24. King of the Jews (Israel)

Focus on Christ Meditations: 24. King of the Jews (Israel)

Mt 2:1,2  Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?

There are not that many references to Jesus being ‘the King of the Jews’ but they are there and they are significant. The earliest one is the verse above when the Magi turn up in Jerusalem and ask for this recently born ‘king of the Jews’. In a town with a powerful but paranoid king (Herod) that might not have been the smartest thing to do, which shows they have some information but not everything about this situation. But that is how it goes with ‘the king of the Jews’!

The main references to the ‘king of the Jews’ come near the end of the Gospels and so we find, for example, Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11) It is left to John to expand on this as we will see later, yet, for the moment at least, it is worth noting Pilate has this information. How? Luke records, “they began to accuse him saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” (Lk 23:2) Now apart from the fact that that involves a specific lie, for Jesus has purposefully NOT given any grounds for not paying taxes to Caesar, the Jews specifically linked the Christ to being a king. In the verses that follow in Matthew we see this term becomes a means of abuse (Mt 27:29,37,41,42) And that is all there is in the Synoptics.

When we come to John it becomes more interesting. Early on Nathaniel meets Jesus and, because Jesus uses a word of knowledge, Nathaniel comes out with a most remarkable statement, this early on: “Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) Nathaniel appears an astute and knowledgeable Jew and maybe it is because he knows his Old Testament that he associates the Messiah with being a king. But Son of God? Wow! That did take insight of the old prophecies that even we’re a bit slow to see.

John shows us that because of Jesus’ power the Jews, looking for a deliverer from the Romans, saw in Jesus an obvious candidate, and this becomes quite clear when Jesus has just fed the large crowd: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (Jn 6:15) It becomes even more obvious at Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem before his last week there: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,  “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12;13). In the light of what follows in the subsequent conversation with Pilate, it is significant that Jesus did not follow the road up to the Fortress Antonia, the barracks of the Romans, but instead turned and went up to the Temple where he later overturned the tables of the moneychangers.

Very well, let’s see his conversation with Pilate which opens up this whole subject: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” ….. Jesus said, “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.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn 18:33,36,37)

Note the key elements of these verses. First, Jesus expressly denies he is an earthly king. Any movement that sought to use him as their figurehead was doomed from the start! Second, he claims that he IS a king but NOT of this world. Third, the whole point of him coming to the earth was to testify to this (and, we might add, to die for this world to link the two worlds).

Now we need to remind ourselves of some of the prophecies that we considered in the first Part of this series. Let’s just take one as an example: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7)  The child was clearly to be a king, a ruler but his reign was to be everlasting.

Another prophetic word we haven’t considered previously comes from the Psalms: “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Psa 2:6,7) God declares He has established His own king, His own Son as a ruler of the Holy City.

When we observe Jesus’ ministry we often refer to him bringing in the kingdom of God on earth, the rule of God that he was expressing as he set captives and prisoners free. In the opening verses of Psa 110 we see prophetic verses that appear again in the New Testament, “The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies,” (Psa 110:1,2) Again this is God’s intent, that Jesus will rule – expressing his Father’s power – here on the earth through his body, while at the same time the dominion of darkness rules over the minds of unbelievers.

Yes, Jesus is a king, a king over the kingdom of his Father in heaven, yet a kingdom being worked out here on earth. Near the end of his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25).  In Revelation 19 we see him coming as The Conquering King, to deal with his enemies and yet in Revelation 5 we see him standing before the throne of God, acclaimed as the Lion of Judah and yet shown as a lamb that has the marks of death upon it. This is the mystery – the ruler, the Lion of Judah, is also the Lamb of God. The currency of this king? Sacrifice, humility and obedience. Hallelujah!

To reflect upon: if this is how Jesus works, surely that should be the way we work?

Palm Sunday

PALM SUNDAY – Heralded

Matt 21:8,9 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

David the psalmist wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psa 23:4) It seems an apt description of this week ahead – the valley of the shadow of death. For Christians this week ahead is a week of mixed emotions. On Good Friday there is the awfulness of the events of that day when we rejected the Saviour of the World. Then of Easter Sunday there is the celebrating that he is alive. But as we walk through this week ahead, there is the awful shadow of death hanging over it, the death we know is coming at the end of it.

It is that, perhaps, that makes the events of ‘Palm Sunday’ so incongruous. We know, because we’ve got it in writing and we’re looking back on it, that his death is coming, but death is the last thing on the mind of the crowd who welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Indeed this travelling preacher seems to be the master over death because it was only a few weeks back that Lazarus was raised from the dead by him and the word has spread around the area like a tsunami rushing out from an earthquake epicentre, so now here he is on his way to Jerusalem with the crowd getting bigger and bigger by the moment.

It almost seems like he inflames them for he sends some of his followers to borrow a donkey and he mounts it to ride up to and through the gates of Jerusalem. The words of the prophet Zechariah, taught in the synagogues throughout the land, are being fulfilled before their very eyes: Say to the Daughter of Zion, `See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Mt 215 quoting Zech 9:9). Some who have come from the north remember the time when he had fed five thousand with virtually nothing and the word had started to spread that this was their new messiah-king, a worthy king for Israel surely!

Thus they herald him as their king, yet nevertheless for some there was this shadow of death hanging over it all. The disciples had heard their master say a number of times that they would go to Jerusalem and there he would be killed (see Mt 16:21, 17:23). They had heard it and they had grieved. Peter had even rebuked him for saying such things.

How unreal those words must have seemed now, with the crowd screaming and shouting and applauding him; yet those very shouts would have had the exact opposite effect upon the religious authorities within the city, who became more and more anxious and sought opportunities to arrest him.

God’s plan was clearly declared by the prophet Isaiah, that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5)  The Cross is the necessary end of this week because of our sins; that was God’s declared plan, but it needed the work of men. The Lord knew how the crowd would react with just a little prompting, so the raising of Lazarus just a few miles and weeks away, and the riding in on a donkey were just gentle fuel to fire the passions of men of power to move against Jesus. As Peter later said to the Jewish crowd on the day of Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23).

Yes, this Sunday is a terrible combination of the knowledge and plan of God, the shallow adoration of a self-seeking crowd and, eventually, the sinful scheming of powerful men. How terrible! How wonderful!