King of the Jews

“And Jesus was placed before the Governor and the Governor inquired of him, saying, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ But Jesus said, ‘You say so.’”

(Matthew 27:11)

 

“And Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ But he answered him saying, ‘You say so.’”

(Mark 15:2)

 

“And Pilate questioned him saying, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ But he answered him saying, ‘You say so.’”

(Luke 23:3)

 

As the second of the trials begins, the line of questioning shifts somewhat. The Jews were pressing Jesus repeatedly as to whether he was the Christ and the Son of God. Now that the Judge is no longer a spiritual authority but a political one, he begins asking about Jesus’ political office. Now, it should be said that the Messianic office was political in nature — a kingly office — but the Messianic office is also prophetic and priestly, comprising the three spheres of leadership found in Old Testament Israel. Pilate is a Roman Prefect, this idea of Messianic office does not concern him except if it were to encroach on the political realm that he represents — that is of the Roman Empire. And thus, the nature of Pilate’s question.

But just as Jesus responded to the questions about him being the Son of God (Luke 22:70), he responds to Pilate as well, placing the ball back in Pilate’s court. Though some might see this as nothing more than a fancy debating technique, the sheer fact that Pilate is questioning Jesus implies that people think he may genuinely be the “King” of the Jews.

So, what is a king? A king is a ruler, he instructs and gives commands, and he is a protector of his people as well as an avenger with respect to his enemies. A little later, Jesus will speak of the nature of his kingdom — being a heavenly one and not an earthly one — but, from Pilate’s perspective, this ought to give him pause. Yet, what is more important is the language of the Jews. Here there is a bit of confusion. For Pilate, the Jews were ethnic Jewish people who lived within the various territories of the Roman empire (not just the realms of Judea and Galilee) and who practiced their faith in the synagogues and in the temple. Yet, Scripture tells us a different story. Paul writes that it is not the children descended by flesh that are truly Israel, but those descended through the promise — by faith (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:29).

The citizenship of a believer is not on earth (Philippians 3:20), but citizens in heaven — where Christ rules as King and Lord. In this line, the analogy is sometimes made that our churches are outposts or even embassies of heaven in enemy territory — places of refuge from the wickedness of the world and places that represent another kingdom of which we are a part (just one reason the State has no right to make rules concerning the church). Does that mean that Christ has no rights to rule in this world? Not at all, as creator, he is Lord of all his creation, yet fallen creation has entered into rebellion against their rightful Lord and has followed the “prince of the power of the air” — Satan himself. One day, our Lord has promised to return to wipe away his enemies utterly, but not until he brings to himself all of his elect throughout the ages. Once all the elect are gathered into the church and the last martyr dies for their faith, then He will come again and remake heaven and earth free from sin and once again the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth will be one under the single head of Jesus Christ the Lord.

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