Sunday, May 26, 2013

An Empire of Absolutes

The Virtues of Imperialism, pt. 2

I wrote a short story once (though I am unable now to find any evidence of its existence among my files--I fear that it has been lost forever) about privileged man from the first-world who decided that he would use his riches to travel the world. His purpose was not, as one might expect, to sight-see--he would have absolutely despised such practices. Instead, he would go from place to place and apologize for the imperialists who would dare tell others how to live their lives; he would extol the virtues of the world's many, diverse cultures. He thus travels to China to celebrate Communism, to India to celebrate the caste system, to Iran to celebrate radical Islam. Everywhere he goes he encourages all who will listen to continue pursuing what they perceive to be true, never letting any evil imperialist try to tell them otherwise. Finally, he travels to a forgotten tribe in some remote jungle to apologize for the missionaries who dared try and tell them that there was something wrong with the way they had chosen to live. The story ends, naturally, with this anti-imperialist being eaten by cannibals.

The story, needless to say, is a parable. The protagonist is a caricature of every moral-relativist and anti-imperialist to ever walk the earth. It may be founded on hyperbole, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is far too close to the truth for comfort. We need merely open our eyes to see this sort of thing. There is no single idea our present philosophers delight in more than moral relativism--no culture is better than another; no thought is superior to another; no... it is pointless to point out to such individuals that the very concept of moral relativism fails the fundamental test of self-sufficiency.  Any thinking individual ought to see clearly that the idea has no grounding in reality... the greatest failure of my character was that he thought nothing worth caring for; or, worse, he thought everything worth caring for equally.

It is thought by some that empires arise because one desires to destroy others, but empires are really never about others. Even history’s great empires—the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols, the British—were not empires because of the world, for empires exist for themselves. An imperialist does necessarily need to see others destroyed; it needs to see itself rise. As G.K. Chesterton observed, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

This love, this belief, is the hidden sanity of the imperialist; and the lack thereof the hidden madness of the postmodernist. It is a beautiful thing to fight for what one believes! Unfortunately, this can only mean that our world today is filled with a growing and dangerous sort of irrational madness. Far too many steps have been taken (often by those who know no better) to stifle this bit of humanity in what amounts to a particularly gruesome form of self-abuse. The greatest virtue has become to 'live and let live,' even if this living amounts to a sort of living hell; the greatest vice becomes to persuade another to abandon the fortresses of their own kingdoms. To speak of anything as an absolute is anathema to this sort of insanity. 

Even many Christians neglect this fundamental truth: to forego the commandment of Christ to conquer—to refuse to go into the world and to make disciples—is an act of hate. Too many Christians have too much in common with those deranged churches that preach unity over doctrine; peace over truth. There may be unity in Unitarianism; but there is also a willingness to believe a lie (or many lies, as the case may be) for the sake of this unity.

There are few things sadder than those who oppose the very notion of imperialism upon the premise that it is wrong for one man to subject another to his philosophy or his politics. Make no mistake: I find it perfectly commendable when one chooses to stand fast in opposition to the expansion of an empire—no matter what form that Empire may take—but only when he who opposes is part of yet another Empire; one he believes to be superior. When one Empire is thrust against another, when swords and ideas clash, one feels the shivers of great and powerful things afoot. There is found the beautiful conflict of religious ideas and political philosophies that can only strengthen the very power of man to think and to feel.

Some of our world's Empires may have been right and even more were almost certainly wrong, but both good and evil are preferable to one who fails to recognize the difference between the two. There is perhaps no more fitting (and no more pitiful) representative of our present age than such a man. This is the man who protests against the rich man simply because he has had the audacity to become rich. And perhaps he is right—perhaps the rich man is rich only because of his greed; perhaps he has lied and cheated his way to riches. But can't we see that such an evil can only be opposed by an equal or greater good? Evil will not be moved by idle sign-holders or pitiful hunger strikes. Only the great and unstoppable force of the Sermon on the Mount (one of the great stump speeches given at the foundation of the world's greatest Empire) will speak to the heart of the evil. The rich man may hold no fear of the long-haired heathen on the sidewalk, but he will surely be stricken with deadly fear upon the conviction of the scorching words of Christ against the evils of greed and idolatry; he will be unable to provide an answer when how he expects to escape from the damnation of hellfire. 

