Blog Archives

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).

Checkmate!

“From then, Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews screamed and said, ‘If you release this one, you are not devoted to Caesar — the one who make himself king works in opposition to Caesar!’”

(John 19:12)

 

Were this trial a chess match, here would be the move that would lead Pilate into check-mate. He has finally been maneuvered by the Jews into a corner. If he does not go along with this Jewish mob, they will make it look as if Pilate has rebelled against Caesar himself. The final words of this verse carry with them a double meaning…the Jews are pointing out that Jesus has claimed to be a king and thus is an enemy of Caesar and secondly, they are implying that if Pilate does not put Jesus to death, he is acting as king over them and that makes Pilate an enemy of Caesar. One by one the chess pieces have been put into place and Pilate is realizing that he has lost this bout with the Priest’s manipulation of his authority. Again, Pilate’s authority comes from Caesar…to become an enemy of Caesar means losing that authority.

Yet, as much manipulation is taking place on a human level, we need to be reminded that God is yet sovereign over all these events and he has so ordained that these events come to pass. These Jews are doing exactly what they want to do, as is Pilate, but God is permitting these things to come to pass. The darkness of this week and these events is a reminder of the darkness of our sin and depravity and what Jesus entered into on our behalf. The contrasting light will come with the resurrection, but for now, evil is being allowed to spew hatred at the Lord of Life.

Beloved, may we never be quick to take for granted the gift of grace found in the work of Christ. Worldly kings rise and fall…there would be other Caesars…but this King Jesus reigns supreme eternally. He is the source of all power and authority…though how often we put our hopes and dreams in the power of men.

King of the Jews… An Earthly or Divine King?

“Yet there is a custom with regard to you that I should release one to you during the Passover. Do you desire that I release to you the King of the Jews?”

(John 18:39)

 

There is a lot of overlap between the different Gospel accounts at this point in the trial, each Gospel writer emphasizing those aspects that the Spirit directed to be most valuable for their respective initial audiences. Though all four writes mention the title, “King of the Jews,” it seems to me that John’s use of the term is the most directed — it is set off in ways that make it more pronounced.

Clearly, Pilate does not see Jesus’ kingship as a threat to his own power or the trial would have been done with already. We have also seen already the conversation that Pilate had with Jesus about the nature of Jesus’ kingdom — that it is a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly one. So why is Pilate continuing to use this language? Clearly he is seeking to taunt the Jewish authorities. What a pathetic king, from a Roman standpoint at least, one whom a mere Roman Governor has the power of life and death over. You can almost see the Priests squirming at this statement and Pilate enjoying every minute of that confrontation. Who is manipulating whom, we might ask as the politics of the event continue to unfold.

Yet, in the midst of the politics, what an appropriate title. Jesus is the King of the Jews from old, he is the one to whom they have always and historically looked as their divine King, and he is the one that all True Israel serves even unto this day, for if we have faith in Jesus Christ, we are children of Abraham. And even today, Jesus sits enthroned on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, worthy of all praise and glory and adoration and honor. Worthy of our obedience and our love.

There will come a day when all nay-sayers will bow their knee before the Lordship of Christ — sadly, for many it will be to their utter condemnation and judgment. Amongst those are this group here who are bickering over who will execute our Lord. While each is trying to ensure that the blood of Christ is on the others hands, by the dynamics that take place, blood is on the hands of all. God’s providence is remarkable…remember what Peter said of this in his sermon at Pentecost:

“Men of Israel — Hear these words! Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was proven by God to you though might and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, just as you yourselves know, this one, by the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was delivered up through the hands of lawless men to be crucified and killed.”

(Acts 2:22-23)

Do you hear what Peter is saying? Who delivered Jesus up? Lawless men did. But lawless men did it because of the definite plan or design and foreknowledge of God. God superintended all of these things from the beginning through miracle and providence to reach this end. An end that will bring salvation to all those who call on Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

In the end, we are left with one question. Which king will you serve? Will you serve a divine one that rules even today? Or will you serve an earthly king who will be here today and gone with the passing of God’s providential design. Pilate and Caesar are dead. Pilate and Caesar have bowed before the crushing foot of God’s justice and are facing judgement in the fires of hell. Jesus sits enthroned. Which king will you follow?

 

The Path of Least Resistance

“Finding out that he was under Herod’s authority, he sent him to Herod — who was himself in Jerusalem on that day.”

(Luke 23:7)

 

We have already alluded to this transition, but it should be noted that Luke, always interested in grounding his Gospel in historical events and names recognized by the Roman people, is the only Gospel writer to include the trial by Herod. This Herod, of course, was the Son of Herod the Great, not the same Herod found in Matthew’s birth account. After the death of Herod (around 4 BC), the Roman Caesar broke up the kingdom of Israel into four portions to better control these otherwise stubborn and rebellious people. This Herod, also known as Antipas, became the “Tetrarch” of Galilee and Perea (a region just east of the Jordan River). Antipas is a shortened form of the Greek, ÔAnti/patroß (Antipatros), meaning “like the father.” And while this Herod may not have been as paranoid as his father was, he certainly was as immoral and allied himself closely with Rome as that suited his political ambitions. Yet, because Jesus grew up in Nazareth in the region of Galilee, he was officially under Herod’s jurisdiction, and this provided Pilate a convenient excuse to shift the burden of Jesus’ sentence upon someone else. Conveniently, Herod was in Jerusalem as well — it was Passover, so anybody that was anybody was in town on that day.

The transfer would simply be a means by which Pilate bought time from having to deal with Jesus’ fate, but I wonder how often we fall into a similar pattern of passing the buck when there are things before us that we just don’t want to weigh in on. That is a practice that we never find Jesus engaging in, though, and that ought to cause us pause. Indeed, as Christians, we are called to act wisely and to pursue justice as well as taking the difficult path — the easy path will only ever lead to destruction — how different that worldview is than the dominant worldview today which advocates taking the road with the least resistance. Interesting…