Wondrously, the morning’s news about the Queen overshadowed the too-typical avalanche of bad news that has ransacked our screens in recent weeks. All eyes were on Buckingham Palace and Elizabeth II’s big celebration. When you consider her personal affliction and heartbreaking loss in recent years, such a week of commemoration is extra splendid.
All the clamor is a fresh reminder of our infatuation with the Crown. And once again, I pause to wonder why. No doubt we’re impressed by the glitz, glamor, and spectacular festivities, but I think there’s something more, something deeper, perhaps even something primal that draws us into the royals’ story.
The earliest royals
Many biblical scholars see Adam and Eve, on the early pages of Genesis, as royals who offered their worship to God through their work in the sanctuary-garden. God’s intention for the original man and woman in the domain he designed was that they serve in his kingly likeness, reflecting his royal image (Gen. 1-2). This same language of serving and working arises in Isaiah’s servant prophecies, with strong implications for Israel’s collective work as a nation, the coming Messiah’s leading work, and the eventual servant-workers of God in the New Testament (Isa. 42:1-4; Matt. 12:18-21; Phil. 2:5-11).
With its presentation of divine speech and masterful design, the text of Genesis 1 and 2 holds early clues into the kingly nature of God himself and the unfolding story of his kingdom. W. Lee Humphreys’ narrative analysis leads him to conclude:
While not specifically enthroned in a palace/temple specially built for him, the overall image of God in Genesis 1:1-2:4a is royal. God appears as a king – a monarch – whose words bring to pass, who orders the realm he rules . . . God is the absolute ruler of heaven and earth, shaping and governing a realm over and apart from which he stands. He commands, names, judges, and thereby shapes his realm.
Hence, these opening scenes reveal God with royal character and kingly actions. The stage is set for his kingdom.
The creation of humans in the imago Dei, “male and female,” points to the unique relational capacity of human life and divine intention of interdependency. By extension, the image of God denotes humans’ ability to share in God’s relational life as Father, Son, and Spirit. This is hinted at in the foundational statement, “Let us make humans in our own image.” Further significance in the imago Dei can be seen in the New Testament usage of the phrase “image of God” in unique relation to Jesus Christ. His descriptions in Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3, and Philippians 2:6 reveal Jesus as the best example of humanity, the true pattern of God’s attitudes and actions.
Genesis’ story of humanity’s creation in the image of God includes the report that God blessed the man and woman. God had previously blessed the living creatures on the fifth day (Gen. 1:22), and now he blesses humans. The Hebrew term, bārak denotes an enduing with power for success, prosperity, and longevity, a blessing that confers abundant and effective living upon something or someone. Introduction of this specific Hebrew word so early in the story is extremely significant to understanding a missional hermeneutic. It’s a specific way of reading and interpreting the biblical story as the kingly story of redemptive mission. The theme of blessing and variations of this term prove pivotal to God’s intentions with humanity across the biblical text (Gen. 12:1-3, Ps. 67, Matt. 5:1-12). God’s ultimate intention to use his chosen people to bless the nations flows out of his own nature as presented in this initial story. As supreme King, he will use humans to craft, curate, and share kingly blessings that flow from his very likeness, his love, and his plans to restore the kingdom.
Reclaiming the fallen kingdom
Sadly, humanity’s fall in Genesis 3 brought devastating changes to God’s original royal design. The curse (Gen. 3:14-19) included significant new limitations and frustrations related to the everyday work of “ruling and reigning.” Our sin ushered in the ugly reality of death (Gen. 3:19) and expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23-24).
As the biblical story continues, a dramatic theme emerges. God’s loving mission toward redemptive salvation for all his creation, including royal renewal. In fact, the whole biblical story from cover to cover is really a royal story of God’s passionate mission to redeem his fallen royals and the fallen kingdom. The King is out to save his kingdom, starting with the royal ones—those originally made in his kingly image.
