Throughout the book of Esther, the narrative vividly described the power, riches, and politics of the Persian Empire during the reign of Ahasuerus (or Xerxes). Established by conquests and known for political unrest and unpredictable rule, the Persian kingdom offered an earthly monarchal government, temporal wealth, whimsical decisions, violent acts, and privileged class conditions.
Alongside the depiction of the king Ahasuerus’ worldly dominion and grandeur, the account illustrates the unwritten principles of God’s kingdom. What the book of Esther hides, it reveals by contrast without mention of the kingdom of heaven. Contrary to Ahasuerus’ rule, the kingdom of God presents a sovereign king with an immutable nature–the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim 6:15) characterized by His divine, providential rule “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). Having rich mercy and great love for all, He made His kingdom accessible to all people by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:4-10).
Though hidden by name in Esther, the Book points out God’s divine natures: His providence in ordering His salvation plan and immutability in keeping to His promises for redemption by delivering the people of Israel. God is at work, even when He is silent. The God of Israel operated in the background through His providence to fulfill His unchangeable covenant promise (Gen 17:1-8). As a result, Esther reveals He Who is, He Who was, and He Who is to Come (Mal 3:6; cf. Isa 44:6); which in turn, the New Testament ascribes to Jesus with the same title and purpose as God Himself–Jesus, He Who sits on the heavenly throne (1 Tim 1:16; Rev 1:7-8; 4; 22:3-4).
Even though the kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) never ceases, its hiddenness in the book of Esther brings to bear the same in the lives of many believers today. The illusion and self-aggrandizement of wealth, power, and grandeur present in the kingdom of Ahasuerus still can attracts contemporary believers. It tempts believers to change their citizenship from the kingdom of heaven (God) to the kingdom of Ahasuerus (world). Like the lukewarm church of Laodicea, some believers even may reside in two kingdoms with dual citizenship. Christ followers exclusively must inhabit the kingdom of the One who dwells within them.
Kingdom of Ahasuerus
Ahasuerus’ vast empire ranged from India to Cush (the Upper Nile Valley region), including 127 provinces. At the peak of his reign, approximately 50 million people lived in the Persian Empire in 480 BC or about 44% of the world’s population. He held the most power of any ruler in that period.
The king possessed abundant riches and prided himself on his acquisitions. Esther 1:1, 3-4 tells that King Ahasuerus displayed them in two feasts. One feast spanned 180 days to allow sufficient time for those of higher rank to view his wealth—military, nobles, and leader—from the 127 provinces in the empire. The other lasted seven days for those present in the palace, the more common people (1:5).
Feast guests at Ahasuerus’ Susa palace reclined on couches of gold and silver, resting on marble pavements with mother-of-pearl, porphyry, and precious stones in the courtyard. They drank from gold vessels, each unique from the other (v. 7). White, green, and blue wall hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings on marble pillars also adorned the area (v. 6).
The palace itself had walls of molded, glazed bricks depicting the spear bearers of the king’s bodyguard. Seated sphinxes and pacing lions lined it, while the splendid thirty six-columned audience hall featured a magnificent raised golden throne (see Esth 5:1). The royal builders brought cedar timbers from Lebanon and ivory of Ethiopia and India.
The riches of the kingdom did not offer wealth to its citizens. Kings of that day determined who would acquire citizenship. Jews lived an exiled life, aliens in a foreign land amid the Great Dispersion across the Persian Empire. Most did not return to decimated Jerusalem and sought opportunity elsewhere in the empire. Migratory streams moved in all directions, Jewish communities living in pagan territories. The fall of the temple causing a spiritual crisis among them, drawing them yet farther from God as the people of Israel floundered without His kingdom. The wealth and power of Ahasuerus (and his gods) tempted the Jews with their loss of faith. Paganized, they resided in an worldly kingdom with values contrary to God’s holiness.
Kingdom of Heaven
While the New Testament does not define the kingdom of heaven in a direct manner, Scripture explains who it is. John the Baptist announced the King would soon appear in the term’s first occurrence: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:2). In Luke 17:21, Jesus confirmed His identity when the Pharisees asked Him when the kingdom of God would come, He answered, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” The kingdom of heaven was in their midst. Jesus is the kingdom of heaven.
The New Covenant offers a reestablished kingdom of heaven through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Jesus inaugurated the kingdom in the fullness of time as the Messiah, Israel’s awaited King (Mark 1:15); redeemed the kingdom’s people through His death and resurrection (Col 2:14-15); and returns the kingdom to completion during His final, righteous reign (Dan 7:14; Rev 19:16). No earthly kingdom can compare in greatness to the heavenly kingdom; neither could the earthly match the heavenly grandeur. Preferences and prejudices do not exist in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus, the express image of the invisible God, makes those who follow Him citizens of His kingdom with full benefits. He invites all people and gives equal privileges of citizenship to the riches of His grace (Luke 8:1).
