No King but Caesar

“Again, they continued screaming, ‘Take him up! Take him up! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ And the chief priests answered, ‘We do not have a King except for Ceasar!’”

(John 19:15)

 

Those final words, “we have no king but Ceasar,” would be scandalous were individuals had spoken them during Jesus’ day, but it is not just individuals making this statement…in fact, it is not even the mob that continues to shout for Jesus’ death. It is the High Priests, those in spiritual leadership amongst the people, who are crying out — people whose only allegiance was to be pledged to God above, not to the men below who ruled over them. It was not to be given to Herod and certainly not to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar.

During Jesus’ lifetime, the Jewish aristocracy held Tiberius in relatively high esteem, even to the point of venerating him. Though Tiberius refused to be worshipped as a god, he did permit a temple to be built in his honor in Smyrna and Herod Antipas (the Herod of this account) built a city on the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius’ honor — a city that Herod would make his Capitol. Yet, the common people still resented Roman rule and the priests should have known better. Nevertheless, in the context of a mob, reason is never a highly esteemed virtue.

The language of “take him up!” should conjure up several images. The first is that of the insult paid by the young boys to Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-25). In a sense, the boys were saying to Elisha, “your master went up to God and out of our lives, you go too!” God judged those boys (and by extension the village) harshly for their sin. But the lifting that the people here had in mind was the lifting of Jesus’ body upon the cross. Yet, that too should conjure up the image of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:1-15) and how Jesus stated that he would be “lifted up” just as the bronze serpent was lifted up on the cross in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9).

We may not be in a mob context at the moment (I hope that is not the case!), but this should give us a moment to pause to ask ourselves to whom we are loyal. By our actions; by the way we invest our money; by the way we use our time; and by the fashion that we apply our energies…to whom are we loyal? Is it to an institution (even the church!)? Is it to a political party? Is it to a person? Is it to a corporation? Is it to Christ? If your loyalty is to anybody or anything other than to Christ Jesus, you stand convicted as do these chief priests…one cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

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