Friday, December 19, 2014

Reflections on the Greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ by Hugo Bouter (Part 1)

The Great King
Luke 1:32

The Son of the Highest
When the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Saviour to the virgin Mary, he used the words: “He will be great”. It is always good for us to consider the greatness of Christ, because He is absolutely unique. Mary was a favoured woman, because she was the chosen vessel for the birth of the Messiah. But her Son was greater than she because He was begotten by the Holy Spirit, and for that reason “that Holy One” who was to be born, would be called “the Son of God” (v. 35).

Christ was also greater than His forerunner John the Baptist, of whom it is said in this chapter that he would be great in the sight of the Lord (v. 15). John was a great prophet indeed. The Lord Jesus Himself testified of him that among those born of women there was not a greater prophet than John the Baptist (that is, until the coming of the King and of God’s Kingdom) (Luke 7:28). But, of course, the greatness of the forerunner was not comparable to the glory of the One whose messenger he was. John frankly admitted this to his disciples. He said he was just the friend of the Bridegroom, and he rejoiced to hear His voice. Christ must increase, but he must decrease; for He came from above and was above all (John 3:28-31).

Now what constitutes this greatness of our Lord? What is it that makes Him so unique? Of course, His glory is seen in many aspects, but the angel points to His greatness as Son and King in particular: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end” (vv. 32,33). Nobody can be compared to Him because He is “the Son of the Highest”.

Christ’s glory as the Son of the Highest has to do first of all with His dominion over all things. God Most High is the Creator of heaven and earth, the supreme Ruler (Gen. 14:18-20; Deut. 32:8; Dan. 4:2,3,17,34). As the Son of the Highest, Christ will inherit dominion over all things. His Sonship is related here to His dominion, His Kingship, as is shown by the second part of Gabriel’s announcement.

The title “the Son of the Highest”, or “the Son of the Most High” is found only in the Gospels. In the Epistles we usually find more intimate titles, such as “the only begotten Son” (1 John 4:9), “the Son of the Father” (2 John:3), or “the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13). This corresponds more with the nature of the full New Testament revelation, for God has been revealed as Father by His beloved Son. “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18).

Apart from the verse now under discussion (Luke 1:32), the expression “Son of the Most High God” is found only in the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man in Luke 8:28 and Mark 5:7. The demon acknowledged Christ’s supreme authority by saying with a loud voice: “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!” For He had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Even in His humiliation here on earth Christ had authority over the evil spirits, and this Scripture shows that they acknowledged His authority (cf. Acts 16:16-18).

The term is used only once in the plural (“sons of the Highest”) as a promise to the disciples: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35). Here emphasis is laid on the care of the Most High God for His creatures, even if they have turned away from Him. As sons of God, we should follow Him in this respect and reveal His nature.

But it goes without saying that Christ’s Sonship is absolutely unique. Although believers are the many sons who shall be brought to glory, He is the Son, the Author of their salvation. We are creatures and we partake of flesh and blood, but Hetook part in the same (Heb. 2:14 JND). Manhood was not His natural condition, because He existed in the form of God (Phil. 2:6). The eternal Word became flesh and “dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Creator Himself entered into His creation.

This is the miracle of the incarnation, as described in such a touching and lovely way in Luke’s Gospel. God has found His good will, His good pleasure in man (Luke 2:14). The clearest proof of God’s love and grace towards man is the fact that the Son of God became Man Himself. He lived and walked among us, and in the end He even took our place in the judgment that we had rightly deserved. The path of Christ led from the manger to the cross. There we see Him lifted up as the Son of Man, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The mystery of the incarnation is explained by the angel announcing Jesus’ birth to Mary as follows: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Christ is God and Man in one Person. He was born of God in a unique way, and therefore He is the Son of God — even in His manhood. He was begotten by the power of the Highest, and so He can be rightly called the Son of the Highest. How great He is! How near has the Most High God come to us! How deep has He bowed down towards us in His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!

His Kingdom there will be no end
As we have seen before, Christ’s Sonship is here particularly related to His Kingship. As the Son of the Highest, He has supreme authority. In this passage the period of the coming Kingdom is referred to as follows: “And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32,33).