The below table one compares the differences between the kingdom of Ahasuerus to the kingdom of God–one temporal, the other eternal. The kingdom at hand fulfills God’s design for redemption. The hope of Israel lives in Jesus Christ and extends to Gentiles as well.
Table 1. Comparison of the Kingdom of Ahasuerus to the Kingdom of God
|Kingdom of Ahasuerus (World)||Kingdom of God (Heaven)|
|Ahasuerus—King (Esth 1:1-2)||Jesus—King of kings (1 Tim 6:15)|
|Ahasuerus—Man||Jesus—God robed in flesh (both divine and human) with the full character, personality, and quality of the one God (John 10:30; 15:9-10)|
|Ahasuerus inherited the kingdom after King Darius’ death||Jesus inaugurated His kingdom in the fullness of time as the Messiah, Israel’s awaited King (Mark 1:15); redeemed its people through His death and resurrection (Col 2:14-15); and returns the kingdom to completion during His final, righteous reign (Dan 7:14; Rev 19:16)|
|Ahasuerus was king until assassination||Jesus as God existed from eternity, King before the earth began and King after it passes away (Isa 44:6; 48:12; Rev 21:6; 22:13)|
|Ahasuerus ruled from Ethiopia to India (Esth 1:1)||Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth (Matt 28:18) Jesus is the kingdom (Luke 17:21)|
|Ahasuerus showed his and his kingdom’s greatness by displaying its wealth (Esth 1:4-7)||No greater kingdom—God owns everything in all realms through His Word at creation (Gen 1:2; 2:4; Isa 45:12)|
|Jews considered aliens, not citizens—the king determined who would be a citizen||Jesus makes those who follow Him citizens of His kingdom with full benefits, He invites all people (Luke 8:1; Phil 3:20-21)|
|Ahasuerus was the image of power and wealth (Esth 1:4, 8, 11, 22)||Jesus is the express image of the invisible God (Phil 2:9-11: Col 1:15), while a servant in His human role “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:25)|
|Obedience brought temporal reward, disobedience resulted in punishment such as death||Obedience brings rewards in heaven, forgives sin (1 Cor 3:8; Eph 2:4-5; Rev 2:23; 22:12)|
|Concerned with outward, material beauty (Esth 1:1:4, 6,11; 2:2, 4, 17)||Concerned with the heart of inward man (1 Sam 16:7; Matt 5:17-19)|
|Lived in a palace (Esth 1:2)||Lives within those baptized in His Spirit and identified as the One on the throne in heaven (Rev 1:7-8, 11, 17-18; 4:2,8; 5:6; 7:17; 22:3-4)|
|Displayed his own wealth, power, comfort, and pleasure for the king’s benefit (Esth 1:17)||Gives the riches of His grace to kingdom citizens for their benefit transforming His kingdom through redemption (John 18:26)|
|Ahasuerus acted impulsively and wavered in opinions and actions (Esth 1:22; 3:9; 7:5-6,9)||Jesus as God remains unchanging yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Ps 86:15; 119:89; Mal 3:6; John 1:1, 14; 10:30, 38; 14:10-11; Heb 13:8; Jas 1:17)|
|Ahasuerus gave authority only to the highest ranking in the kingdom, Haman and then Mordecai (Esth 3:10)||Jesus delegates His authority to all citizens of His kingdom to operate in His name as His ambassadors (Luke 10:9)|
|No one could go to Ahasuerus’ inner court and request anything of him unless the king first called for one’s presence and he held out the golden scepter (Esth 4:11)||Citizens can place their petition directly to the King at anytime (1 John 5:14-15)|
Queen Esther in a Pagan World
Despite the fact that the book of Esther hides God within its text, He very much remained visible through His providential actions. While a pagan land and customs surrounded Queen Esther, the hand of God directed the miracles of the narrative’s events. God always makes Himself available even when one does not seek Him. The contrast between the two kingdoms not only illustrates the sovereignty of God, but also the rich, continuous mercies He offers by grace through Jesus Christ.
Like Esther, the contemporary believer lives as an alien in a foreign and pagan land. The cup of iniquity fills rapidly there, while end-time prophecy comes to completion with each passing day. Queen Esther largely relied on herself and other people to address the events that unfolded in the book of her namesake even though God worked silently. However, just as God gave Esther free will to select the kingdom in which to reside, He does so with His elect. The urgent question in these Last Days for the believer is, which kingdom does one choose–the kingdom of Ahasuerus (world) or kingdom of God (heaven)?
Jan Paron, PhD
July 12, 2019