By CSBV director Helen Paynter
The writer of the book of Kings gives us a glimpse of what you would have seen if you had been present in Jerusalem on a particular day in 970 BC. You would have heard a great commotion. A huge crowd was gathering, full of excitement; buzzing with expectation. If you followed the crowd, they would have led you to the Gihon spring, on the lower eastern slopes of the hill that Jerusalem is built upon. In that place, from deep within the earth, water bubbles up continuously. It is the source of all life in that place.
Maybe you push to the front of the crowd. You can see there are four men at the heart of the action, surrounded by a group of soldiers picked from the royal guard. The first man is Zadok, the high priest, dressed in all his great regalia. The second is Nathan the prophet, the one who hears the word of the Lord. The third is Benaiah, commander of the army. Clearly something of great significance is afoot. The three most powerful men in the country have come together for one purpose. Now you can see who the fourth man is. It is young Solomon, Crown Prince of Israel. You know that David is in his dotage and soon will die. What’s the meaning of this gathering?
With much solemnity, Zadok steps forward. He has a horn of oil in his hand. In the presence of Nathan and Benaiah, in the presence of all the people, he anoints Solomon, pouring oil over his head. It flows down over his face, it drips from his beard. Then he shouts aloud “Long live King Solomon”. Nathan and Benaiah repeat the cry. And the people take up the cheer. “Long live King Solomon.” Now the shofarim begin to play: the great rams’ horns that are blown to mark the most solemn and sacred of occasions. And the people continue to cheer and shofarim blow, and the earth is split by the sound and to show the significance of the moment.
Then newly anointed Solomon is placed on the royal mule, and escorted back up the slopes of the hill into the Royal Palace. Then he is seated on the royal throne. This day was the coronation of king Solomon, the day he ascended to the throne. He is now messiah Solomon. Because messiah means anointed one.
The writer of the book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of what you would have seen if you had been standing in heaven on the day that Jesus left his disciples. Today is Ascension Day. When we think of it – if we think of it – we tend to focus on the earthly perspective; the disciples standing on the Mount of Olives, suddenly bereft as Jesus is taken up into heaven. But what if you were at the other end? What was it like? Well, Revelation chapter 5 gives us a clue. Jesus is referred to here as the Lamb. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne.” And around him are twenty-four elders with harps and incense. And ten thousand times ten thousand angels. All crying out “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”
Ascension day is the coronation of king Jesus. Of Jesus Christ. Which is the Greek for messiah Jesus, the anointed one.
Long ago, before even Solomon, God had made a promise to king David. The promise was that David would always have a son, an anointed one, on the throne. And this promise gathered in weight and expectation as the years went on. The Old Testament is full of hints and references to God’s anointed one, the Messiah, the one who would come to bring in God’s reign of peace and justice. Not Solomon. Someone greater than him.
What would he be like, this Messiah that was so eagerly expected? What would his kingship be like? Well maybe he’d be rather like David’s first son Solomon. Maybe the Messiah’s reign would be something like Solomon’s.
So what did Solomon do after he was enthroned? What were his main priorities after his Coronation? Solomon’s chief concern was to consolidate his power. And he did this in two very brutal ways. The first thing he did was he killed his brother Adonijah, who looked as if he might be a threat to Solomon’s kingship. He’d made some moves that suggested he was trying to gain power. And Solomon was having none of that. So one of the first things he does is he sends Benaiah, his chief thug, to annihilate the threat. Solomon will share power with no one.
What is Solomon’s second great power move? He sets himself up to receive tribute and gifts from all around him. The writer of Kings tells us about the enormous, extravagant table that he kept. Every day, he and his court consumed all this:
Solomon’s daily provisions were five tonnes of the finest flour and ten tonnes of meal, ten head of stall-fed cattle, twenty of pasture-fed cattle and a hundred sheep and goats, as well as deer, gazelles, roebucks and choice fowl.1 Kings 4:20
How did Solomon manage to fund such an obscenely extravagant lifestyle? By exacting tribute from the nations around, and by setting up a fierce, tightly administrated system of taxation of his people. He was a receiver of gifts. There was a net inward movement of goods. He was a parasite.
So Solomon’s main concern on coming to the throne is to centralise power. To eliminate anyone who wants to share that power, and to receive gifts and tributes to enrich and fatten his own court. What about King Jesus? What about this Anointed One? Does he also centralise power? Suck resources inward? Demand extortionate tribute?
Let me share with you two short excerpts from Paul’s letters that answer these questions. First, these words from the second letter to the church in Corinth.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointedus, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts…2 Cor 1:21
Remember, ‘Christ’ means ‘anointed one’. So we could read these words like this.
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in the anointed one.
He anointed us,
set his seal of ownership on us
and put his Spirit in our hearts.
What is the first action of king Jesus? To centralise all power? No. To anoint his people. The anointed one anoints his church with the Spirit. From this king, power flows outward, it is given away, it is shared.
Why? The messiah’s job was to bring in God’s reign of justice and peace. And he anoints his church to share in that same task. We are to be mini-messiahs.
Now let me read these words from the letter to the Ephesians. Look out for the language of ascension, look out for the language of gift-giving.
To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:Eph 4:7-8
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
Paul’s quoting from a Psalm here. But actually he’s misquoting. Because the Psalm speaks about God’s King ascending on high and receiving gifts from the people, just like Solomon did. Centralising his power. sucking in resources.
But Paul understands that king Jesus, the anointed one of God, does not demand gifts and wealth, does not centralise his power. Instead, it spills out of him, it flows from him. The anointed one anoints his church with the Spirit. He gives gifts to the church. He’s not a great fat king sitting on his throne sucking in all the goodness of his people, impoverishing them like Solomon did. King Jesus, God’s anointed one, is the source of all goodness, anointing his people with the Spirit and giving them gifts.
And what are these gifts? Paul goes on to list them – or some of them. You can find other lists, too, especially in 1 Corinthians 12. But let’s stay in Ephesians for now.
He ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.EPh 4:10-13
Having ascended to the throne, Jesus the anointed one gives gifts of apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, pastoring, and teaching. Why? What is the purpose of this power-sharing, this generosity? First, so that the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers will equip all the rest of God’s people. This is power flowing outward again. Gifts being given, not received, once again.
Why? So that the church might be built up. For unity. So that the church and the world might grow in knowledge of the Son of God. So that we might grow and increase in spiritual blessings and maturity until we know the fullness of the anointed one.
This anointed one anoints his church with the Spirit. He shares his power with his people. He gives gifts. He works for the blessing of his people. Power and gifts flow ever outward from this king.
And why would we be surprised? King Solomon killed some of his people to secure his throne. But the king on heaven’s throne is the Lamb who was slain for his people.