Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews - INRI

INRI - Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews

Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others--one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:16-22)

Why was Jesus crucified? Ultimately it was the will of God, the Father, that Jesus should die as a substitute sacrifice in payment for the sins of all mankind so that we might be saved through faith in Him. However, in bringing this to fulfillment God used the sinfulness of man to bring about man’s salvation from sin. That is just one of many ironies in the death of Jesus.

Neither Pontius Pilate, nor the Jewish leaders had any desire to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. They were all following their own sinful selfish interests.

When they arrested Jesus, the Jewish leaders had already prejudged Jesus as deserving death because the “whole world” was following Him (John 12:19) and they were envious of His authority, power, and popularity (Mark 15:10). Pilate, however, recognized that Jesus was innocent, but let Him be crucified in order to placate the bloodthirsty Jews who were so intent on killing Jesus that they would have started a riot. Killing Jesus was the easy way out for Pilate to keep a semblance of order in Jerusalem.

It seems odd that Jesus and Pilate would speak about kings and kingdoms, except that according to Luke’s account of the Gospel (Luke 23:2) the Pharisees had charged Jesus with subversion saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.” John (18:30) shows the Pharisees being a little more coy about the guilt of Jesus saying at first to Pilate, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.”

Pilate must have known that their evidence against Jesus was thin so he responded, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Pharisees, however wanted Jesus crucified as a public spectacle to discourage Christ’s followers from undermining their authority.

Note that the Pharisees tell Pilate that Jesus claims to be “Christ.” It is interesting that they would use this word. The title “Christ” is a Greek word which is a translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means “anointed one.” The Pharisees had to define the word for Pilate (“He claims to be Christ, a king.”) because although it had meaning for them, it had none for Pilate. They knew that Jesus was God not only because of His teaching and miracles, but because God’s chosen Christ was the true King of Israel who would reign forever (Psalm 29:10 “The Lord is enthroned as King forever.”)

The Resurrected Jesus
It didn’t matter to the Pharisees that Jesus was God Himself in the flesh who would reign as King forever. They only cared about their own power and rule, and if they could kill God then they would take as much pleasure doing it as Friedrich Nietzsche would take proclaiming the deed nineteen centuries later (though Nietzsche made the fatal flaw of forgetting the Resurrection of Jesus).

Jesus engages Pilate in conversation and answers his question, which is somewhat remarkable. When Pilate sends Jesus to Herod for judgment Jesus has absolutely nothing to say to Herod. I take this as a sign that Jesus knew there was hope for Pilate to be saved, and out of love explained to Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36) and “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11) It was also out of love for Herod that Jesus did not open His mouth in response to his inquiries. Unlike Pilate, Herod was not interested in the truth. He only wanted to see a miracle. Jesus would not perform on command and so I suppose Herod was unsatisfied, but Jesus did give Herod a miracle in His death and resurrection from the dead, though I suspect that Herod didn’t appreciate that either.

Pontius Pilate was satisfied that even if Jesus was Israel’s King, He was no subversive insurrectionist. Several times Pilate declared that Jesus did not deserve to be crucified. The Pharisees were subversive insurrectionists, however, and not only were they willing to free the murderer Barabbas in order to kill Jesus, but they were beginning to start a riot against Pilate and would have continued had he not given in to their wicked demands to have Jesus crucified. Pilate showed weakness in allowing an innocent man to be killed, but in a way Jesus had already absolved him earlier saying, “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Jesus knew it wasn’t Pilate who was to die for the sins of all people.

Pilate, however took the opportunity to condemn the Pharisees a little bit, too. Pilate had a sign posted on the cross above Jesus’ head which read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Pilate had the message written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek so that no one would miss the message. This sign declared the reason this man was condemned to die. As far as Pilate was concerned Jesus was the King of the Jews. The Pharisees had accused Him of being a king, and Jesus had admitted it, too, saying, “You are right in saying I am a king.” (John 18:37) In effect, Pilate was saying, “If you bring this man to me claiming he is a king and insisting he be killed, then look, this is what I think of your king and your legal authority!” That is why the Pharisees objected to the wording of the sign, wanting to change it to say that this man claimed to be king of the Jews. Pilate was angry that they had forced his hand to kill an innocent man and would not change a word, saying, “What I have written, I have written.” (John 19:22)

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
Now, all this would only be a great injustice except for the fact of who Jesus is and why He died on the cross. As the only Eternal God, Jesus is the eternal King of Israel. Remember why the prophet Samuel was so angry in the Old Testament (1 Samuel 8) when the people asked for a king like the other nations. He recognized that they were rejecting God as their true king. Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18) Are the Jews guilty of the murder of Jesus? Yes. Are the Gentiles guilty of the murder of Jesus? Yes. Jesus died for the sins of all people, both Jews and Gentiles. We are all guilty of the death of Jesus, but that is why He came to be born in our flesh. Jesus came to die to pay for the sins of all people, so although we are all guilty in His death, we all may also receive His forgiveness and rejoice in His resurrection.

Jesus did not die for Himself, but neither did He rise for Himself either. He died and rose for us. Jesus overcame death and the grave so that we could receive His forgiveness and also overcome our death and grave to live in Paradise with Him forever. It is important for Christians to understand that Jesus is the “King of the Jews.” Not that there is anything special about the Jews (there isn’t), but because God had chosen the Israelite people as His servants so that through them God would bring salvation for all mankind into the world through them. This He accomplished through Jesus.

The sign “INRI” on the cross is not a condemnation of the Jews (except for those who reject Jesus as God and King), but it is an acknowledgment that God has kept His promises and has brought salvation to all who trust in Jesus to save them from their sins.

No comments: