The King of the Jews

The events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus make for a great drama. We can see the hatred of the Jews but also the attempts to save Jesus by the Roman proconsul Pilate. Some of it may seem to be harsh, but this is the world of the Romans.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged severely. The soldiers braided a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they clothed him in a purple robe. They came up to him again and again and said, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ And they struck him repeatedly in the face.” (John 19:1-3 NET)

Why did Pilate have Jesus flogged? From what we can see from the writings of this period, the usual outcome of a trial would be either the person being cleared and released or the person being punished. Punishment could take one of three forms: flogging, exile, or execution.

From what we can see in the four biographies of Jesus, Pilate had Jesus flogged to satisfy the Jewish leaders – he had punished Jesus. The accusation levelled against Jesus that Pilate was considering was that he claimed to be the king of the Jews (John 18:33-40). Pilate could find no basis for this and was willing to release Jesus. The crowd chose Barabbas to be released instead, a known revolutionary leader. So he had Jesus flogged.

The Jewish leaders continued to ask for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate responded, “You take him and crucify him! Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against him!”  The Jewish leaders then escalated their accusation: “We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die because he claimed to be the Son of God!” (John 19:6-7)

Pilate again questioned Jesus privately. Although Jesus gave him no answer to his question, “from this point on, Pilate tried to release him” (John 19:8). Pilate could see the animosity of Jesus’ accusers and that Jesus had done nothing wrong. The Jewish leaders then played their ultimate card: “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar!” (John 19:12). 

Pilate then took his seat on ‘The Stone Pavement’ where he issued his judgements. Jesus was brought out and he told the Jewish leaders, “Here is your king!” Their response was: “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The high priests responded, “We have no king except Caesar!” (John 19:13-16).

What an admission! The Jews claimed no king but the Roman Caesar. They pledged their allegiance to Rome! When they needed to get what they wanted they showed their true colors. Pilate then handed Jesus over to be executed by crucifixion.

Did you notice the reason Jesus was condemned to die? The sentence was passed because he was the King of the Jews – of this he was, indeed, guilty. But, as he told Pilate, his kingdom was not a rival to Rome but was “not of this world” (John 18:36). Neither the Jews nor the Romans understood the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.

When he was crucified the notice of his crime was written down and put above his head: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews”. Jesus died for being who he was.

This brings up two questions for people who live almost two thousand years later. Is Jesus our king? Are we part of his kingdom? Jesus died so that our sins can be forgiven by obeying him. When we do this, we are added to his kingdom. We are part of his kingdom today. We will be part of his kingdom for eternity, because he kingdom will have no end.

If you are not part of Jesus’ kingdom speak to someone today to learn more about what you need to do.

Photo by Jon Galloway: site of Gabbatha, Jerusalem, January 2018.

Readings for next week: John 18-21; Acts 1-2

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