“The king is dead. Long live the king.” -The pronouncement made at the death of a monarch.
When a monarch dies the people rightfully proclaim: “The king is dead. Long live the king.” The two statements go together by commemorating the death of the king while also acknowledging the importance, and the beginning, of the new monarch. Together the two phrases communicate both a mix of grief and hope.
I think Christians can appropriate this language, if used correctly.
Last week I posted the first half of this post, focusing on Good Friday. In today’s post, the second half focuses on Easter Sunday.
As night falls on Friday: the king is dead.
And on Saturday, nothing has changed: The king is dead (still).
And on Sunday several visit the tomb ready to apply spices to Jesus’ body (Luke 24.1).
But instead some of the most jarring words in history were uttered: “He is not here” (Luke 24.6). The transition between “he was crucified” to “he is not here” must have caused some serious emotional whiplash. They arrive prepared to see Jesus’ corpse, and instead they’ve been told: “he is not here.” Note that Mary’s reaction is not “Oh, of course he’s not here, he really did come back to life, just as he said”; instead, she thinks the body has been stolen (John 20.2, 13). Upon first hearing the news, for Mary, an empty tomb can only mean: “he’s been taken” not “he is risen.”
And yet, that’s precisely what they’re told: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24.5-7).
“The king is dead” no longer applies to the king of the Jews. The king is risen.
Because of his resurrection, everything that appeared true on Friday has been rendered premature or ultimately false.
At the end of Easter Sunday, these 4 words ring true: The king is alive. The promised Messiah had finally come, was executed for the sins of the world, but was raised by the Father three days later. On Friday it appeared that he died as the Messiah of unfulfilled promises and unmet expectations, but on Sunday because he was raised from the dead, his life fulfills promises and prophecies.
The king was dead, but Christians can now proclaim the second line: “Long live the king.”
To be sure, Christians don’t bury one king and enthrone another. The same king that is risen is the one who was dead. Jesus was buried; Jesus has been raised.
In the light of his resurrection we are assured that the Kingdom of God really did arrive.
A tomb has been emptied. Life has conquered death. The resurrection does not “undo” the cross, but rather takes up the entirety of Jesus’ mission to bring his kingdom to earth. Jesus experiences abandonment by the Father so those in Christ never will. Because of the resurrection, Jesus’ death brings forgiveness, healing, and life.
The first four words without the last four would mean despair, defeat, and death. But, the last four words without the first four would lead to spiritual amnesia, wherein we forget that the king died for the people, abandoned by his followers and Father.
Together, however, the two phrases become one victorious proclamation of salvation and life, and the truth of both the cross and the resurrection comes into view: “The king is dead. Long live the king.”
Dr. Neal earned a BA in Political Science from Texas Tech University. He then pursued theological and ministerial training and is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDivBL), and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (MTh; PhD). He is married to Jennifer, and they have four children.
Dr. Neal’s teaching and research focuses on the relationship between biblical interpretation and theology. His Ph.D. research focused on systematic theology, specifically questions raised in contemporary German theology. He is the author of Theology As Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of Jurgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope, and has published a variety of essays, articles, and chapters on theological topics. Dr. Neal has presented papers in several academic venues in England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the United States. Most recently he presented a paper on eschatology at the University of Notre Dame.