No King But Caesar

Jesus’s “trial”, as recorded in the book of John, is quite a scene. There is a progression of interesting statements that are made, especially and most specifically by the Jewish leaders.

First, after Pilate offers to free either Barabbas, the insurrectionist, or Jesus, the innocent man whom the Jews have accused of insurrection, the Jews say that they want to set Barabbas free. Oh, the irony…

So presumably, that is what Pilate does, but he does go ahead and have Jesus beaten. He is flogged, but then Pilate brings him out and says that he has found Jesus to be innocent, despite the beating that he just gave him.

But what is the response of the Jewish leaders? Crucify him!

And they repeat it, shouting back to Pilate that this should be Jesus’s fate.

But Pilate doesn’t get it. Why should he crucify him? Jesus hasn’t really done anything wrong. And here, the Jewish leaders show their hand. They “say the quiet part out loud”, as the saying goes. They say:

We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

John 19:7

This isn’t really what they were supposed to say. This is the real reason that they want to crucify Jesus. They want him gone because they believe that he is blaspheming. Their unbelief prevents them from being willing to understand who Jesus truly is. Their eyes have been blinded and their ears can no longer hear. Their rage against Jesus as a result of his threat to their leadership prevents them from being able to believe in him.

And so they are coming after him for blasphemy. That is the real reason, but it really isn’t a good enough reason for Pilate and the Roman government.

But Pilate was afraid because he couldn’t understand what was happening. Where are you from?, he asked Jesus. But Jesus wouldn’t give him an answer that would satisfy Pilate any further. He would stay silent, just as the prophecies said that he would.

Pilate still couldn’t figure out why he should crucify Jesus, so he continued to try to set him free. But the Jews continued to shout and demand that Jesus be killed. And now they get their story straight as they level their accusation:

If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.

John 19:12

The Jews are backing Pilate into a corner. Now they have worked up their story to make Pilate understand that they are accusing Jesus of being against the Roman state. This is no longer a conversation about religion or about the Jewish laws, but now this is a question of Pilate’s loyalty to Rome. If Jesus is against Rome, then Pilate is against Rome if he doesn’t crucify him.

But now the death blow, both to Pilate, to the Jews, and most of all, to Jesus:

They shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

John 19:15

Jesus is standing there to be judged and Pilate is still trying to set him free, but the Jews make a statement that rings through eternity, both into the past as well as into the future:

We have no king but Caesar.

How true. The Jews rejected God as their King in the time of the prophet Samuel and God allowed it, giving them first Saul, then David, Solomon, and many kings after them. They wanted to be like the other nations around them, not having God as their King, but instead having a human king, just like the other peoples.

And now, they are so far from having submitted themselves to God’s lordship that they are willing to say that their king is non other than the king that lords over them from a foreign nation. They have been conquered by the world and its systems of sin that they can no longer see how they have sold themselves as slaves to it as well.

It could go unsaid, but this is, of course, a significant warning for us as well. Who is my king? Who is yours? Do we submit to “Caesar”? Do we submit ourselves to this world? Or do we offer ourselves to Christ as King in the Kingdom of God?

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