“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV, emphasis added)
The holidays are a season of quaint familiarity. Each Christmas—in some form—we pull our Bibles off the shelf, blow the dust off, crack the spine, gloss over Isaiah 9, and then slide it back in between that one book we started but never finished and that other one we haven’t gotten to yet. We hear Isaiah’s prophetic words, but we don’t listen. Familiarity breeds contempt—or at least fosters ignorance.
When familiarity inoculates us to the scandalous claims in Scripture, we stop asking the right questions. So here’s one: what is “his government”?
Let’s be honest. We wax philosophical about the royal gifts the magi later bring the Christ-child, but we treat “King” mainly as an honorific title. We think, after all, this Boy grows up to be a controversial Jewish Rabbi, an inspiring religious figure, not a Caesar. It doesn’t appear from a human perspective that Jesus is in charge of anything. What government is this, anyway?
Not just Israel. The same prophet predictively puts these words in the mouth of God directed towards the Messiah: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). In God’s eyes, for Jesus to be King of the Jews only—or even of some future restored state of Israel—is just plain too small potatoes.
Not just heaven. The same prophet later promises a day that God would tear open the heavens and come down (Isaiah 64:1) and reunite heaven and earth (65:17-25). God says through Isaiah’s pen, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (66:1). Jesus’ royal position isn’t limited to some wispy, cloudy dimension. “King of kings” is not synonymous with angelic choir director.
Not just the heart. The Hebrew word for “government” in Isaiah 9:6 translates in English as “government.” (See what I did there?) Jesus does subdue and rule sinful human hearts, but his authority isn’t hermetically sealed off in the realm of private religious experience. If history proves anything, it’s that Jesus is actually pretty bad at keeping this whole Christianity thing of his out of the public square.
What is his government?
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:1b-4, ESV)
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.… They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:1-4, 9, ESV)
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18, ESV)
Jesus governs the globe. Every state, city, and soul. Every refugee migration and roaming molecule. Every life lived, every life taken. He is the One to whom all will give account. Every knee will bow or break. God proved this not only in his virgin birth but his victorious resurrection.
Contrary to popular sentiment, the Christian faith doesn’t teach that Jesus simply disappeared after his ascension to heaven. He has not spent the last two millennia twiddling his thumbs, playing hopscotch with Peter, sending down good vibes for the religious, and happily ignoring the mass of literature on theodicy. No; he is ruling and interceding—presiding over the government of the entire cosmos, and standing before the bar of God as the perfect, effectual legal advocate of his chosen people.
His rule is “from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7). Jesus assumed power after his first coming, not just his second. It’s 2018 and we’re still counting time by his birth, even as Western culture tries to shed his every memory. Bit by bit, he is still taking over the world. How? “The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” It takes born-again eyes to perceive this kingdom reality (John 3:3).
But before we stop asking good questions, here’s another: how did Jesus get this government?
A Heavy Weight
Isaiah says the government will be “upon his shoulder,” but I’m reminded of another weight he shouldered. Before he bore the mantle of lordship, he carried the cross of sinners. Before his heavenly coronation, a thorny crown was clubbed into his bleeding skull. Before he was robed in royal majesty, he was flayed alive on a stake.
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11, ESV).
God “became” sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). The King was counted criminal (Isaiah 53:12). Christ died under the wrath of God sinners deserve so that whoever believes in him would be saved. Enemy combatants who repent and cling to the crucified-and-risen Lord Jesus become full, pardoned citizens under the Jesus administration.
The Son of God shouldered a cross, and now shoulders a cosmic government. Take off the load of your sin and lay it at his feet. Believe on him for salvation. And have a merry Christmas.