Empires, Kingdoms and Truth on Trial
“Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate.”
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’” asked Pilate. Mark 15:1-2a
Are you the King of the Jews?
Just a week ago He rode into Jerusalem as a King. Because He was one. Seven times this title is spoken or written of Him in Mark chapter 15 alone¹. The book of John records Him referenced as King nine times², six of these by the foreign ruling governor Pilate.
This title ‘King of the Jews’ was first bestowed on Him as a baby by foreigners from another land³, this title which put a bounty on his head from the moment He drew His first breath. This title which will hang above His head as He draws His last breath.
King of the Jews.
“Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’” John 18:33
Are you the King of the Jews? A complicated question with an answer deeply embedded in a long and complicated history…
“And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.” 1 Samuel 8:6-8
The Jewish people had a long history of rejecting God as their true King and choosing other ‘Kings’ to replace Him on the throne of their hearts. All kinds of other Kings: corrupt kings, violent kings, puppet kings, religious regimes, foreign idols and other nation’s gods. They wanted a King like every other nation around them, a powerful King, an Emperor, a stately ruler. Not God.
‘Are you the king of the Jews?’. God had wanted to be their King. Longed to care for them and lead them, to gather them in his arms and protect them. He had wanted to be their King, and for them to be His people, not simply for their own national self interest, but for the interest of righteousness and justice on earth. This had always been His plan. The formation of a people lead by the true King of Heaven and earth, a people whose calling and purpose was to bless and heal this world, to partner with God in establishing His Kingdom on earth, His throne on earth. A throne of love. Not war. A rule of justice. Not domination.
‘In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it— one from the house of David— one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.’
Are you the King of the Jews? How could Jesus explain the nature of this throne to Pilate, a ruler in an empire forged through violence and oppression? How could Pilate begin to understand? This Kingdom. This King. How could Pilate understand when God’s own people, Israel, hadn’t?
“’Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’
‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’’’John 18:34-35
‘What is it you have done?’ What had He done? He’d proclaimed good news to the poor and liberty to the captives, restored sight to the blind, healed the sick, and ushered in a Kingdom that will never pass away and never be destroyed. A Kingdom from another place.
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.’’’ John 18:36
One servant had fought to prevent His arrest. One servant who, like all of God’s people, hadn’t understood this Kingdom. This King. Peter had tried to fight, because he never truly knew Him. He hadn’t understood the nature of this Kingdom. Or this King. Peter’s king was a worldly one. A successful one. A mighty Messiah. So he had tried to fight for Jesus- the Jesus he thought he knew. But found himself fighting God. He fought for the King in his head against the King over all the earth. The King of love. The King of Justice. The King whose crown would be of thorns and whose throne would be a cross.