Are You the King of the Jews?

John 18:33–37 33Pilate went back into the Praetorium and summoned Jesus. He asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about me?”

35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”

36Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

37“You are a king then?” Pilate asked.

Jesus answered, “I am, as you say, a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and made us a kingdom and priests to God his Father—to him be the glory and the power forever.” (Revelation 1:5–7)

Pilate was an official of imperial Rome. Jesus stood before him as an accused traitor. The Jews claimed he was a king trying to usurp the power of Caesar. Pilate had a responsibility to question Jesus and assess whether or not He was truly a threat to the Roman empire. If Jesus was a king leading a rebellion, the Romans would oppose Him and His followers with the force of Roman legions. The empire was built on Roman military power, and Romans did not tolerate opposition to their power. But Pilate’s interview revealed that Jesus was not a threat. As a matter of fact, Pilate would conclude, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (Jn 18:38).

Still, Pilate was afraid to release Jesus for fear that the Jews would create problems with Caesar. Then, Pilate would be assigned an even worse place to govern than Israel. Pilate became downright terrified when he learned that Jesus claimed not only to be a king, but also the Son of God (John 19:8). To appease the Jews, Pilate issued the order for this king of the Jews to be crucified.

The questions about whether Jesus was a king or not apparently stuck in Pilate’s memory. When Jesus was led out of Jerusalem and then crucified, the soldiers had received orders to place a notice on the cross of Jesus: “jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews.” For Pilate, it was perhaps his little joke, and he wanted everyone to know it. The notice was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek for everyone could understand one of those languages. A helpless victim without an army, who offered no resistance at all, was crucified. Of course, the Jews were not happy with Pilate’s little joke. They complained, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews” (John 19:21). It was the one time in this whole discourse that Pilate stood up to the Jews. He replied, “I have written what I have written” (John 19:22).

Yet Jesus is indeed a king, the King, and His cross is the battleground on which He achieved His great victory. He was not fighting against soldiers arrayed in battle formations and marching to subdue an opposing army. He took on forces far greater and deadlier. Jesus went into battle against the devil and his legions of hell, along with their ancient allies of sin and death. Those forces had enslaved all people of the world. The devil tricked our first parents into eating the forbidden fruit. That one action brought sin and death into this once perfect world. We are born in that sin. We live in that sin. We will die in that sin. No matter how hard we try, work or react, there is no human way we can deliver ourselves from our sin and its consequences.

We are trapped. Enslaved. Doomed and damned.

Our spiritual opponents are lined up against us. The devil knows our every weakness. Sin is a traitor living within our own heart. Death is just biding its time until it claims every one of us.

We are helpless. It all seems so hopeless.

Then we remember that God sent His Son Jesus into this helpless and hopeless situation. King Jesus left His throne in heaven because He was not content to be an outside observer, watching the troubles in the world from a distance. No, He chose to face the old evil foe in our place. He entered the world of sin to take sin upon Himself. He took on human flesh so that He could die and thereby defeat death.

The King of heaven and earth entered our world as a human baby, the most helpless creature of all. He grew up in a poor family, in a backwater town of the Roman empire. As a man, He walked the roads of Galilee and Judea, serving the victims of the world’s evils” the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the outcast and the demon-possessed. He healed, comforted, taught and forgave. One by one, broken person by broken person, Jesus healed the wounds of the world.

But that was not enough for Jesus. Though He was a friend of sinners, He allowed Himself to be betrayed by one of His closest friends. He could have called down angels to protect Him, yet He permitted a handful of guards with torches and clubs to arrest Him. He is the Judge of the righteous and the unrighteous, but He endured the judgments of the Jewish high priest and the Roman governor. His body was unblemished and without defect, yet He consented to having His head crowned with thorns, His hands and feet pierced with nails, and His back torn apart with the scourge. He could not die as part of the divine Trinity, but when He took humanity into His divinity, He accepted death – even death on a cross.

