Our King Incognito

Pilates Court

John 18:33-35 “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ “Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’”

There is a good deal of irony in the first exchange between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Who was Pontius Pilate anyway? He was a relatively minor official in the Roman government, a man stuck in middle management, if you will. You won’t find any monuments inscribed with his name. Outside of the Bible, only the historians Josephus and Philo make any mention of him, and they describe his administration as rather inept.

Who is standing in front of Pilate? Jesus stands infinitely higher above Pilate’s emperor than that emperor stands above poor little Pilate. Jesus’ empire extends to the farthest stars. He is the Emperor of the emperors, the King of kings. “Are you the King of the Jews?” Yes, and of every other people who have ever existed.

But Pilate’s question wasn’t asked with an open mind willing to entertain the possibility that Jesus was actually a king. By now Jesus was likely covered in dried spit and his face displayed the bruises from his treatment in the Jewish court. His eyes sagged from the exhaustion of a sleepless night. He wore a poor man’s clothes. Pilate could see how Jesus had been treated, and so his real question was only this, “What is it you have done?”

Is Jesus the King? Whatever else our world has to say about him, they still fail to answer this question properly. They may place him alongside leaders of other great world religions, but they have no intention of placing him over them. They may say nice things about some of his ideas, but they have no intention of living under him as their Lord. Like Pilate, like the Jewish leaders, they reject him as King. They aren’t even willing to consider the possibility.

Is Jesus our King? By faith we believe him to be, and we declare him to be. But to whom do we really bow when we cling to resentment in place of love? Who is really leading us when we pursue personal pleasures that make other people nothing more than objects for our personal use, or when we waste the gifts and resources our Lord has entrusted to our care? Does that sound like the life King Jesus promotes?

The world rejects him as King because he doesn’t look the part, his rule conflicts with our desires, and he doesn’t come with some army to enforce his claims. “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (vs. 36). But it is in just this humility and suffering with which he appears before Pilate, and that will only get worse and end in his death, that we see the true glory of Jesus’ royal work. For Jesus, royalty isn’t about enjoying privileges no one else has, putting on airs of refinement and culture to bolster one’s already inflated ego.

The King protects his people. Their safety and well-being is his only purpose. If that means fighting for them all by himself, that is what he will do. If that means subjecting himself to the world’s humiliation, he is ready to accept it for them. If he must die at the hands of the world so that they might live, he will not shrink from death. Jesus stands before Pilate for us. His rejection as King is another step toward the price he will pay for our sins. Jesus is a King under whom we can happily live, by whom we can be glad to be ruled. His reign is our salvation.

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