingdom.

The whole psalm provides us with a glimpse of the kingdom that the other three texts today point to in different ways. It is not always visible to us, especially when we focus on only human endeavors. On Christ the King Sunday, it is easy to assign these attributes to the Christ as the King and thus ignore our own responsibility. In order to participate in the kingdom, we too are responsible for our part in it. God’s decrees are the equivalent of Jesus’ teachings and his focus on those in need of our help today even includes the very creation itself. What we now know that these ancient folks did not is that we would eventually gain the power not only to hurt the poor of the people but to also inflict harm on the very creation God set in place. Just like Jesus’ declaration to Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world,” we need to be attentive to the kingdom of God that is not always visible to us. We are called to care for the most critical and weak and the creation is now on that list. We must remember that the creation has its own relationship with God and praises God in its way. We have no right to harm that relationship. In this psalm humans and creation join together in praise and we should do everything we can to assure this continues to be possible just as God the Creator and Sustainer of our world intended.

Together the humans as one part of the creation are to join the chorus of shouts “God is King”; let us celebrate God and God’s great kingdom.


1 Commentary first published on this site on Nov. 22, 2015.

Second Reading

Commentary on Revelation 1:4b-8

Katherine A. Shaner

Revelation is not a script for the end of the world.

Three Sundays ago, on All Saints Sunday, worshipers heard the end of Revelation with the new Jerusalem coming to earth where God makes a dwelling among mortals. In that reading from the end of Revelation, we heard that God is the Alpha and the Omega. Now, for the second time in four Sundays, we hear the same declaration again, in God’s own voice: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (verse 8). It is no accident, however, that at the end of the year we hear about the Omegas and Alphas from the ending and the beginning of Revelation. The first is last and the last is first, the Alpha is the Omega and the Omega is the Alpha.

The end of the church year is both the reminder of the end of mortal time and the beginning of divine time. It is the end of our waiting to be a community of priests (verse 6) and also the beginning of Jesus’s return (verse 7). The one who is and who was and who is to come (verse 8). This last statement is not a statement of finality, of fulfillment through singular kingly power, but a statement that God lives in and among our world, in ways that fill history, that make God present, right now and in ways to come, that we cannot imagine. Time limitations without which we cannot comprehend existence do not exist for this one who is Alpha, Omega, past, present, and future.

I will confess that I have difficulty this time of year when the readings and the celebrations of the church turn to monarchical, triumphalist, and even authoritarian images of God and Jesus. It is worth noting that on Christ the King Sunday, this reading from Revelation can sound heavy, even tyrannical, in many listeners’ ears. Our culture spends much time these days flirting with and shoring up systems that give singular authority to one person. What would it mean for us to note that our governmental leaders assert their singular authority with similar rhetoric that we use about Christ on this Sunday?

Particularly on this Christ the King Sunday, we frequently spend much proclamatory energy asserting Christ’s power, Christ’s royal qualities, Christ’s control over all things. This rhetoric is shockingly (if not surprisingly) similar to the rhetoric we hear in politics and business in our contemporary world. We long for assurances of control and power. We long for a king who is on our side. And often, even when we try as preachers to resist these contemporary assertions of singular power, insisting on the alternate empire of God only shifts the idea of crushing power from human to divine hands — which sets us up to replicate the same power structures in our churches.

From the very beginning of Revelation, however, we see an opportunity to undermine these lenses as the text marks a shift in time and space that comes with a God who is, who was, and who is to come. We need not have a vision of Christ as a king on a throne who has minions who unquestionably do his [sic] bidding in full obedience. While verse 6 does draw out the imperial power of Jesus (glory and dominion for ever and ever) and suggests that readers are priests who do God’s bidding, notice that priests worshipping Jesus or demonstrating dominion is not the point. Jesus and God are not the same person in this pericope. Rather Jesus is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of earth’s kings (verse 5) — not the divine son or God incarnate.

The richness of this pericope for preachers is the ability to shift our understanding of God in time. While the imagery of sacrifice, kingdoms, and imperial epiphanies (verse 7) suffuses this pericope, preachers have the opportunity to note that God is not just beginning and end but is the divine presence and holy ontology that cannot be erased from our human experience. Revelation itself lifts the veil of our shrouded existence that wants to force peace and security through violence and abuse.

Revelation itself shows the worst of human arrogance in our attempts to subdue the earth, exploit its glorious resources, and control creation’s interconnected systems. The idea that God is the one who is and who was and who is to come offers a moment of hope at the end of a very difficult season for many in our congregations and communities. God is with us in the day-to-day world, not necessarily as regal king or untouchable emperor, but as one whose very being infuses our collective past, our present, and the future.