Liberty, Prudence, Imperfection, and Law

Leviathan: III.XLI

Christ the King sitting on his throne. Photo by Rh-67 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


Now that the sovereignty of the Kingdom of God that was lost by the Old Testament kings and priests has been regained in the person of Christ, we have to ask what that sovereignty looks like.

We find in Holy Scripture three parts of the office of the Messiah: the first of a Redeemer, or Saviour; the second of a pastor, counsellor, or teacher… the third of a king, an eternal king, but under his Father, as Moses and the high priests were in their several times. (XLI.1)

Each of these roles corresponds to a time—were the word not so misused we could say they correspond to a dispensation. Christ’s role as Redeeemer is tied to His first coming:

by the sacrifice wherein he offered up himself for our sins upon the cross. Our conversion he wrought partly then in his own person, and partly worketh now by his ministers; and will continue to work till his coming again. (XLI.1)

This distinction between part of the work of salvation having been done on the cross and part being done in an ongoing manner by His agents in the world is the distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied. (For a very excellent non-Hobbsean take on this doctrine, see John Murray’s wonderful little volume.) While Hobbes’s view of the exact role of sovereignty in the work of redemption is a little unclear (see the footnote on page 328 for a crack at explaining why), the point of this first function is to lead in to the second function and the second time Christ acts as ruler of his people:

…there are two parts of our Saviour’s office during his abode upon the earth: one to proclaim himself the Christ; and another, by teaching and by working of miracles, to persuade and prepare men to live so as to be worthy of the immortality believers were to enjoy, at such time as he should come in majesty to take possession of his Father’s kingdom. (XLI.4)

Christ’s second sovereign function is to teach, preach, and lead in such a way that those He died to save are brought in to the Kingdom of God. Hobbes even holds that Christ did this so as to manage not to violate the sovereignty of any power in the world during His time on earth. Specifically, the Jewish authorities were created with the idea that they were preparing for a Messiah—so the Messiah himself could hardly violate their sovereignty. And Jesus gave legitimacy to the Roman power when he ordered His followers to pay taxes to Caesar (XLI.5).

If the second aspect of Christ’s sovereignty is fairly simple and straightforward, things get complicated when we come to its third aspect. Christ is to be an eternal king acting as the regent for God the Father over the Kingdom of God for all time. Again, Hobbes repeats that this future kingdom is to be a real place, even with heavenly food and drink (XLI.6). In this kingdom, the nature of Christ’s rule will be that which is foreshadowed in Moses’s rule. Just as Moses ruled over the people of Israel, instituted entrance rites into the kingdom, and established memorial and commemorative rituals to remind the people of their allegiance and deliverance, so Christ does all of these things for members of the eternal kingdom. By baptism we represent our entrance into the Kingdom of God and by the Lord’s Supper we regularly remember it (XLI.8).

If it’s surprising that Hobbes spends so little time on the office of Christ as sovereign, it will be helpful to remember that most of the people of his day would already have given at least public assent to this doctrine. Convincing people that “Jesus is King” is unnecessary; the hard part is convincing people that Jesus’s kingship looks like Hobbes believes it does, which is why the following chapter is so long that I’ve had to dedicate the next six posts to it.


Coyle Neal is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri.

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