Make no mistake about it, the call to bring to fruition a Kingdom of Heaven on Earth—not by men but for men—is the call to raise up an empire of good that is powerful enough to topple all evil. We do not point in admiration to the early martyrs because of their passivity in the moment of death, but because of their outspoken ferocity against the empires that opposed their God. There is nothing passive about the Kingdom of God; it exists only so that the world might be overtaken by it. Though the empires of this little planet may topple, and though the pangs of childbirth from which the world continually suffers may inflict themselves upon every institution and edifice (including Christendom itself), there is the hope in knowing that the Christian empire, properly wielded, is destined to overcome. But it must be held to as one holding onto the final rung of a ladder leading to freedom; as one holds a holy book to their chest in the moment of death as if it were a beloved child. Above all, it must be believed in and it must be allowed the freedom to spread and to conquer the nations and to topple the pitiful attempts of man.

“Let us then as Christians rejoice,” Malcolm Muggeridge reminds us, “that we see around us on every hand the decay of the institutions and instruments of power, see intimations of empires falling to pieces, money in total disarray, dictators and parliamentarians alike nonplussed by the confusion and conflicts which encompass them. For it is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been explored to no effect, when in the shivering cold the last faggot has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm. Then Christ’s words bring their inexpressible comfort, then his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever. So, finding in everything only deception and nothingness, the soul is constrained to have recourse to God himself and to rest content with him.”

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Empire Out of Fashion

The Virtues of Imperialism, pt. 1 of 2

“I came, saw, I conquered.” –Julius Caesar

It has been more than two thousand years since Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and made the first steps toward forming the Roman Empire; more than a century since Theodore Roosevelt occupied the White House as the last self-proclaimed “Imperial President”. Between those two men rose and fell a host of potential conquerors, expanding boarders with varying degrees of success. But this is all in the past. The Imperialist has doubtless gone out of fashion in our world. The noble, conquering hero, fighting faithfully for king and country, has lost his glory; the armor of the knight has lost its luster. But for a few pitiful displays of saber-rattling from would-be tyrants and third-world dictators, the days of fruitful conquest really do seem to be over. A world that once praised conquerors has been replaced by a place that holds an almost worshipful respect for borders, both national and interpersonal. Cursed be the nation that dares impede another’s sovereignty! Cursed be any man who dares question another’s system of beliefs! Today, anyone whose views bear even the faintest hint of imperialism is mocked and scorned and shamed. The imperialists—if there are indeed any real imperialists left—are left standing idly by, accepting the coals heaped upon them.

It is a sad irony that even the greatest Empires built in centuries past—bulwarks that should unquestionably have stood as the boldest, strongest fortresses of humanity—have been replaced almost entirely by empires that fundamentally oppose Imperialism. The true Empires have been systematically dismantled and destroyed, not because they found themselves facing worthwhile opposition, but because they found themselves facing a changed world that no longer cared enough to maintain them. As soon as the world stopped caring about building empires, the empires became unable to maintain the blazing fire with which they once promised to overrun the world. 

I am certainly one of the few remaining individual who would consider himself an imperialist; certainly I am one of the few who truly understands what it means to be an imperialist. I can say this proudly, but only because imperialism is an idea that means something—it means, in fact, something very specific (though the world has been trying to dispense with specificities, just as it has already done with generalities). An imperialist is one who conquers, and the size of one’s empire is a measure of one’s success. An imperialist is not necessarily an imperialist because he is attempting to conquer the world for the sake of expanding his own power, nor must he intend to subject the conquered to his own despotic rule; it does not mean that he must be a Nazi or a Fascist or a Socialist. An imperialist is only this: a man who believes strongly enough in some credo or system to fight for it; a man who maintains that what he believes ought to be believed by others, as well.

Imperialism is the fundamental belief, to put it perhaps even more succinctly, that it matters a great deal what a man believes. It means that a man's philosophy is his most important characteristic—more important even than his wealth or political leanings or attention to fashion. It is the thing that sets him apart most perfectly from the lesser creatures; the thing in which the image of the maker is most universally and most vividly reflected. What a pity, then, that this is the thing that has been most universally (and most passively) destroyed by the fraudulence of the Modern Mind. Rare are those today who believe in things not just definitely, but defiantly. Such men cannot hide from society's mores; they cannot creep silently beneath a cloud of -isms and the -ologies hoping not to be recognized. A true imperialist will always be recognized, for he does not follow the tides of the world.

