The following are (somewhat) brief explanations of how the images correspond to the weekly theme. Admittedly, some correspond more “naturally” than others, but each image has a particular reason, rationale, or rhyme that will hopefully help shape our worship of the King. All the artwork was done by the very talented, Alex Manring.
Week 1 - The Cross - God Reigns over Life and Death
Given its explicit reference to Jesus’ death, the cross may seem to be an unusual symbol for royalty and kingship. In fact, in the first century, the cross was such a well-known device for torture and death, that Cicero, a Roman philosopher and statesman, once said it was unbecoming for a Roman to even speak of it. But for the New Testament, the cross is presented as the place where Jesus is enthroned as King, where he is “lifted up” (John 12:32), for it is the place where Jesus has overthrown the worst of enemies: sin and death. In John 19, Jesus is given a royal robe, a crown of thorns, and a sign that proclaims that he is King. Given the context, all these gestures seem to be a mockery of Jesus and his claim to be the Son of God. And while this may be the intention, the actual irony is that Jesus is presented as the one true King of God’s Kingdom, through his death and resurrection, in which he is the conquering hero who has conquered death itself. Therefore, the cross is a perfect symbol to represent God’s reign over life and death.
Week 2 - The Crown - God Reigns over Creation
The crown has obvious royal connotations, but what does it have to do with creation? And why the image of a crown in relation to the created order? First of all, in the ancient world, the divine being who was responsible for creation was considered to be the king, sovereign over all the gods. In this sense, creation imagery is closely tied to royal imagery throughout the ancient word, and specifically in the Bible. We can see this link between creation and kingship in Psalm 93, where it says, “Yahweh reigns; he is robed in majesty; Yahweh is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is establish; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (vv.1–2). Second, in the creation account of Genesis 1–2, humanity has been called the “crown of creation,” since they are made in the image of God, tasked to rule over his created order. In Psalm 8, it says that God has “crowned him with glory and honor” (v.5). Of course, humanity failed (and fails) in their royal task, bringing about chaos instead of order. Therefore, as the Son of God became the Son of Man, taking on the full royal responsibility given to the first Adam, he reconciles everything in heaven and earth by his blood. In fact, it is “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). Through creation and redemption, Jesus is thus crowned as Lord over the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them.
Week 3 - The Scepter - God Reigns over the Nations
The scepter is an ornamented staff that symbolized the sovereignty of a ruler. It thus became an image associated with the judgment of the king, especially over and against his enemies. In Scripture, it says that God rules with a scepter (Psalm 45:6, 110:2), and with a rod judges the nations (Psalm 2:9). Psalm 2 vividly portrays God’s judgment over the nations who rage against him. Yet, it is his Messiah, the Anointed One, the true King, whom Yahweh has set over all nations, warning them to be wise and serve Yahweh with fear and rejoice with trembling (2:10–11). It is all the more remarkable, even a mystery as Paul says (Ephesians 3:6), that in the Messiah’s rule the nations will be grafted in (Romans 11:17), taking part in the gathering of the redeemed. To this end, Jesus charges his followers to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20), which will lead to the Kingdom of God being comprised of a “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
Week 4 - The Throne - God Reigns over Suffering
The throne is the ceremonial seat upon which a king sits, representing his rule and place of authority. So, what might this have to do with suffering? While such an image may carry a sense of a sovereign, detached from those of his royal subjects, especially those marginalized in society, the image of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father is a powerful picture of his empathetic intercession for his beloved in all situations throughout all time (Romans 8:31–39). In particular, the author of Hebrews reflects upon this very concept. He says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:15–16). We are able to draw near to this throne with confidence, because Jesus Christ, the one who has fully embraced and entered into all our suffering and knows it even better than we do, “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (8:1), always making intercession for us. Therefore, any and all suffering we experience, we have a King who became an outcast on our behalf, who sits on the throne praying for us now, and will one day, make “all the sad things in this world come untrue.”
Week 5 - The Sword - God Reigns over Sin
The sword symbolizes the warfare that the King wages against his enemies. In Scripture, sin is the open rebellion against God and his kingdom. Therefore, the sword represents God’s righteous judgment against all sin, transgression, iniquity, and idolatry. And just as Jesus Christ takes on the full righteous judgment of God on our behalf, God is both the just King and the justifying Savior who makes us right with him (Romans 3:23–27). At the same time, the sword is directly associated with the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which is “living and active, sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints, and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In this sense, the Sword of the Spirit (or the Word of God) is that which exposes our rebellion and thus becomes a surgical instrument to put to death in us that is in rebellion to God. Therefore, the sword of the King not only brings righteous judgment, but also becomes the means by which we are made righteous before the judge, through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
Week 6 - The Mountain - God Reigns over Time and Possessions
Although a mountain may not have overt connotations to royal imagery to modern worldview, in the ancient world it has direct associations with a king, and even more so, the divine. The ancient world had what could be called a “theological geography,” in which to “go up,” meant something significant: it was not merely a statement of upward physical movement, nor was it merely a metaphor—it was an actual approach to the heavenly realm. An obvious corollary to this reality is that mountains, specifically that of the Holy Mountain (Isaiah 11:9; 56:7), symbolized one’s approach, ascent to God himself. Hence, Psalm 24, asks the question of questions for all humanity: “Who shall ascend the mountain of Yahweh? And who shall stand in his holy place?” The New Testament gives the resounding answer of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the one who ascended to the right hand of the Father. For this reason, the mountain symbolizes the Ascension of Jesus Christ, which is commemorated during week 6 of this season. In regard to God’s reign over time and possessions, a mountain represents that which is ancient, even timeless—to stand before a mountain, one should feel small. Psalm 90, which is a poetic exposition on humanity’s finitude of time and work, reflects upon the timelessness of God in relation to mountains: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (vv.1–2).
Week 7 - Cup - God Reigns over the Church
The cup is meant to represent the royal cup of the king, symbolizing feasting and celebration, along with the fellowship with all those who share his table. In the New Testament, Jesus also refers to the cup that he is to drink as his suffering and death on the cross (Matthew 20:22–23), which is to be shared with all those who desire to follow him in his life and resurrection. Significantly, the cup of Jesus Christ’s passion, the “cup of the new covenant” (Luke 22:20) is that which is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper, to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). It is for this wide ranging network of associations with the cup—the cup of God’s wrath taken by Jesus Christ to grant us access to the fellowship with God; the cup of the New Covenant; the cup of the Lord’s supper taken by the Church—that this image is used to represent God’s reign over the Church.
Week 8 - Fire - God Reigns over each Soul
There does not seem to be any direct correlation between royal imagery and fire. The rationale for this image is the obvious connection to the event of Pentecost, when “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2–4). However, there is a clear connection to this event and the empowerment the Spirit provides for the Church to live out the Kingdom of God throughout the world. And while fire is associated with the final judgment, it is the prayer of the Church and the desire of God our Savior that every soul “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). For this reason, let the Church be faithful to proclaim the Gospel throughout all of creation, that the King may be celebrated and worshipped with all the glory due his name.