This is not the throne where Christ is now seated, at God’s right hand in heaven, but the throne that He will establish on earth after His Second Coming (cf. Rev. 3:21). It is the throne of His glory as Messiah and as the Son of Man (Matt. 25:31). Jerusalem, the city of the great King, will be the centre of that reign which will extend to the ends of the earth. He will be honoured as the great Son of David, His father according to the flesh (Rom. 1:3). He will be recognized as the true Prince of Peace, a greater than Solomon (Matt. 12:42), for the Son of David also proves to be none other than the Son of the Highest!

The prophetic perspective of this verse reminds us of the predictions of the Old Testament, mainly those of Isaiah and Micah. These prophets both refer to the divinity of the Messiah, who will sit on the throne of David: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”; “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Isa. 9:6; Mic. 5:2).

Then they both continue to speak about the greatness of His government, which will be marked by justice and peace: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His Kingdom”; “For now He shall be great to the ends of the earth; and this One shall be peace” (Isa. 9:7; Mic. 5:4). So both passages speak about the greatness of His Person, and then about the greatness of His government over the earth. The Messiah is not only a Man, the Man Christ Jesus, but also the eternally blessed God. He is the Eternal Son, the wonderful I AM. Therefore it is appropriate for Him to receive a universal and eternal government; this is in accordance with His dignity.

It would seem that the words of Luke 1:32 (“He will be great”) are quoted literally from Micah 5:4 (“He shall be great to the ends of the earth”). He is greater than David and Solomon, from whom He descended according to the flesh. He is the true King and Priest, the Branch of righteousness who would be raised to David (Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12-13). His greatness surpasses that of all other kings, for even the great of the earth will bring presents and bow down before Him (cf. Ps. 72).

It is wrong to spiritualize this earthly perspective and to confuse the present dispensation of grace with Christ’s millennial reign. We should bear in mind that expressions like “the throne of David” and “the house of Jacob” have a concrete and literal meaning for God’s earthly people. In explaining the Scriptures they should be related to the future restoration of the people of Israel. Otherwise these terms are rendered powerless, and God’s promises are not taken seriously. The throne of David is the throne that will be established in Jerusalem; it is not God’s throne in heaven. And the house of Jacob is the literal offspring of the patriarch; it is not the Church, which has a heavenly origin rather than an earthly one as it consists of all those who are born from above.

If we love Christ’s appearing, we will also rejoice in this earthly aspect of His greatness and glory. He who once was rejected by this world will reign with power. From His coming will ensue a sabbatical rest for Israel and for all the nations. In fact the whole creation will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The Lord’s reign will be visible for all men, and the government of Christ will be the consummation of the theocratic reigns of David and Solomon. According to First Chronicles 29:23 these kings sat on the throne of the LORD in Jerusalem. The LORD, who is a great King (Mal. 1:14), will reign in the Person of His Son. He will be great indeed!
Great among His brethren

While thus considering the greatness of Christ’s reign, one cannot help thinking of what is said about Mordecai at the end of the book of Esther. There we read of “the greatness of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him”, and also that he was “great among the Jews” (Esther 10:2,3).

Just as Mordecai ruled over all the world at that time on behalf of king Ahasuerus, so the Son Himself must reign on behalf of God the Father till He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. Then the eternal state will begin, and everything will be in harmony with God, that God may be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15:24-28).

Finally, we have to ask ourselves to what extent Christ is great in our hearts and lives today. Indeed, He will be great, there is no doubt about that. He will receive the honour that is His due, for the Father will exalt His Son in the whole creation. But the question that we have to face is whether we are exalting Him now in our lives. The apostle Paul strived after this continually, for it was his earnest expectation and hope that “as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20). Christ should be formed in us (Gal. 4:19). His life and His character should be seen in us.

This is the practical application of Luke 1:32 to us as Christians. Is the authority of this great King, who will soon fill the world with righteousness, a reality in our lives today? Do we enjoy His peace? The Prince of Peace, who will soon proclaim His peace on earth, is able to let it rule it even now in our hearts and lives by the power of His Spirit.

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