What Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ Reveals About Christ and Culture
I have been enjoying the new Netflix Original series “The Crown,” which vividly dramatizes the change experienced by Elizabeth II immediately after she became queen of England.
Before she received the news of her father the king’s death—at a lodge in Kenya—Elizabeth was treated as a distinguished but otherwise normal guest. After hearing the news over the radio, all the hotel staff members and other guests knelt in her presence.
And yet, it would take another 16 months before Elizabeth was formally crowned. During those 16 months, Elizabeth took up the heavy work of queen and was referred to by everyone as “The Queen.” Not the queen-elect, or the queen-in-waiting, or the queen-to-be, or any such already-not yet title. She was, during that entire 16 months, as fully queen as she was after the formal coronation ceremony.
This is a helpful picture for how we should understand the kingship of Jesus Christ. It’s important because our answer to the simple question, “When did Christ become king?” will transform our understanding of culture and how we as Christians relate to it.
When was Jesus crowned as our king? It was only after His Ascension, when He re-entered heaven and sat down on a throne, next to God the Father. (Mark 16:19; 1 Pet. 3:22)
But that isn’t the time when Jesus actually became king. Even before He was crucified, Jesus told Pontius Pilate that He was already a king with a kingdom. (John 18:36-37)
So when did Jesus actually become king? A common answer is that Jesus became king when he was born. The three kings from the Orient testified to the reality of his kingship early on, bowing to the boy Jesus and presenting him royal gifts. (Mt. 2:11)
“The kingdom is not established before the King arrives, so that he can then enter it,” Abraham Kuyper, reflecting this view, wrote in his book Pro Rege. “He himself brings the kingdom in his own person. He establishes it. It is established only when he appears.”[i]
But this is not quite correct. As the example of Queen Elizabeth shows, a monarch does not become monarch at the moment of birth, but when she (or he) has the royal power transferred to her from her father (or mother).
When Christ Became King
The Bible uses such words as “give” and “set” to show how God the Father transferred to Jesus authority to rule over the entire earth. Of course, as the Son of God, Jesus already had equal power with the Father over the whole world. But as William Symington makes clear in his book, Messiah the Prince, the Bible speaks repeatedly of the Father also giving Jesus worldwide authority to accomplish His work as redeemer.
In other words, Jesus the man was crowned king of the world so that He could direct all worldly events for one purpose: saving God’s people from their sins and gathering them together in the church to be, once again, with God. This is Jesus’ mediatorial kingship.
The Apostle Paul made this doctrine clear when he wrote, in Eph. 1:22, “And he (God the Father) put all things under his (Christ’s) feet, and gave him (Christ) as head over all things to the church.”
So the proper question is, when did this transfer of royal power occur? The simple answer is this: since eternity.[ii]
This seems counterintuitive at first. Why was Jesus crowned as redeemer king even before the world was made, even before mankind sinned, even before there was anything to redeem?
We must remember, however, that the fall and redemption of mankind was not God’s Plan B. God is not the author of sin—mankind, given great freedom, did that on its own. But God always knew that mankind would sin and would need a redeemer.
So God the Father appointed Christ as a redeeming, mediating king—even before the world was made.
Paul confirmed that Christ has been the redeeming king from all eternity in Colossians 1. Speaking of Christ in His role as redeemer (“in whom we have redemption”), Paul wrote, “For 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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17)
Transforming Our Understanding of Culture
If Christ has been our redeeming king since before creation, and Christ is the one who created the world, then all of creation, including all of human culture, is used by Christ for the redeemed.
That truth upends several widespread notions—that physical things are completely distinct from spiritual things, that the natural world is completely separate from the supernatural, that there is a common created realm that does not participate in the particular redemptive realm. All these sharp dichotomies are incorrect. Instead, we must believe that Christ is using all things—ALL THINGS—to build His church.
This matters in two ways. First, it makes Christians’ cultural work outside of church more important and, frankly, more religious than most Christians acknowledge. Second, it makes our cultural standing as Christians—whether waxing or waning, in power or under persecution—almost entirely unimportant.
On the first point, Christ is using all of creation and all of human culture to build His church. Therefore, no Christian should say that his or her 9-5 job is not governed by the reality that Christ is king and that Christ’s scriptures include principles that must be applied daily in the office. What we call secular is actually, in Christ’s hands, bringing about sacred things.
Here’s a brief example: There would be no one to preach the gospel and no one to hear it, unless there were enough food to keep both preachers and hearers alive. So everyone who works in the food business—farmers, truckers, grocers, cashiers, chefs, waitresses, bankers, credit card companies, food company executives and especially moms—are laboring every day, under King Jesus’ direction, to keep the church going.
On the second point, Christ’s all-encompassing dominion frees Christians from worrying about gaining earthly power. We don’t need it because Christ already has it. Therefore, no Christian should say, for example, that the U.S. presidential election is more important than even a single Sunday worship service.
Christ is using things we call secular—like elections—to build the church. His purpose for the church, however, is not to use it to win elections or to gain any other corner of earthly dominion.
There is only one King—Jesus—and He created the whole world—including all peoples, all institutions, all realms—for one purpose. That purpose is to glorify God the Father by redeeming a people out of sin to dwell with God. This was true before creation. This was true when the Son of God became a man. This was true when Christ rose from the dead and had His coronation in heaven. And it has been true ever since.
So let us do as those at the Kenyan lodge did and kneel before our monarch. Let us commit ourselves to Christ’s work of building His church. Let us see with faith how Christ is already using both our worship and our work to accomplish the mission He was given before the foundation of the world.
[i] Abraham Kuyper, Pro Rege: Living Under Christ’s Kingship, vol. 1. (Lexham Press: Bellingham, Wash., 2016), 346. It should be noted that, even though Kuyper is ambiguous on when Christ becomes king and even though his work on common grace draws (in my view) too sharp a distinction between the common and the particular, elsewhere in his writing Kuyper strongly affirms that Christ’s kingly dominion includes all things both spiritual and natural. See Pro Rege, pp. 361-69: “… Christ’s kingly dominion is not restricted and limited to your spiritual life. It penetrates all orders and levels of creation.”
[ii] We see Christ being declared King in eternity in Psalm 2, which was written before Christ’s incarnation. Psalm 2:6 quotes God as saying, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” Then Psalm 2:7 quotes God again, this time speaking directly to this “King”: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” Later New Testament writers quote Psalm 2:7’s use of the word begotten in two ways: 1) as a reference to his resurrection (Acts 13:33); and 2) as a reference to Christ’s eternal begottenness as the Son of God (Heb. 1:3-5; 5:5). Matthew Henry says the passage should be taken to have both meanings. And, indeed, the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 8, Section 1 affirms God the Father ordained Jesus as Mediator and King “from all eternity.”