But there is another element to this: while in a very true sense the imperialist always seems to be in motion, pressing onward as a perpetual conqueror, in another sense (also very true) the imperialist is the only man who stands perfectly still. The world is consistently changing, and the rise of postmodernism (ready to believe anything) and nihilism (willing to believe nothing at all) have led to a culture that is constantly changing, constantly adapting, and constantly compromising. The imperialist is the one figure who will stand in staunch denial of a world that floats and flits about on every changing wind and tide; a world willing to grasp the delicate thread of idealism only when the superficial ebb of humanity has declared it socially acceptable. 

The brave Imperialist stands still while the world changes around him; yet to the world this seems as foolish as a Medieval astronomer who believes that it is the earth that moves, rather than the sun. It is the opponent of imperialism who, in his fickleness, like a child, unable to sit still in a world gone maddeningly stagnant—for he has neither sought nor found anything worthwhile to hold on to. The imperialist has found his anchor; he has found his truth, and he pursues it with his whole heart.

Now, much has been said of the great abuses of the world's best-known Empires. Many such worldly empires have flooded the continents, both in our age and in ages past, and yet we stand in the first decades of the twenty-first century believing that we have somehow obtained (as if it were a good thing) a world without an empire. A world of fixed and resilient borders. A world of trade agreements and pacts; alliances and leagues. All nations, all beliefs, are tolerated, so long as they kneel at the altar of multiculturalism, where to even speak of imperialism is itself taboo.

But I do not disagree entirely with the anti-Imperialists. I agree, for instance, that many Empires have striven after evil and desperate goals. If my focus were reduced to political entities alone, then it is clear that the most successful imperialists have (to the misfortune of all) been almost invariably the ones with the least vision of how an empire ought to look. To the classic imperialist all is power and dominion. The end is expansion; the means need not be considered.

If such empires were truly all there were—barbaric, dictatorial empires rising and falling; building their statues in the squares of conquered towns and then having them torn down by the rapturous masses—then perhaps I could understand the world’s staunch opposition to imperialism. But, rest assured, this is certainly not all there is. Caesar spoke of coming, seeing, and conquering, but what if we consider, instead, the second most well-known statement on imperialism:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The empire demanded by Jesus Christ in His great commission is far different from the empires that immediately come to mind. It is also an empire that should never be confused with previous so-called “Christian” empires, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the ill-defined imperialism of the crusades. Much has been said—and there remains much more to be said—of the infamy of the Christian crusades (though the term itself is misleading—that they were crusades is inarguable; that they were Christian is contentious at best, and really ought to be flatly denied). These conquests have been called at various times 'barbaric' and 'holy'; 'murderous' and 'righteous', but only a madman could have called them 'successful'. And they were certainly not the thing Christ had in mind.

Christ gave us the one and only blueprint for an empire that could be truly virtuous and could truly overtake the world. The fact that this blueprint is only rarely followed is one of many reasons that every last attempt of man to forge a Kingdom of Heaven upon this Earth has been beset, not only with hardship, but with utter, miserable failure. Utopianism has been a bloodier movement than even the purest anarchy. Movements that preach a gospel of perfect fairness have resulted in mass graves that would be the envy of any Jihadist.

The empires of this world have failed because they have stood as entities with direction and magnitude, but they lack what is by far the most important dimension: they lack destination. They are but arrows pointing deeply and desperately into some ethereal distance, with a confusion of goals and gods to rival Babel, but they have nothing concrete on which to focus their gaze.

The most crucial principle to building a Christian Empire is that it is continually directed toward the person of Christ and the Kingdom that He spent His ministry defining. The greatest failings of our empires have always rested in forgetting to rest our eyes upon the reality of how my Empire ought to truly look. I, like the imperialists who have come before me, become far too at home in this world, forgetting that I am but a sojourner, and I look to my Empire as a thing that will conquer the world for the sake of might and power. But I am never so sane or so rational as when the more perfect focus returns. Only when I recapture an appropriate picture of the destination may I truly begin my conquest. And only then may the empire I am building have any hope of victory.

“To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
“The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.”
“To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna…”
“The one who conquers and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.”
“The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.”
“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 2 and 3

Monday, May 13, 2013

Why Suffering?

Why indeed? Who hasn’t asked, or been asked, a question along the lines of, “If God exists, then why is there suffering in the world?” The question is good and it is important, but the fact it is that it is only rarely genuine. The more I study the more I realize that the question of suffering is more often than not a means of provocation, asked by skeptics who really don’t care about the answer; skeptics who, in fact, know full well that there is no answer a Christian could give that would satisfy them. And they are absolutely right. Because of this, the question of suffering remains one that every apologist in history has been forced to acknowledge at some point or another. Because of its pervasiveness, no book or article hoping to defend God from the arrows of the skeptic could possibly be considered complete if it does nothing to address this most difficult and sensitive of issues, and for thousands of years now it is a question that Christians have dreaded facing up to.

