Are YOU the King of the Jews?

19 Jul
Are you King of the Jews

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Pontius Pilate was a very cruel Roman governor, who ruled the Jews for about 10 years (25/26 AD to 35 AD), during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. The fact is, he was removed from office in 35 AD by his immediate superior, Vitellius, the Roman president of Syria, because of the indiscriminate and cruel manner in which he governed Jewish affairs. The fact is that Pilate was probably a bigot. It seems he bore a hatred for the Jews. From the very beginning he showed little respect for their religious beliefs. Josephus even mentions that when Pilate first took the reins of governorship of Judea, he secretly brought images of Caesar into Jerusalem,[1] something his predecessors hadn’t done, no, nor any governor after him.

It is doubtful, under any other circumstance, that the Sanhedrin would have brought any Jew to the Roman authorities for reasons stated here (Luke 23:2). Pilate was no dummy, and he knew they must have had ulterior motives for bringing Jesus to him (cf. Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10).

It is interesting that Pilate’s question is phrased in the same fashion in all four Gospel narratives (Luke 23:3; cf. Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; John 18:33). I find it also interesting that the pronoun is emphatic: “Are YOU the King of the Jews?” In other words, Pilate didn’t think Jesus looked the part, but I wonder, all things considered, if he changed his mind before the morning was over. Would he have asked the question in quite the same way toward the end of his second interrogation of Jesus? Don’t know, but he did command that a sign be placed over Jesus’ head and refused to remove it at the demand of the Jewish authorities. Perhaps he thought Jesus acted more like a King in his death than what he was perceived to be at first glance.

How did Jesus respond to the charge made against him? He told Pilate it was true, thus, admitting he was a King (Luke 23:3). Surprisingly, however, Pilate returned to the Jewish authorities to tell them he found Jesus innocent of the charges made against him. Nothing of what they accused Jesus of being was true, which seems unbelievable, if all we consider is Luke’s account. Luke’s record of Pilate’s first encounter with Jesus is very brief. All he seems interested in is the verdict, not how Pilate arrived at the verdict. So, if there is any sense to the verdict at all, a larger conversation is implied.

So, if the Jewish authorities claimed Jesus made himself King, and Jesus admitted to the charge, why did Pilate find Jesus innocent (Luke 23:2-4)? It was because he viewed Jesus claim as politically harmless. He didn’t consider Jesus claim to royalty a threat to Caesar’s throne or even Rome’s authority over Judea. According to John 18:28-38, when Jesus admitted to being King, he qualified his statement, saying he wasn’t king over this world, otherwise his servants would have fought to keep him from being arrested. In other words, Jesus’ rule doesn’t necessarily compete with Caesar’s. The worst despot cannot hinder Jesus’ rule, and the friendliest governor is unable enhance Jesus’ Kingdom, because no one rules a man’s heart but God, and a man’s heart cannot be taken by force. It must be surrendered voluntarily! All the authority in this world and all the military strength to back up that authority is powerless to force a man to change or yield his heart. This is why Pilate found Jesus innocent of the charges brought against him by the Jewish authorities.

Luke consistently shows in his two records, Luke and Acts, that the Gospel is politically innocuous (Acts 18:12-17; 19:35-41; 25:23-27; 26:30-32). The Gospel is not and should never be considered a threat to political authority, something we in America should think about and perhaps reconsider how we preach the message of Christ.


[1] Josephus: Antiquities 18.3.1

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Posted by on July 19, 2018 in Gospel of Luke


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