Are you the king of the Jews?
Jesus is presented by many names and titles: the Light of the world, the bread from heaven, the Good Shepherd, the Gate, the Son of God, the Christ, and now the King. Specifically, here He is The Condemned King.
The Jews have determined that Jesus needs to die because He claimed to be God’s Son. But they do not stone him then and there. They can’t. They are under Roman authority and do not have the right to execute anyone without Rome’s blessing. So Jesus is brought to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate must be persuaded that Jesus is worthy of death. Despite Pilate’s effort to spare Jesus he finds himself cornered by the cunning Jewish leaders and in the end gives the orders for Jesus to be crucified.
We will travel through 3 headings today in the text: 1) The King, 2) The Criminal, 3) The Crowd
THE KING (1-2)
It’s interesting that the only time Jesus answers his interrogators is when they inquire about His identity. “Are you the Christ?” “Yes.” “Are you the King of the Jews?” “Yes.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Pilate’s question: “Are you the king of the Jews?” And Jesus’ response, “Yes, it is so.” The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus said more, “You, Pilate, are right in saying that I am a king. In fact, for this very reason I was born, and for this very reason I came into the world.” (18:37)
Jesus is a king. He was born into the world to be a king. His kingdom is not of this world, but from another place (heaven). This is why His servants do not prevent his arrest.
Now we remember that Jesus began his preaching career by saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.” How can the kingdom of heaven be near, and, his kingdom be from someplace else other than the earth? Are these two different kingdoms? Or are they the same?
The Jews were furious Pilate kept referring to Jesus as their king. But, Jesus was – and is – the King of the Jews.
- At his conception Gabriel told Mary, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Lk 1:32-3)
- The famous Christmas passage in Isaiah 9:6-7 declares of the Jewish Christ-King, “For to us a child is born, a son is given and the government will rest on his shoulders…Of the increase of his government there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom…from that time on and forever…”
His Kingship was mocked by the kingdom of this world:
- The sign over Jesus on the cross said, “King of the Jews”.
- The Roman soldiers mocked him by draping a robe around him, putting a crown of thorns on his head, hitting him with sticks and pretending to honor him by bowing down and saying “Hail, king of the Jews!”
- “What do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” Pilate asked the mob.
While they rejected Him & mocked him as a king, Jesus will rule Israel as well as all nations:
- In Psalm 2 God the Father promises God the Son He will rule over the whole earth as king: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill….I will make the nations your inheritance…you will rule the with an iron scepter…” (Ps 2:6, 8, 9).
- Daniel 7:14 says, “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of eerie language worshiped hi. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
- All this is understood by His title, “King of kings” in Revelation 19: He is the King over all the kings of the nations.
- Philippians 2:9-11, “Every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father”
When He comes back, Jesus will be King on the earth for 1,000 years
- Speaking of resurrected martyrs in Revelation 20 it says, “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years”
- First Corinthians 15:24-5 explains more about that 1,000 years, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” During this 1,000 years his enemies are not yet finished. His human and angelic enemies as well as death itself (v26). They will all be destroyed at the end. Then, the Son will give the whole kingdom to the Father
How do we relate to that kingdom now?
- Right now you can gain citizenship in that coming kingdom. Jesus said: “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again” Jesus said (John 3:3). Colossians 1:13 tells us that when Jesus is our Savior “we have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son…”
- Anyone who does not belong to Jesus is part of the kingdom of darkness. But anyone who receives Jesus is born again and becomes part of the kingdom of God. Their citizenship is transferred to the kingdom of Jesus Christ, “But our citizenship is in heaven” Philippians 3:20 declares.
- We don’t belong to the kingdom of this world. We belong to the kingdom that Jesus told Pilate was “not of this world” and “from another place” – referring to heaven. That kingdom is the kingdom we pray comes, “Thy Kingdom come…”
Application: Leave the kingdom of this world today. Today enter the kingdom of heaven. Today repent of your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Your Savior. Your King.
THE SILENCE (3-5)
Pilate is impressed with the silence of Jesus. Matthew says Pilate was greatly amazed. Just like with the Sanhedrin, the silence of Jesus before Pilate echoes the ancient prophecy in Isaiah, “…he did not open his mouth…as a sheep before her shearers is silent so he did not open his mouth..” (Isa. 53:7). It is not because Jesus had no defense. It is not because Jesus didn’t know what to say. He said what His father wanted Him to say – and He did not speak when His Father did not want Him to. His divine dignity was speaking loud and clear to Pilate in the silence.
Peter would refer to Jesus’s silence when teaching believers to submit to unjust suffering, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps…when they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to the him who judges justly.”
Application: The ability to be silent before unjust men comes from your confidence in a just God. Whatever evil men may take away, your righteous God can restore. Submission to persecution is not weakness. It is quite the opposite: strength of faith that is anchored firmly in God whom you know has the power and righteousness to ultimately make right whatever wrong has been done to you.