I’m certainly not presumptuous enough to believe that I can settle the issue once and for all here, and there are certainly things yet to be said, but I hope to at least begin the conversation with a few observations of my own.

To begin with, it doesn’t seem insignificant to note that it is often the most privileged skeptics who are quickest to point to the suffering of the world as a means of disproving God—and that seems like a rather odd thing. Wouldn’t one rather expect the strongest cries against suffering to come from those who actually suffer? Shouldn’t the streets and slums of the third world account for more cries against God than the halls of the Ivy League? Shouldn’t refugee camps and homeless shelters be hotbeds of atheism? They should, but they are not, for the truth of suffering is a strange thing. No, we really don’t see much suffering in the western world; not, at least, at the scope or scale that we see elsewhere. Even the hungry of America are generally well-fed; even the poor are relatively rich; even the sick are relatively healthy. And yet the skeptics of the Western World are the first to decry God for allowing suffering into creation.

Yes, suffering is real. I have seen it too many times, and it has broken my heart. But what have I found in walking through the slums, hospitals and orphanages of the third world? Diseased, enslaved and famished multitudes cursing God for their plight? Orphans and widows abandoning their various faiths and giving in to their despair? No. I’ve never found what one ought to expect: I’ve found people thirsty for faith; eager for hope. I’ve found people hungry for the taste of eternity. I’ve witnessed men and women, suffering more than most of us will ever know, flocking en masse toward faith, and, likewise, I’ve seen these same sufferers finding faith, then immediately turning and preaching to their fellow afflicted.

It is a strange truth: Those who suffer—who truly suffer—are those least likely to use suffering as an argument against God.

And how is one to explain this? Why should suffering lead one toward God rather than away from Him? One must first understand the cause of suffering—something the theist and atheist ought to be able to agree on: suffering is a symptom of freedom. The fact that man is free—free to accept God (or a more secular morality) or to reject Him; to walk faithfully with Him or to turn away—means that there will always be suffering in this world. As long as there is freedom there will be some who disagree with others; as long as we are at liberty to believe what we want there will be no worldwide unanimity on anything of importance, and, yes, there will be those who suffer as a consequence. Suffering is not a symptom of man’s rejection of God, and nothing more. Dostoyevsky wrote beautifully of this in The Brothers Karamazov, through the words spoken by the Grand Inquisitor (one of the truly sublime characters in all of literature, no matter how brief his presence). The Inquisitor, a closet skeptic attempting to cure the world of freedom’s curse, argued the point while standing face-to-face with Christ. The greatest failing of Christ’s earthly ministry, the Inquisitor argues, was to give man freedom, a fact exemplified in the temptation in the wilderness. Jesus refused the Devil’s offer of miraculous food, which he could have used to feed the world. He declined a worldly throne, from which he could have forced us all to worship, thus ending all religious wars. He declined to show his power to the world through miracles, thus taking away the need for a faith that leads to so much disagreement. His threefold refusal gave us freedom and humanity has forever suffered as a result. As a rule mankind accepts freedom as a good thing, and yet we suffer because we are free.

But take heart! The same freedom that enables human suffering offers us a way out: it enables us to transcend even the bitterest of human suffering by humbly kneeling before the heavenly throne and finding comfort. It allows us to be sought and found by a God who promises, among all of His great graces, an end to suffering. No, it is not always during our lifetime—indeed, even the slave is not promised freedom on earth; rather, he is encouraged to obey and to work hard, as unto God (Eph. 6), even if it means that he will be a slave until the day he dies. But even for the slave; even for the hungry and thirsty, orphan and widow, there is promised an end to suffering that is both definite and absolute. Though this revelation may be (rightly) dismissed by the skeptic as absurd, it can scarcely be denied that this knowledge, this revelation, has a real, profound, lasting effect on those who suffer. The hope of eternal rest can and does set at ease even the most troubled heart; it can relieve even the most intense suffering. Yes, there is great power in hope, and even more so when that hope is based on truth. Though the humanist somehow thinks it humane to tear this hope away from the sufferer, allowing them to simply wallow in hopelessness, the truth is not easily destroyed, and those who suffer know in their soul that real hope lies only in eternity.