So, what about royal work now? With salvation through Christ’s gracious cross, the empty grave, and our renewal in his image, Christians now engage in royal work for tangible expression of Jesus’ kingdom (Matt. 5:14-16; Eph. 2:8-10). Andy Crouch synthesizes the opportunity for believers seeking to find meaningful missional impact in our everyday endeavors:
Jesus had a profoundly cultural phrase for his mission: the Kingdom of God. It is hard to recapture the concept of kingdom in an age where monarchs are often no more than ornamental fixtures in their societies, if they exist at all. But for Jews of that time and place, the idea of a kingdom would have meant much more. In announcing that the Kingdom of God was near, in telling parables of the Kingdom, Jesus was not delivering “good news,” as if his only concern was to impart some new information. His good news foretold a comprehensive restructuring of social life comparable to that experienced by a people when one monarch was succeeded by another. The Kingdom of God would touch every sphere and every scale of culture. It would reshape marriage and mealtimes, resistance to the Roman occupiers and prayer in the temple, the social standing of prostitutes and the piety of the Pharisees, the meaning of cleanliness and the interpretation of illness, integrity in business and honesty in prayer.
Through such kingdom-focused, intentional culture making, God is still writing his grand story.
Could our daily work really be royal work?
Christ-followers long to know that their whole lives, especially numerous hours at the daily grind, have genuine significance in the bigger story. God’s divine drama as presented across Scripture can serve as the guiding, motivating story for people’s personal meaning and all kingdom work. His story stretches from Genesis to Revelation, and the story continues today in and through the lives of Christians. It advances as growing disciples embrace the powerful opportunity to work as responsible citizens in His ever-advancing kingdom.
Additional royal highlights include Abram’s call in Genesis 12:1-3. With his call to the Father of faith, God supplied a gracious answer to humanity’s sin and subsequent descent (Gen. 3-11). With his charge to Abram to “be a blessing,” his reversal of the curse brought the salvation blessing “to all nations.”
The Kingdom of God is woven further throughout the grand story. Exodus 19:3-6 explains God’s intentions for the Israelites to play their unique role. They were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” In like manner, the Apostle Peter calls Christ-followers to live their everyday lives as active priests in the kingdom (1 Pet. 2:9-21). And let it sink in. Such call includes us, today.
Climactic scenes in Revelation celebrate the work of Christians as a “kingdom and priests” composed of people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Such eschatological conclusions beautifully echo the sounds of Genesis 12:3 and Exodus 19:6. Rich colors in the biblical tapestry encourage present-day Christ-followers to not only enjoy the old story but also boldly play their own roles as missional priests in his kingdom today.
Icing on the royal cake? The Kingdom was Jesus’ central focus. His Sermon on the Mount supplies his core agenda for how his followers will think and act in a new kingdom culture (Matt. 5-7). How to seek and work within the Kingdom of Heaven serves as the master thought of most of Christ’s parables. Across the Gospels, Christ’s teaching and miracles supply profound perspective for how his followers should work responsibly as citizens in the kingdom. Twenty-first century disciples can still hear these stunning kingdom stories and be motivated to do good and faithful work for their Master.
Christ’s workers encounter deeper significance by distinguishing between their primary call (to discipleship) and their secondary call (to a certain role or career path). In order to grasp true purpose, one’s personal call and response to God must be given first priority. “Seek first His kingdom . . . and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).
With such big buzz over the Queen’s jubilant celebration, I’m struck by these kingdom threads. I think the bigger reason we love the Crown is linked to our deep-inside, primal craving. We long to know our own “ruling and reigning” every day really matters. Present-day Christians find motivation in the concept that all God’s people can be engaged in work for the kingdom. That includes work every day outside church walls and palace walls. In God’s estimation, it’s not just the work of a literal royal, like Queen Elizabeth, or work performed by vocational church workers, like pastors, that is truly significant.
Daily work done by all of us in Christ’s name is the work of royals!
Stevens, The Other Six Days, 136-37.
Humphreys, The Character of God, 32.
Stephen R. Holmes, Image of God, in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 318-19.
Harris, Theological Wordbook, 132.
John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative: A Biblical-Theological Commentary, Library of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 96.
Crouch, Culture Making, 138.