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Hello, fellow wayfarers … How the “Christ is king” social media controversy should remind us how Christ is not the king some of us are looking for … Why you should think of the cross the next time you see an arrow sign … Where some of you in the nation’s capital can come to visit in person … a Desert Island Bookshelf from Atlanta … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

‘Christ Is King’ Is Not the Slogan Some White Nationalists Want It to Be

If you’re one of the very-online white nationalists who decided during Holy Week to claim the hashtag “Christ is king” as an antisemitic troll, I’ve got what might seem to you to be both good news and bad news.

The good news: Christ is king. The bad news: He’s a Jew. The even worse news: He’s not the kind of king you think he is.

This week commentator Candace Owens, recently fired by The Daily Wire for anti-Jewish comments, made news as she used the slogan online, allegedly as a response to her former boss, Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish. The phrase was then amplified by so-called “Groypers,” the social media mob assembled around the white nationalist Nick Fuentes, whose singular mission seems to be to put the Mein back in Mein Kampf.

When some—such as on-air talent and executives at Owens’s previous media platform—criticized the use of the slogan, many of those using it pointed out that the words Christ is king represent basic Christian teaching. The words God and damn are, of course, perfectly good biblical words too, but most of us can see that context can change the meaning.

I’m less interested in the nationalist-on-nationalist social media controversy than I am in the much less recognized question behind it: Can “Christ is king” be antisemitic trolling? One could argue yes, and that the first time we find the words referenced as written down, they were just that.

The cross, after all, came with a label affixed to it. Above Jesus’ head were the words Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews, written not just in Aramaic but in Greek and Latin too (John 19:19–22). Many have speculated as to why the prosecuting governor, Pontius Pilate, who personally wrote this inscription, did so—and why he wouldn’t change it, when asked, to “This man said, ‘I am the king of the Jews.’” What we do know is that the Roman system, of which Pilate was an official, used humiliation and intimidation as governing tools. After all, that’s what crucifixion is—a ghastly and shameful act of torture meant to provoke fear in anyone who might challenge the Caesarean order and to dehumanize anyone killed that way.

The Gospel of Mark indicates that the sign’s inscription, “the king of the Jews,” was actually the charge against him (15:26). The “Jesus is king” language would have been self-evidently a kind of joke, making fun of both Jesus and his fellow Jews under Roman occupation. As Frederick Buechner once said of that sign, “To get something closer to the true flavor, try translating the sign instead: ‘Head Jew.’” The joke is that a king on the throne of David would not be drowning in his own blood, helplessly fixed to a Roman cross. To call him that would make a cruel point not just to any future insurrectionist but to the hopes of Jewish people generally—No one is coming to get rid of us. Caesar is king.

The motives of Pilate’s soldiers in applying the “Christ is king” imagery was even clearer. The purple cloak and the crown of thorns were meant to be a parody—as the Roman soldiers sarcastically saluted Jesus, yelling, “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18). They mocked Jesus both for his alleged claim to kingship and for his Jewishness, both seen as being obviously beneath the majesty of Roman power.

Jesus, though, is not a true and better Caesar. His kingship is something altogether different. “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20, ESV throughout). Jesus was teaching, If you want to see the kingdom of God, stop looking around for what you expect it to be; here I am.

That’s because the kingdom of God is not a capstone of the aspirations and power games of this present order; it’s a repudiation of them. If the kingdom of God were about external conformity, tribal membership, or “winning” in the sense that we define it, Jesus could have embraced all of that from the crowds around him (John 6:15) or by teaching Peter to be a better swordsman (Matt. 26:52–54). The kingdom of God cannot be understood or articulated without seeing that the Crucifixion is not a plot obstacle on a hero’s journey. The way of the Cross is, in fact, the Way—while the way of Caesar leads to death.

One cannot be born again by Caesarean section.

The Resurrection itself was a “yes” and an “amen” to that way. As New Testament scholar Richard B. Hays points out, Jesus, after his resurrection, did not appear to Pontius Pilate or to his other opponents, but to his own disciples. What he entrusted to them was not a way to get and to use the same kind of power that had crucified him, but instead a way to wait for the only kind of kingship that ultimately matters, anointed by the Holy Spirit who breathes life into what was dead (Acts 1:6–9).

Be careful what you wish for. Christ as king, the way he defined it, is not good news for those who want to use Christ in order to become kings themselves.

Something dark is haunting the world right now. The old gods of blood and soil are rustling. We have endured the same before. But we must not let them claim the cross. The cry “Christ is king” is true. That’s why it must never be emptied with a satanic kind of kingship. Abominations are in the world around us until the end, but Jesus warned us of a specific kind—the abomination that is “standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).” Jesus says, along with the prophet Daniel, that that kind of abomination—the kind that uses the holy things of God—leads to “desolation” (Matt. 24:15). What we must fear the most is not that which can push us down but that which can hollow us out.

If Jesus were an antisemite, he could not save us. He would be a sinner just like us. In addition, if Jesus were an antisemite, he could never read his own Bible or even look in the mirror. You cannot follow Jesus while sneering, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” You cannot claim the Messiah as Lord while hating his kinsmen according to the flesh. You cannot say “King Jesus” while mocking who he is and what he told us with purple robes and thorny crowns.

You cannot have both Jesus as Lord and Jesus as Caesar without twisting the cross.

A twisted cross is just another swastika, and that’s no cross at all.