Here is the great secret of the Christian’s response to suffering: it will never make sense to the skeptic. Nor should it. There is no common ground to be found. Even the cleverest Christian will not find an answer that will put an end to the debate once and for all; it will rage on and on, both sides growing endlessly frustrated, but only because the two sides are speaking different languages and never acknowledging the fact. The answer of the Christian to the problem of suffering lies entirely in the eternal; that is, it lies entirely in a concept absolutely rejected by the skeptic. The Gospel is embraced by the sufferer, not because it offers immediate, miraculous relief from physical hardship, but because in the promise of the eternal it promises a far greater relief than any Novocain or Aspirin; a bliss far greater and far more lasting than any opiate or hash-pipe. A sufferer who truly understands the Gospel understands that even the worst of the world’s suffering is but a tiny leaf blowing in the wind of eternity, that we are as much sojourners in suffering as we are sojourners on the earth, and this brings joy. Real joy. Unreasonable, unexplainable joy.

It makes perfect sense that this should be taken as gibberish to the skeptic. “For the word of the cross,” says 1 Corinthians, “is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” One cannot possibly be expected to understand suffering before he understands God. One absolutely must come before the other.

To accept eternity—that is, to accept the Gospel—is to accept this great truth: “Truly, truly, I say to you,” said Jesus in John 16, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” Likewise, Romans 8 says that creation itself is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. But Christians alone can take comfort in knowing that this groaning, which manifests itself in death, disease, and every vile facet of human nature, is not our true reality; it is our present, but certainly not our future. Our future is in our “adoption as sons and the redemption of our bodies.” Just as the woman experiencing painful labor can look forward to the joy of her child, so each of us, engaged in some form of suffering or another, can look forward to the joy of eternity if we know God. Without God, there is no hope; suffering will give birth to even greater suffering, like a stillborn child.

The difference between the Christian and the skeptic is not that one can offer a clear, reasonable explanation suffering and one cannot—though both certainly try. Nor is it that one can necessarily put a stop to it and the other cannot—though both certainly do make admirable attempts, all of which should be encouraged to continue. The difference is really can offer hope for those who suffer and the other cannot. One can offer the promise of a suffering that will turn to joy, and the other offers only suffering that ends in death. The skeptic may think that in the idea of suffering they have ammunition with which to attack the Christian, but before they mount their attack they must first acknowledge that they themselves have nothing to offer the suffering but the cruel notion that this is all there is.

There is much more to be said, of course. How are we to respond to suffering? How do we strive to put an end to it? Why is Christianity the optimal worldview for ending the world’s suffering (which it certainly is)? And so on. I may respond to these questions in time, but what I have already written ought to serve as a start—we have to understand suffering before we can truly attack it. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Jesus and the Kings of Earth

As I read the gospels, the continuous story of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom is a story that captivates me far more than any of the dramatic water-into-wine or healing-the-blind moments, though the latter certainly make for better television. This story does not begin in the Gospels, of course—it begins far before the man ever walked the earth. It is absolutely everywhere in the Old Testament, as we see creation groaning and man failing time and again to create the kingdom for himself. But in the New Testament we see, at last, a kingdom not just being longed for and prophesied about, but a kingdom come!

This startling revelation has perhaps its most poignant roots in the poetic words of the mother of Christ, as the boy who would one day rule over a kingdom that would never end nestled and kicked within her womb. According to Luke’s Gospel, Mary, in the Magnificat, uttered a beautiful song, whose themes would be echoed by her son during His ministry:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Here is the strange and bold truth of a Kingdom that had not yet come, for it would only come with the child in her womb: Jesus would not become mighty, but he would establish a kingdom that would bring the mighty low; He would never be rich, but he would establish a kingdom that would render worthless the riches of the earth. Five chapters and thirty years later, when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Plain, His message was the same as his mother’s: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”

From the beginning of Jesus ministry—yes, even well before the beginning—the message was the same: the worthwhile things of the earth were not the worthwhile things of His kingdom. All the riches of the world were left worthless when compared to the incomparable riches of His kingdom that will never end.

