Shasta didn’t know he was a king in training.
Shasta is the main character in C.S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy. An orphan of mysterious background, raised by a poor fisherman called Arsheesh, Shasta discovers he is on the verge of being sold into slavery. So Shasta escapes with Bree the talking horse, and the two head north for Bree’s homeland of Narnia. Shasta is overjoyed. He’s been longing his whole life to go north, and Bree actually suspects Shasta comes from “northern stock.” Through a series of adventures Shasta comes to discover that he is indeed of Northern blood — more than that, he is in fact a prince: Cor, the long-lost son of King Lune of Archenland and older twin brother of Prince Corin.
At the end of the story, King Lune speaks with Cor about the training and learning he will have to catch up on as the rightful heir. In addition to the courage and self-sacrifice he has already shown, he will,
“Come over all the castle with me and see the estate, and mark all its strength and weaknesses: for it will be thine to guard when I am gone. . . . For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”
Believers in Christ are in the same position as Cor: We are kings and queens in training, and we have much to learn and much growing to do in order to be made fit for such a calling.
Preparing to Rule
In the Bible, this reality sometimes bubbles up to the surface, but it’s often more implicit than explicit. For example, Paul makes an odd comment in 1 Corinthians 6:2–3 when he is rebuking the saints in Corinth for bringing lawsuits against each other. Paul asks, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? . . . Do you not know that we are to judge angels?”
Paul assumes that the Corinthians know they are destined for a position of royal authority. He uses this reality to ground his ethical imperative: If the saints are to judge the world, they ought to be practicing for it now by settling their disputes among themselves. It’s often overlooked, but the fact that believers are destined to reign with Christ is in fact a key assumption behind much of the New Testament’s teaching on ethics.
Step back and consider the big picture: This was man’s original purpose, laid out plainly in the Bible’s opening chapter: to have dominion over creation (Genesis 1:26). When we come to the very last chapter of the Bible, this is the vocation that is finally being fulfilled: The saints reigning with Christ (Revelation 22:5). What comes between this initial assignment and the ultimate new creation performance of it is training, by modeling and explicit directives.
The Old Testament shows us kings and rulers in action: Saul, David, Solomon, and others. We are constantly invited to watch their performance and evaluate them against the Law laid down by God: Were they righteous, ruling in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3–4)? Were they wise and discerning (1 Kings 3:9), and did they live up to the directions of royal wisdom in Proverbs, which God addresses through Solomon to his sons (Hebrews 12:5–6)? Did they promote the worship of Yahweh or of idols (2 Kings 16:3–4)? Most of all, were they humble?
That last question is vital, because humility is the central duty of Israel’s kings, according to Deuteronomy 17:19–20. The king of Israel must write for himself a copy of God’s Law, so that he may learn to keep it in the fear of God, “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers.”
A Real King in Action
And so it is that the New Testament likewise shows us a King in action, one who is defined by a heart not lifted up above his brothers, but who on the contrary “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:7–8).
This is how we are called to imitate Christ, and it’s for the very reason that, since we are in union with him, we will reign with him. We bow to the same standard of kingship that Israel’s kings were held to and that Jesus actually met. We do this knowing that “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
This is the position we have been placed in. If death reigned through the sin of Adam, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace in Christ reign in life through him (Romans 5:17). Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians was that they would know the greatness of God’s power toward them, which is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in a position of authority (Ephesians 1:19–23; 2:6). This is why we are called to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” We are to think as those who are to be seated with him, who are to appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:1–4).
The thing is, if we are thinking biblically, training to reign means learning to serve. It means putting away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk; it means putting on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Colossians 3:8–13). Doing these things is how we put on the new man, the new Adam, the image of Christ. It is how we prepare to fulfill the role that God gave to man and woman at his creation, when he made them in his image (Genesis 1:27). It’s the only path by which we will one day be fit to judge the world, and even to judge angels. Being willing to serve with Christ is the only way in which we could ever be ready to bear this “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).