Next Time You See an Arrow Sign, Think of the Cross

The other day I was reading the Argentine poet/novelist Jorge Luis Borges and was surprised to come across his musings on, of all things, the cross. He points, first of all, to an arrow sign, the kind that says “Keep Right” or “One Way” or “Driver License Applicants Should Stand Here.” He shows how we are so accustomed to this use of the arrow as a symbol that we almost never think of it as the military weapon it once was.

Borges writes about how many people were killed over the sweep of human history by the arrow—how many armies were put to flight, how many villages wiped out. But today we don’t see the arrow as something to evoke awe or gravity; instead, we see it as a way to just point in one direction or the other.

He cites some other examples of symbols abstracted from their original, bloodier meanings. “Cross, rope, and arrow: ancient implements of mankind, today reduced, or elevated to symbols,” he writes. “I do not know why I marvel at them so, when there is nothing on earth that forgetfulness does not fade, memory alter, and when no one knows what sort of image the future may translate it into.”

Familiarity and forgetfulness do indeed evacuate something of what symbols are intended, initially, to mean. The cross would have been immediately understood as an instrument of torture. The cross was offensive, Paul writes, to both Jews and Greeks, but we tend to think of that “offense” in very abstract terms. The entire Roman world would have seen the cross, though, as an emblem of humiliating defeat. The Jewish world understood that the cross was more than just a means of death. The law of Moses straightforwardly stated that a person hanged on a tree was “cursed by God” (Deut. 21:23).

The symbol of the cross, though, seems so often abstract to us—just a stand-in for the category of the Christian religion. To really get what Paul means by “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), we should feel the shock of that statement.

Maybe that’s why I love reading the Bible with people who are brand new to it—sometimes new Christians, sometimes those intrigued but not yet convinced by the gospel. Often, these are the people who feel the strangeness of the gospel in precisely the way it’s intended. And sometimes, by reading it alongside them, I reclaim the shock of that strangeness for myself, the kind of strangeness that leads us to follow in a way we would never choose on our own.

DC-Area Readers, I’d Love to See You

My friends David French and Curtis Chang will join me in Washington, DC, for The After Party LIVE! on April 19. The After Party is a free six-part video curriculum for individuals, small groups, and churches to think through a better way for Christians to engage in politics. As we like to say, it’s not about the “what” of politics but about the “how.”

You can sign up here, and we’ll save a seat for you.

Desert Island Bookshelf

Every other week, I share a list of books that one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a deserted island. This week’s submission comes from reader Sarah Y. Prehmus from Atlanta, Georgia, whose parents I had the privilege of spending time with just a few weeks ago in Egypt. Here’s Sarah’s list:

  • Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley: We Protestants tend to think church history began in 1517. This book starts with the age of the apostles and traces the development of Christian orthodoxy through the late 20th century. It’s detailed but not a slog, engaging, and not at all intimidating. A good reminder while stranded on an island that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses!

  • A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill: Another centuries-spanning work, this one about England and the Commonwealth. Even this Anglophile can get glassy-eyed reading about endless European disputes and genealogies of monarchs, but not with this book. Churchill’s unique voice provides insightful and often hilarious commentary, impressing on us above all else God’s hand in shaping the nations.

  • A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: The book equivalent of curling up with a blanket and cup of coffee on a winter day. It’s the story of a count sentenced to life under house arrest in a luxury hotel during the Bolshevik revolution. Endlessly re-readable.

  • Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott: Before reading Lamott’s memoir, I had a pretty narrow view of what Christian faith looked like. She writes beautifully of wrestling with doubt, fear, and the hard things in life. Her wit and humor would help pull me through the dark days of being stranded.

  • The Legacy of Sovereign Joy by John Piper: A concise and powerful exploration of God’s grace in the lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin—faithful but very flawed men. An encouraging reminder that God uses broken people to further his kingdom.

  • All Over but the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg: I had to include a book from my home state. Bragg grew up dirt poor in Alabama and became a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter. He’s an incredible storyteller, and this memoir honors his mother, who worked tirelessly so that her children could have a better life.  

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Just a gorgeous book. Fantasy novels about star-crossed lovers who happen to be competitors in a magical circus might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they sure are mine.

  • The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien: What else can I say that hasn’t already been said? On a desert island, I would finally have the time to nerd out and dig into the delightfully complex family trees referenced throughout the stories.

  • The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer: Another book that shaped my faith as an adult. It taught me how to joyfully experience God’s presence. I’d need this devotional book on the island to remind me that God is not “out there”; he is immediate.

  • Dracula by Bram Stoker: Growing up during the heyday of Buffy, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries, I figured I’d better read the book that got it all started. It turns out those Victorians knew what they were doing. Gothic horror, strong female characters, intriguing villain, different narrative points of view—this book has it all.

  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White: Even reading the title gives me a thrill. The Arthurian legend retold for a 20th-century audience. Adventure plus complex character studies plus important moral and philosophical questions.

  • Beach Music by Pat Conroy: A Southern classic and nostalgic favorite. And an actual beach read … perfect for my new island life.

Readers, what do y’all think? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list (or both lists!) to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like, along with the city and state from which you’re writing.

Quote of the Moment

“If Jesus had not been raised from the dead, we would never have heard of him.”

—Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ

Currently Reading (or Re-Reading)

Patrick Schreiner, The Transfiguration of Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Reading (Baker Academic)

Malcolm Guite, Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Hodder & Stoughton)

Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (Vintage Books)

Adam Phillips, On Giving Up (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Walter Kempowski, trans. Michael Lipkin, An Ordinary Youth (New York Review Books)

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
Editor in Chief

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