Well here we come to an interesting holiday custom of the day, something theologians call the “Paschal Pardon”. Every year the Passover Festival came Pilate would graciously pardon a Jewish criminal. “It is your custom that I release to you one prisoner” he told them in John 18:39.
Seems like an odd feature of the holidays, don’t you think? Can you imagine our local law enforcement coming out at Christmas every year and asking “Hey, in the spirit of the holidays we want to go ahead and set free any criminal you want who’s sitting in jail right now Do you want the local drug-dealer? The guy who broke into 5 homes this year? You’re pick, and Merry Christmas!”
I’m not sure how releasing a criminal puts anyone in a festive mood. But, then again, Passover is not like Christmas. Passover is about sparing people from death.
God spared the Israelites back in Egypt centuries earlier. That fateful night long ago God killed the firstborn male of every home in Egypt. From Pharaoh’s down to the poorest peasant. Following God’s instructions the Jews slaughtered a lamb and smeared the blood on the doors of their home. When the angel of the Lord saw the blood He “passed over” that home. Wherever there was the blood of the lamb the firstborn would be spared.
Now here was God’s firstborn, also called “the Lamb of God”, coming to shed His blood to free His people from their sins. Whoever looks to the blood of this lamb will be spared from death)
Sparing people from death. Perhaps Pilate releasing a Jewish prisoner, thus sparing them from death, is more fitting during the holiday than we realize.
There are multiple ironies in the release of the criminal Barabbas. For one, being murderers themselves the Jewish leaders favored the murderer Barabbas. Another irony is that Barabbas is guilty of the crime they charge Jesus with: insurrection. Jewish leaders told Pilate that Jesus was inciting the people to rebellion (Lk 23:14). Barabbas was actually part of a rebellion. Which to Pilate’s frustration seemed to be happening too often with these tumultuous Judeans.
Perhaps the most powerful irony of all is that Jesus in a way “took the place” of Barabbas. It was Barabbas who was actually guilty and he should have paid for his crimes. But, Jesus was condemned while he went free.
Is that not what is happening here anyway?
THE CROWD (12-15)
Beware of crowds. Crowds are notoriously misguided in the Scriptures and in history. They are irrational, highly charged, full of misinformation, and very prone to manipulation. And the Jewish leaders manipulated them masterfully. This crowd would demand the release of a murderer while relentlessly shouting “Crucify” regarding Jesus. This crowd would say, “Let his blood be on our heads and on our childrens” (Mt 26).
Application: Watch out for crowds. Crowds will be on the wide road that leads to destruction (Mt 7). Crowds followed and abandoned Jesus (Jn 6). Truth many times is not found in the crowd. Sometimes standing in truth will mean you have to stand against the crowd.
Pilate’s career could not afford another issue with the Jews. There had been at least 3 previous occasions where he blew it with them. The first time was when he moved his army into Jerusalem and the soldiers brought their standards bearing the image of the emperor. This idolatrous image infuriated them, and Pilate relented. The second time was when he hung shields on his palace that had the names of Roman deities. The Jews were enraged again, and Pilate was required by Caesar to take them down. The third time Pilate blew it with the Jews was when he took money from the Temple to pay for infrastructure projects. If Luke 13 indicates anything, Pilate may have also been blamed for the killing of some Galilean Jews in the Temple while they were offering sacrifices.
The Jews hated Pilate and Pilate hated the Jews. Pilate’s tumultuous and untactful relationship with the Jews was putting him under pressure from Rome. They didn’t like the Pax Romana being disturbed. On the one hand, the Gospels show Pilate trying to spare Jesus, while on the other hand he seemed afraid of reports back to Rome of his inability to keep the peace in Judea. John 19:12 says,
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
The Jews knew the game. Pilate was cornered. John goes on to say when Pilate heard this he handed Jesus over to be crucified. The threat of a ruined career caused Pilate to do what he knew was wrong. Multiple times throughout this scene Pilate declared Jesus innocent and that there was no basis in the charges against Him. But he sentenced him in the end. He ceremonially washed his hands in front of the Jews, but, his hands were not clean.
Application: We may think we are clean, but, we are not clean until Jesus has made us clean.
Application: Self-preservation is the enemy of righteousness. How many times is protecting ourselves the reason for our moral or spiritual compromising? Self-preservation is the enemy of righteousness. This is why Jesus said, “Whoever wants to follow me must DENY HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, AND FOLLOW ME” The solution to self-preservation is self-denial, self-abandonment and accepting whatever may come for following Jesus.
This series of moments gets darker and darker. “Blasphemy!” “Crucify!” “We have no king but Caesar!” They
Evil is not content to simply be free – it must kill righteousness. Barabbas’ freedom was not enough for the Jews. Jesus must die. Beware of mobs – justice is never found there. Mobs are puppets, and puppets have puppet masters. In this scene, the leaders stirred up the crowds against Jesus and had the so ratcheted up for Jesus’ blood it was impossible for Pilate to refuse them.