The King of the Jews? Or not?

14 Apr

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Who arrested Jesus while he prayed in Gethsemane after celebrating the Passover meal with his disciples? The soldiers led by Judas? Not really.

Why was Jesus arrested after Passover? For turning over the tables of the vendors in the temple a few days earlier? Partly. He undoubtedly angered many people, including the chief priests who continued to look for an opportunity to make their move… with the help of Judas.

The chief priests, with the scribes and Pharisees, led the Jewish people. The priests interpreted the Law to the illiterate masses. They stood between the people and God, making them the closest things to God on earth. And they liked it that way.

During the turn of the millennia, the greatest threat to their power was Jesus of Nazareth, so they hunted him down and crushed him during the greatest Jewish festival the day before Sabbath. We commemorate these events today– on Good Friday.

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A good passage to read today, then, seemed to me to be Mark 15. The chief priests confer with the elders, scribes, and Jewish council. They agree and conspire that Jesus needs to go. Literally. They send him to Pilate, the Roman governor of the province, who has power to sentence criminals.

But what has Jesus done? Why is he arrested?

Pilate simply asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus’ infamous answer is, “You have said so.”

The chief priests continue to accuse him of many other things. We don’t have a record of what those charges were, and Jesus does not answer them.

This exchange mystifies me every Good Friday. I have so many questions! But today one stood out in glaring truth: why did Jesus answer Pilate “You have said so.”

Truth hit me hard.

Jesus never claimed to be King of the Jews. I looked it up. He never did.

He claimed to be the Son of Man*, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Life, the the I Am. Peter called him the Christ (Messiah), but Jesus told him not to tell anyone.

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Jesus did not claim to be King of the Jews. Why not?

The clue, I think, is in Pilate’s answer: “You have said so.” Pilate and the chief priests were threatened by the idea that Jesus might replace them, or at least be the king of their people’s hearts. But this wasn’t Jesus’ aspiration or goal. He had much bigger designs, straight from the heart of the Father.

Jesus is not the king of the Jews. He is not king of any partial realm. He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He does not share his kingdom with any earthly king, and he is not limited by sovereignty over one nation.

He is King of All, or he is not. He left that choice up to Pilate. And the chief priests. Would they push the entirety of God into a ruler of a single province… and then wrest even that away?

Or would they recognize his total claim on creation?

On all of humanity?

On them?

On us?


*Son of Man – this title of Jesus is mentioned multiple times in all four Gospels: Matthew (29), Mark (14),  Luke (26), and John (13).

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2 Responses to “The King of the Jews? Or not?”

  1. Janice Doublestein April 16, 2017 at 8:39 pm #

    Thank you, Cathy! It’s good to read your insight.
    I had read many years ago that “You have said so” was a polite idiom of the time that meant in effect, ‘this is true.’ This sticks in my memory, because my liberal college religion professors liked to say “Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah.” Did you come across this idiom idea at all in your research?

    • cathyhowie April 19, 2017 at 9:01 pm #

      Thanks, Jan. There are at least a couple of places in the Bible that Jesus claimed to be Messiah. Jesus agreed with Peter who declared Jesus was the Christ (Matt 16:15-17). He also mentioned who he was to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:25-26). There may be other occurrences. There are also places in the Word that Jesus claimed to be God – see John 10:30, Matthew 25:31, and many others.

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