But that’s what needed to be done to accomplish what King Jesus had come to earth to do. Opposing the powers of evil meant that Jesus had to go all the way to cross. There on the cruel cross, Jesus crushed the Ancient Serpent’s head. He removed sin’s sting. He defeated death. The One who was mocked as the King of the Jews and crowned with thorns was really the King of Kings crowned with glory.

Jesus has released us from our spiritual captivity. We listen to His regal voice. We acclaim Him as our King and Lord of all. Together we confess: “[Jesus] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. All this he did that I should be his own, and live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from death and lives and rules eternally.”

We are freed so that we no longer must serve ourselves. We can now serve our gracious King Jesus. We are motivated to live our lives for Him who died for us. We are not afraid of our enemies, for all our greatest enemies have already been defeated. We cannot remain silent. We must gather together with our fellow heirs of Christ’s Kingdom. Together we offer our prayer of thanksgiving and sing our songs of praise. We are not ashamed of this good news. We must tell others about our King. We will this freedom with our families, friends, church family, and anyone who will listen.

We should not be deceived by what we see in Pilate’s judgment hall. Jesus stood before Pilate and appeared as a weak, helpless accused traitor. The Jews milling around in front of Pilate’s judgment hall shouted, “Crucify him.” After Pilate gave the order, Jesus was scourged and crucified. Pilate washed his hands of the entire episode. Like the Jews outside, Pilate thought that once Jesus was dead, no one would ever hear about Him again.

But it was not to be as they imagined. Jesus is not just another victim of injustice. His cross is not a simple symbol of torture. It marks the great victory over sin and death. It is more than a monument to mark some great battle. Jesus is the eternal King, who reigns now and forever. The truth of Jesus — the gospel of salvation — continues to call humans from their bondage into forgiveness and life. That truth continues to build His Church here almost two thousand years after those events with Pilate and on Calvary. The message of the cross, as Scripture reminds us, is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). We preach Christ crucified because it is the power and wisdom of God. Our eternal King continues to touch hearts and change them by that gospel. He preserves us by the power of that gospel in Word and sacraments.

I used to enjoy reading the news. But not anymore. Now I find the news depressing. Floods. Fires. Fights. Hurricanes. International conflicts. Murders. Angry demonstrators in the streets. The world seems to be out of control.

In Psalm 93 the Psalmist reminds all of us: “The Lord reigns. He is clothed in majesty. The Lord is clothed – he wears strength like a belt. Yes, the world stands firm. It will not be moved. Your throne was established long ago. You are from eternity Psalm 93:1-2). The Lord is our everlasting, never-changing God; He is our strong foundation. No matter how events rage in our world, God continues to uphold it and keep us in His care. He has not abandoned us. He is in control.

Your King promises to work everything out for your eternal good (Romans 8:28). He encourages you to cast all your anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He invites you to find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28). This is not a dead king who is unable to do anything but stir our memories and hopes. This King is alive, eternal, and powerful. He daily works in this world. He controls and guides all things by His power and love.

When you see Jesus humbly standing before Pilate being asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?”, remember these words from Scripture: “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:8-10).

Jesus is the glorious King of kings who humbly stood before earthly governors, kings and courts so that He would be put on the cross. This humility would bring about Christ’s greatest victory! There He defeated our greatest enemies of sin, death, and the devil!

Yes, sin still plagues us. Yes, the devil still tempts and torments us. Yes, death will still claim each one of us. But their ability to cause hurt and harm is only for this day and this age. They have already been defeated. Sin and the devil no longer have control over us. Jesus uses death to bring us home to heaven.

Through the humble strength of our Savior there is a whole eternity that still awaits us. “You are a king then?” Pilate asked. Jesus answered, “I am, as you say, a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That picture of our humbly regal King sees us through the struggles that remain this side of heaven.

No ruthless leader, no unjust manager, no vengeful neighbor, no CEO on a power trip can ever take any of that away from you. No hunger or harm or cancer or crime can ever remove you from Christ’s kingdom. You live for something bigger and greater than anyone else can ever try to promise you on this earth. You are heirs of the Kingdom of heaven. You are a kingdom people whose King is none other than Christ Jesus the Lord. Amen.

“Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and might belong to our God forever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12)