(17.) On Christ as the King of the Jews

(17.) On Christ as the King of the Jews

(17.) On Christ as the King of the Jews.

“He was crucified, along with two others, one on each side with Jesus in the middle. Pilate had them post a sign over the cross, which was written in three languages – Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Many of the people of Jerusalem read the sign, for He was crucified near the city. The sign stated: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:18-20).

This was a fascinating title to give to Jesus, for many reasons. For one thing, this title broke new ground. It was never given in the Old Testament. The Jews in the Hebrew Bible, as well as during Jesus’ time, preferred “King of Israel.” One never heard an Israelite utter the title King of the Jews. So it follows then, that only Gentiles were heard to say this title. The Magi, the Roman soldiers, and Pilate all called Jesus the king of the Jews.The Magi used the term out of reverence, but the others used it only with scorn and mockery. Also, to refer to Jesus as an earthly king was not received well by Jesus Himself. He refused to be made king in the people’s eyes, or even Satan’s. He refused the offer of an earthly kingdom when the devil tried to hand it to Him (Matt. 4:8-10). And after the miraculous feeding of five thousand, “Jesus knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again into the hills by Himself.” (John 6:15). Finally, while Pilate was questioning Him, Jesus flatly stated, “My kingdom is not of this world… My kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36).

So who called Jesus the King of the Jews? And why?

The Magi. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” (Matt. 2:1-2). When Herod heard this report, he was threatened and seemingly traumatized. Caesar Augustus himself had given to Herod the official title, king of the Jews. And no one was going to take that power and title away from him. No one. Upon hearing this title offered by these Persian spiritual counselors and astrologers, Herod flew into a murderous rage, and the infamous Slaughter of the Innocents is the result. Every male child in the Bethlehem area under two years old was murdered. These Innocents were the first martyrs for the Faith.

Roman Soldiers. “Then Pilate ordered Jesus to be brutally beaten with a whip of leather straps embedded with metal. And the soldiers also wove thorn branches into a crown and set it on His head, and placed a purple robe over His shoulders. Then, one by one, they came in front of Him to mock Him by saying, ‘Hail, to the king of the Jews!’ And one after the other, they repeatedly punched Him in the face.” (John 19:1-3, TPT). The sheer brutality in these severe beatings suggests that the devil himself was on the loose. Jesus must have been a very strong man physically to endure this beating. The mockery only made it worse. Knowing His destiny was to be the universal King of kings, to submit to that cynical, inhumane treatment only underlines the unfathomable humility of Jesus. He no doubt had these soldiers in mind as He forgave His torturers from the Cross.(Luke 23:34). Would we be able to forgive our tormentors? No, not without the Spirit of Jesus to enable us to do so.

Pilate. “Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor questioned Him, saying, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you say.’ ” (Matt. 27:11). The extended conversation between Pilate and Jesus eventually reached this crescendo: Jesus is not an earthly king at all, but is a spiritual king. He is the king of another realm. Thus, Jesus is indeed a king, a King of Truth, a King that bears witness to the truth. (John 19:33-37). Pilate is convinced Jesus should be released as harmless, so he presented Jesus to the chief priests and those in their rabble, and Pilate asked them, ‘Do you wish then that I release for you the king of the Jews?‘ And we finally see why Jesus was executed. It had to do with that title, king of the Jews. The crowd yelled back to Pilate, ‘If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar!’ And the chief priests finally cry  out, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:12-15). Pilate was another one on Jesus’ mind as He forgave His tormentors on the Cross.

More Roman Soldiers. “And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him… And the people stood by looking on. And even the religious leaders were sneering at Him, saying, ‘He saved others, let Him save Himself if this is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One.’ And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him and saying, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!'” (Luke 23:35-37). The Roman soldiers were brutal to Jesus, even as He was dying naked on the Cross. Jesus was shamed and mocked and ridiculed publically while in misery, and He remained silent, like a sheep led to slaughter. Jesus suffered every pain imaginable on the Cross: physical, emotional, psychological, even spiritual. He remained submissive to the end. He took it all in, even though purely innocent. These soldiers and leaders added themselves to the list of those who were forgiven by Jesus.

Pilate Again. (please refer to the passage from John 19 in the Introduction). Was Pilate divinely inspired as he instructed others to put a sign on the Cross: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews?’ Did he realize that the first letters of each of the four words written on the sign were YHWH. That indeed was the sacred Name spelled out in Aramaic, Yahweh! Over Jesus’ head on the Cross was written Yahweh, the Great I Am, I Am What I Am! No wonder the religious leaders were so offended by this sign on the Cross. They didn’t want Jesus to be known as the King of the Jews, and they certainly didn’t want the Most Sacred Name to be in plain sight connected to Jesus for all to see. Pilate might have written that title on the sign to give one last poke at the Jewish leaders, but something tells me this was a part of a bigger plan.