Jesus knew this, of course, when He was tempted. Had he not understood His own message (as we consistently fail to understand it today) He surely would have given in to Satan’s devious machinations. Malcolm Muggeridge was right in noting that Satan’s great secret in offering Jesus the kingdoms of the earth, is that at its core the offer is bogus. “There are no kingdoms for him to bestow; only pseudo or notional ones presided over by mountebanks masquerading as emperors and kings and governments.” Jesus, who would be called King of kings and Lord of lords, who came to usher in a glorious kingdom, who would send out His forces in the form of a church destined to conquer the earth, was being offered the mirage of earthly rule and authority. Satan offered Jesus nothing more than the laughable, passing pleasure of meaningless authority. Imagine Jesus actually giving in! Imagine Jesus sitting on a paper throne when there was a heavenly one waiting for Him! Imagine the inanity of Jesus ruling over a Potemkin kingdom that, like every nation and kingdom of earth, would be blown away again and again by every light breeze. Jesus declined earthly rule not because he was too humble, but because there is no earthly rule to be had! There never has been. Jesus alone knew that the offer was not just beneath Him; it had no value whatsoever, just as the sustenance of a loaf of bread has no value when compared to the pure, eternal substance of God’s Word. Though truly tempting to we of such little perspective, for Jesus to take these things would not be to accept something good, it would be to lose something of supreme value!

But the Jews failed to understand this in the first century, just as we continue to fail, even though we have the truth at hand. “To what should I compare this generation?” Jesus asked in Matthew 11. “It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, andyou did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” The people of Israel expected something different in their Messiah—and though they may have thought that their expectation was greater than the reality, in truth it was far less. They expected a king, to take a physical throne in their physical palace, for they hadn’t yet learned that every physical throne is destined to collapse; every physical palace to crumble and decay. Jesus may have been truly afraid when, “perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:15) What a mockery this would have been! For Jesus to be lifted up to be king of the Jews would have been the greatest tragedy to ever befall that nation—a greater tragedy, even, than the destruction of the temple a few decades later. To raise up Christ as an earthly king would have been to deny Him the eternal throne to which He was headed. It would have been to sacrifice something unbelievably great for something unbelievably worthless.

The story of Christ’s kingdom reaches its denouement, of course, at Golgotha. On the cross Christ put to death every pretense of Earthly rule; just as in His resurrection He made the first movement to take His seat on His eternal throne. But the truest perspective can be found in the hours leading up to the cross, with the mockery of Jesus by the guards and, surely, the priests of Israel as well. In mocking Christ, they were bringing judgment on themselves; in draping Him with the clothes of royalty and cruelly crowning Him with thorns they were demonstrating Christ’s decisions in the wilderness—they were mocking not just a would-be king, but the man who would be King of Kings. Jesus’ destiny was to rule over everything, bringing low the powers of men, and, ironically, it was His death that made this possible. While mocking Jesus, these people were enabling His rule, helping to usher in His kingdom, dramatically sealing their own fate.

So Jesus was killed, and so He rose, and so did His Kingdom find its foundation, on which it continues to be built today. Since Christ died, ostensibly ending what had been a vibrant, but brief, ministry that might even have led to a revolution had it been allowed to continue, two thousand years have come and gone. With those years, decades, centuries and millennia have come the world has seen the Roman Empire fall from dizzying heights; it has seen the Mongol Empire on the edge of conquering the known world; it has seen a British Empire, a French Empire, Portuguese, Belgian, Japanese Empires all rise and fall. Bitterly and tragically fall. Empires built by human hands, withering and dying with age after just centuries.

Christ’s Kingdom continues to grow; it shows no signs of aging.

Had Hitler been successful in his dream of establishing a German Reich so pure and so powerful that it did indeed last a thousand years, it would still perish and be replaced, in the end amounting to less than nothing when standing before the sheer weight of Christ’s eternal kingdom, which has persisted already for twice that.

If Christ’s Kingdom has indeed persisted, then Mary’s prophecy concerning her son is made even more beautiful, for it is being fulfilled even today, before our own eyes. If Christ’s Kingdom is alive and thriving then His temptations in the wilderness remain both relevant and urgent to every man and woman who has ever been caught up in the things of the world; for, as Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, “ (Satan’s) three questions the whole subsequent history of mankind is, as it were, brought together into one whole, and foretold, and in them are united all the unsolved historical contradictions of human nature.” If Christ does indeed sit on a throne, reigning over an eternal kingdom, then those present at His trial were not mocking their victim by pretending that He was a king, but mocking every king and emperor who has ever lived by pretending that they might be anything like Him. “Who,” asks Muggeridge, “among the motley collection of spectators of so obscure an event could possibly have envisaged that there before their eyes another civilization was being born, which would last for two thousand years, shining so long and so brightly? Not even the Apostles could have thought of that; what they looked for was an apocalyptic Second Coming and the end of the world, not the beginning of Christendom.” God’s ways, we need to be reminded time and time again, are not our ways. They are far, far better.