When Pilate entered the headquarters for a second time, he summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Stop the video tape right there. Never has a question been imbued with such a heaviness in meaning, carried such a burdensome weight of millenia of cultural heritage, and slammed with such force against the prevailing power. Like a jackbooted foot hovering over a stationary ant, such is Jesus in the face of the unbridled power of the Jewish and Roman authorities. What did the word ‘king’ mean to Pilate? What did he know of Roman kings and, for that matter, Jewish kings?
“Where Kings and Queens still exist today, they mostly live and work within a carefully constructed framework. They are ‘not’ absolute monarchs, but ‘constitutional’ ones. They can bring subtle pressure to bear on politicians. They can let it be known that they would prefer one course to be followed, rather than another. But let them try anything more than subtle pressure, and people will get restless. Monarchs must now stay within careful limits.” But in the ancient world kings ruled in “an autocratic, dictatorial fashion without any semblance of democratic consultation… Kings ruled people according to their own wishes and whims… They were all powerful” (Tom Wright, 2002).
In the time of Jesus there were two powers at play – the Herod Dynasty and the Roman Empire. Both had ruthless, bloody, and powerful kings. So, when Pilate asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” it was heavily loaded with preconceptions, judgments, and living examples. Does he mean a King like Herod the Great? A King like his ruthless sons Archelaus or Antipas? Or does he mean a King like the emperor Augustus Caesar or Tiberius Caesar?
If you think the Jewish Herodian kings were bad, the Roman kings were even worse. In the Roman world, it was assumed that if Caesar was able to defeat the Jewish people, then the gods of Rome must be greater than the God of the Jews. When the notice was nailed to the cross that read, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, it was not in any way in recognition of who Jesus was. It was a blatant disrespect; a sticking up of two fingers; from the Romans to the Jews. It was a message saying, “Look who is really in power here: not you; not you puppet overlords nor you insurrectionists. We Romans have all the power and we can crush you, like an ant, any time we wish.”
Jesus answers Pilate that his Kingdom is not the same as the kingdoms of the world. It is not from the world but it certainly is for the world.
The Roman emperors had a gospel. Caesar’s good news promised peace and prosperity to those who would bow down to him. Like the Roman Empire, today’s governments or organisations can become centred on power and believe their messages are the “good news.” Followers of Jesus believe that the Bible contains the inspired revelation of the Creator of the universe. ‘Gospel’ is the word that’s often used — the good news that God is redeeming a broken world through His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are called to proclaim God’s name in all the earth — often in the midst of false gospels in the world; a world that would tell you that Jesus is not the true King, that there are many Gods or many paths, or that God unknowable, or that the Kingdom of Heaven is not of or for this world.
When we sing our worship songs we proclaim that Jesus Christ is KING and that his Kingdom exists in the here and now and in us. It exists nowhere else and in no-one else; not in any earthly ‘king’. Oh, we sing it so easily and freely here don’t we? Would you be so bold as to sing Jesus is King under Herod Antipas? Under Tiberius Caesar? Under Caligula, Claudius, or Nero who burned Christians alive to light up the driveway so his guests could see in the dark on the way to his parties? The first Christians did. Will we be bold enough to proclaim that Jesus is King in our schools, in our workplaces, in our lodges, in our clubs, and in our homes?
Today, Jesus’ disciples must still bring God’s kingdom to every corner of our world, starting with our own cities, schools, and businesses. Some will find our message offensive. Others will see it as a threat to their own influence. We may even have to pay a price for speaking the truth, whether it be our job, our reputation, or our way of life, however wherever we live, and no matter who we encounter, we must remember that Jesus’ message is for everyone — even the very people who seem the most lost. Jesus never asked his followers to keep the kingdom in their religious clusters, he asked us to take it to every corner of the world. Will you take God’s message to every corner of your own community? Or will it stay hidden in your own private life or just in church?
So… let us be bold and proclaim Jesus as KING!