In his wonderful book The Crucified King, Jeremy Treat sees the theme of kingdom-through-the-cross reoccurring throughout the Bible. For example he sees the theme show up in the book of Isaiah. He highlights of themes of suffering and victory throughout the prophetic book (while acknowledging the appropriate distinctions in emphasis in chapters 1-39, 40-55, and 56-66). The depiction of royal figure of the first half of Isaiah is expanding and nuanced by the suffering figure of the latter half of the book. This figure establishes God’s kingdom reign by means of his atoning death. When we bring together these twin themes in Isaiah we should see them as mutually reinforcing, not at odds. The kingdom of God is presented both in new creation (emphasizing the cosmic), and as new exodus (emphasizing liberation from enslavement). Isa 52:13–53:12, according to Treat, serves as a vivid demonstration of how this is accomplished.
The paradoxical nature of the servant-king’s suffering and exaltation is at the heart of his glorious accomplishment. He who was “lifted up”…and exalted. (Isaiah 52:13) is the very one who “has born… our griefs” (53:4) and “bore… the sin of many” (53:12). In English, one simply misses the wordplay, but the irony could not be any greater. The one who is “lifted up” in exaltation is the one who has “lifted up” our sins onto himself in order that we may be reconciled to God and share in his victory. Although exaltation and humiliation seem to be extreme opposites, the servant is exalted through humiliation and victorious through suffering. Re-placing the song of the Suffering Servant in its canonical context provides a kingdom framework for the sin-bearing, sorrow-carrying, punishment-averting, guilt-offering, place-taking, atoning death of the servant-king. The significance could not be more crucial: the servant-king brings about a kingdom of servants through his atoning and victorious suffering (86).
But Mark’s Gospel, Treat argues, is also developed along these lines. As chapter 3 begins, Treat contrasts his understanding of the kingdom and cross relation in Mark with the following six positions: Kingdom despite the cross (Jesus’ life and resurrection, not death, bring the kingdom), cross despite kingdom (Jesus’ death is what really matters), kingdom and then cross (Jesus’ kingdom mission cut short by death), cross and then kingdom (Jesus’ death as precursor to the kingdom), kingdom qualifies Cross (theology of glory corrects theology of suffering), and cross qualifies kingdom (theology of suffering corrects theology of glory, 87-88). To this Treats responds, “I propose that the proper relationship is defined as ‘kingdom by ‘way’ of the cross”” (88). He then outlines Mark’s Gospel as follows (89-110),
- The kingdom in the shadow of the cross (1:1-8:26)
- The kingdom redefined by the cross (8:27-10:52)
- The kingdom established by the cross (11:1-16:8)
Treat contends that the cross is “the means of the Messiah’s mission to establish the kingdom” (75), and that “the messianic mission culminates at Golgotha, where the crucified king establishes his kingdom by way of the cross” (110). In his crucifixion, the messianic king is exalted, and through his suffering is victorious (86).
Lastly, at least for our purposes, he also the theme popping up in the book of Revelation:
These passages from Revelation enlighten the relationship between the kingdom of Christ and the blood of his cross in three ways. First, Christ atoning work on the cross results in the people of God being made a kingdom (Rev. 1:5B-6). Second, the Lion-like victory was achieved through a Lamb-like means (5:5–6). By the blood of Christ, people of all nations have been ransomed from sin and made to be kings and priests (5:9–10) in the pattern and fulfillment of the Exodus (Exod. 19:6). Third, the establishment of God’s kingdom entails the defeat of Satan by Christ and his followers (Rev.12:10–11). In what is primarily a legal battle, Christ, by shedding his blood, paid the penalty for sin and therefore defeated Satan by disarming him of his accusatory force. Though the final defeat is yet to come, Christians continue to conquer Satan, exposing his deception but witnessing to Christ’s obedient life and a true efficacy of his death” (126-127)
Treat’s point here is that Kingdom and cross presuppose one another and work in tandem. “The proper view,” the author persuasively argues, “is exaltation in humiliation within a broader progression of exaltation through humiliation” (156). As in Mark’s Gospel, the cross is where the messianic king rules. It is the scepter by which he exercises his dominion and defeats the enemy of the people of God.
In his Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, Michael F. Bird brilliantly summarizes the theme of messiahship in the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s story of Jesus essentially unpacks the designation “Jesus Christ” from the incipit (1:1) so as to show that the Messiah who Christians confess is made known as
- The Son of God, who is beloved by the Father, commissioned for his messianic mission by reception of the Spirit, and exercising command over God’s enemies, be they demons or the armies of Rome.
- The Son of Man, who is authorized to speak for God, appointed to suffer and rise from the dead, and destined to judge the inhabited world.
- The Son of David, who heals the afflicted of Israel, is greater still than David himself and ushers in David’s coming kingdom.
- The King of the Jews, who in an ironic twist, at the end of his triumph, is enthroned as the King of Israel on the cross and there reveals the true power of his kingship by refusing to save himself.
In one sense this is a fairly radical reinterpretation of messiahship, but in another sense it is also an apology [defense] for Jesus as the Messiah. The crucifixion is not thrust upon Jesus as a pure accident of unfortunate events; rather, he deliberately embraces it as part of a larger redemptive purpose. Mark’s Gospel is fundamentally an apology [defense] for a crucified Messiah, something that was pertinent theologically, sociologically, and culturally for Christians in the Greco-Roman world. In other words, Mark’s Jesus is not the Messiah despite the cross, but precisely because of it.
-Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 145. Emphasis added.