Acts 5:31 “God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior.”
No Christian doubts that Jesus is royalty, royalty of a sort that far surpasses all the nobility in all the world.
But Peter’s understanding of the term “Prince” in his day does not include some of the notions that word may suggest to us nearly 2000 years later. The stress is not on making and enforcing of laws. That Jesus does this is, of course, true. But that is not his main concern with us. When we Christians see Jesus mainly as heavenly law enforcement, we wind up with all kinds of distortions in our relationship to him and our service to him. We feel less cared for and more watched. We experience less peace and more fear. We serve less freely, less joyfully, and more driven. A big, threatening, otherworldly cop tapping his billy club in his hand is not the picture of Jesus Peter wants us to see as we look to God’s right hand.
Nor Peter does not choose the term “Prince” to suggest that Jesus is something less than the King. He is not junior royalty, royalty in training, something less than the Ruler of heaven and earth. Many times we would be happy to demote Jesus to that kind of figure head position. Then we feel free to take issue with him on some pet desire of ours or another. I have heard otherwise sober Christians challenge a direct quote from Christ when they didn’t want to give up some selfish practice or let go of some cherished misbelief. It’s as though we would presume to be Jesus’ teachers, instead of his students; to explain to him how things really work and what is really right.
No, Peter’s description of Jesus as Prince wants to bring to mind another function of royalty that has been mostly forgotten in our time. In medieval times people believed that God had created three estates on earth: the clergy to pray, the nobility to fight and defend, and the peasants to produce food. The idea that the nobility had the responsibility to fight for and protect the people they ruled was not unique to that time, but stretches at least as far back as the Kings and Judges of Israel. Every year King David went to war to protect his people against attackers.
It is in this sense that Jesus is our “Prince,” a hero or champion who will fight to defend and protect his people. He didn’t leave us in the struggle with sin alone. He didn’t even give us a part in overcoming the debt created by our guilt. He took the whole battle on himself when he took responsibility for our all our sin and let it kill him in our place.
He didn’t sit back and watch the futility with which we attack death. The whole human race puts their collective heads together. They gather all their technology and medical know-how, and what do we accomplish? We drive death back a few months here, a couple of years there. Over the last ten years, the life expectancy for an average American has grown from 76 and a half years to just shy of 78 years. Most recently they say we have even lost some ground. When he rose from the dead, Jesus didn’t merely extend our life expectancy. He destroyed death altogether. Now the life expectancy of the average Christian is infinity, because our Prince defeated our enemy and gives us life that never ends.
Can you think of a better place to see Jesus as our Princely Protector than at the right hand of God’s power, where he has all the weapons he needs to continue to defend our faith? With Jesus at God’s right hand in heaven, we can see the Prince who is fighting on our side.