The gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, particularly those of Luke and John, offer an interesting perspective to the accusations which were brought against Jesus. While the Jewish council focused their accusations and inquiries upon whether Jesus claimed to be “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mt.26.63f), their charges before Pilate were somewhat different. “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Lk.23.2). In John’s account, Pilate leaves the accusers and enters into the Praetorium and has a discussion with Jesus about that charge. “Are You the King of the Jews?” he asked the Lord (Jn.18.33). Jesus, after addressing the source of that charge, answers the question very plainly. “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight…but now My kingdom is not from here…You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth…” (v.36-37). Pilate is clearly intrigued by Jesus, even though he responds somewhat cynically to the idea of truth. He accurately perceived that Jesus posed no immediate political/military threat to Roman rule in Judea, and thus pronounced Him innocent. It seems to me that he may have even addressed the Jewish accusers with some degree of sarcasm as he repeatedly refers to Jesus as “the Christ” in Mt.27.17-22. He seems to have well grasped the truth of what was happening before him (Mt.27.18; Jn.19) even though he caved in to the political pressure placed upon him. And while the Roman governor finally commanded that Jesus be crucified, he was clearly disturbed somewhat about the true identity of Jesus as a King over a kingdom not of this world. The sign placed over Jesus at His crucifixion almost appears to be Pilate’s defiant confession to the Jews that he did not dismiss Jesus’ claim to royalty (Jn.19.19-22).
What was the fundamental charge against Jesus became an important part of the early gospel message – that Jesus was God’s King sitting upon God’s throne (Acts 2.29-36; 5.30-31; 8.12; 10.42; 17.6-7; 19.8; 20.25; 28.23). More so, that Jesus was God as King sitting upon God’s throne. Notice in the above passages (along with many others) that the message of the gospel was often summarized in preaching about Jesus as King or about the kingdom of God – God’s rule on the earth. Those of us who are followers of Jesus today likely don’t think in these terms, though we understand them intellectually and accept them as factual. Yet I think we sometimes fail of some important principles because we don’t think in terms of kings and kingdoms. We who are Americans have never experienced the idea of monarchy, and are in fact suspicious of any ruler who has too much authority. However, the very story of redemption is not only about restoring the relationship between man and God, but also about restoring in the eyes of men the proper position that God should assume in the created universe. While He has never ceased to reign, we have failed of appreciating that truth and man as a whole has rejected His rule. Yet the Bible has, from the beginning, portrayed God as King and Ruler over all of His creation.
Actually, the earliest biblical references to God as King date back to the time of Moses. In Ex.15.18, the song of Moses ends with, “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.” It is difficult to perceive how men thought of God during the patriarchal age and there is no mention in Genesis or Job of God in the position of King. However, His position as God, and thus a Being of power and authority, is clearly expressed and accepted in that time. In the Mosaic age, however, it becomes obvious that God is understood to be the King over His people. The tabernacle is patently designed to represent a palace with a throne (the mercy seat on the ark of the covenant), and the Jews appear to have appreciated that God was claiming that place (Judg.8.23). When the people ask Samuel for a king, he reminds them that they are rejecting God as their king (I Sam.8.7; 12.12), and God begins at that point to pave the way for His own return to the throne. He first gave them a king like they wanted (big, powerful but faithless Saul) and then a king like He wanted (David, a man after His own heart). In David and Solomon, He showed His people what life could be like under a godly King, foreshadowing what life could be like under the God King. Israel’s history in Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles is a royal record. Israel’s poetry repeatedly hails the promise and potential of a restored divine rule (Ps.2, 5, 10, 20, 24, 44; 45; 47; 95; 110; 145, etc.). And Israel’s prophets are looking forward to the last days wherein God would reestablish His rule and place His King upon His everlasting throne (II Sam.7; Isaiah, Daniel, etc.). Gabriel’s announcement to Mary (Lk.1.26f) identifies her child as the One to Whom God would give “the throne of His father David…and of His kingdom there will be no end” (v.32-33). Thirty years later, when Nathanael would hail Jesus as “the Son of God..the King of Israel” (Jn.1.49), he acknowledged the very fulfillment of God’s intention from the beginning of time – that God would again be understood to be King over all the earth. Thus, the words of Jesus to His apostles at His ascension – “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,”(Mt.28.18). This position of kingship is then affirmed over and over by His messengers (I Cor.15.23-28; Eph.1.20-21; Phil.2.9f; Col.1.13; Heb.1.8f; II Pet.1.11; etc.). And finally, the bible story concludes with the victorious King of Kings leading His army against His enemies and destroying all who refuse or rebel against His rule (Rev.19-20). God again rules.
The implications of the rule of Christ are many, and we ought to give some careful thought to the import of this concept. The fact of His complete authority is perhaps the most important and perverted of these implications. As residents in a democracy (of sorts), our standards of law are determined by the populace – “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address). As we have seen in our day, if Americans don’t like a law, we change it. Yet followers of the King have no such rights. We are ruled. We have submitted to Him who has all wisdom, authority, and power. What He declares is law and is not subject to our opinion or judgment. People in our day have fooled themselves into thinking that we can make addendums and adjustments to the law of the King and still please Him. The very truth of His rule ought to prompt some degree of fear to anyone who would suggest that we can do whatever we want and still please the King. What a farce! And yet this remains by far the most common element of religious activity in our day. Religious organizations, conventions, and individuals of influence regularly redefine what is and what is not acceptable to God. Whether involving conditions of forgiveness, activities of worship, definition of relationships (such as divorce and remarriage or “homosexual marriage”), or the constitution of basic morality, any change of God’s law by man is an act of pure rebellion. Such activities violate a fundamental truth of Christ’s identity – He is God and King. And we need to recognize that fact, submit to Him, and obey His laws, grateful that He is benevolent, sacrificial, and concerned for our well-being, in spite of our continued failures, ignorance, and rebellion. We serve a King and we desperately need to be reminded of such.