The Kingdom’s Ruler
Pilate then went back outside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your 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?” 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.”. . . “What is truth?” Pilate asked. As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw (Jesus), they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where did you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have the power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
-Jesus and Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor
John 18:33-38, 19:6-11
What a setting for this narrative–the palace of Governor Pontius Pilate, the highest official in the land representing the Roman Emperor. At the seat of this world’s political power, Jesus will disclose the nature of His person. From another Gospel, we learn that the people assembled outside Pilate’s palace had indeed laid down the charge that Jesus claimed to be a king (Luke 23:1, 2). That prompted Pilate to pick up the line of questioning.
Pilate’s questions allowed Jesus to present the substance of His person and Kingdom, and the nature of His authority. Keep in mind that Pilate was standing in the place of the Emperor who led a regime that excelled all others in enforcing its will on people. There was very little power outside the dictatorial authority of the Roman Empire. The Emperor had power! Exercising the Empire’s authority, Pilate began the interrogation. From the start, Jesus did not evade Pilate’s question about His being a king. That, He affirmed. He then began to clarify the nature of who He was. As we follow this process, we will better understand what the King stood for.
Right away, Jesus identified the basis of His kingly authority. Since it was not of this world, He was not in competition with the Emperor. He was not seeking political power. Just a few hours before His arrest and detention in Pilate’s palace, Jesus had talked privately with His disciples regarding “this world” and some other world. After telling them He would leave “this world,” Jesus assured His disciples he would return to earth from His Father’s house.
Here’s what He told them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3, 28-31).
If His kingdom were of this world, why did He announce He was about to leave them? The Emperor’s authority, on the other hand, was from this world; it was earth-bound. This contrasted with the Ruler of God’s Kingdom whose authority originated from the highest point possible—heaven. Under oath before the High Priest, Jesus testified that His authority was established outside of this world. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:64). While the Emperor and his representatives were limited by time and space, Jesus’ authority was as boundless as the expanse of eternity. As Jesus trial continued, He revealed other aspects about this Kingdom from eternity. In the end, it was not Jesus who stood condemned.
Who Was On Trial?
Since the setting for Jesus’ trial was Pilate’s palace, the rules of justice were those of the empire. For Pilate, it was Jesus who was on trial. He warned Jesus that he had life and death power over him (John 19:10). For those inside and outside the palace, Pilate’s statement was a fact. Little wonder. In their world, there was no authority higher than that of Rome. Pilate had it and he was about to prove it.
Without being disrespectful to Pilate, Jesus notified him that he (Pilate) did not have authority to do anything to Him unless that authority was granted to him. Pilate’s world, said Jesus, was controlled by another world; that meant that the Ruler of that other world controlled him (Pilate). And He (Jesus) was about to prove it!
In talking with Pilate, Jesus pointed out four facts that restrict all human authority:
1. He (Jesus) was a King with authority, that
2. His authority came from the highest source possible; thus
3. All earthly authority was subject to His sovereign authority, and
4. He came to establish eternal truth.
These conclusions raise two important questions: When did Jesus obtain His authority? What kind of truth were Pilate and Jesus talking about?
The answers to these two questions are crucial as they revealed Jesus’ relation to eternity and showed the nature of the King. What took place in Pilate’s palace that day placed time and eternity, heaven and earth, illusion and reality, humanity and God—all into immediate and permanent contrast. If Jesus were just another first century Jewish Rabbi who got caught in the crossfire of political intrigue between the Roman governor and the Sanhedrin, the outcome would have had little historical or lasting significance.
However, what was at stake was a conflict that had eternal implications. The outcome would forever change the nature of human existence. Thus, the question of authority reached a much deeper level than just crushing another challenge to the power of Rome.
Before we look at Jesus’ authority, we need to examine Pilate’s authority. Jesus’ encounter with Pilate helped clarify the Governor’s real position. Notice how the very system that gave Pilate power also limited his power. He was a pawn to the political manipulation of those he governed. In reading from John’s Gospel, Pilate apparently assumed he governed everything. However, his own actions to get control betrayed him. First, he declared he had the power to free Jesus but he ended up caving in to political pressure. He handed Jesus over to be crucified.
During the interrogation, Pilate came to the conclusion that Jesus was innocent. He must act accordingly. “From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’
‘Here is your king.’ Pilate said to the Jews. But 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. “Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.” (John 19:12, 14-16).
Although Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent of anything deserving crucifixion, he couldn’t govern his own will. Even as the Emperor’s representative, his power was limited. His passion for power and popular acceptance conquered his desire to release Jesus. The people and circumstances of the day ultimately controlled Pilate. He himself was not a free man, not from the Emperor nor from the people.
Now we turn to the question of Jesus’ authority. When did He receive his authority? If His authority came after He died and was the result of the resurrection, it would define His authority as coming from time—an event that happened in time gave Him His authority. It would be like a reward for heroism. If His authority came before His death and resurrection, it would mean that it was derived from eternity. It was His nature. In other words, either the resurrection was the cause of His authority or it was the result of His authority. A different way to pose the question would be: Did Jesus rise from the dead because of who He was? Or, did He become who He was because He rose from the dead?
The principle involved here is similar to what Jesus discussed at the healing of a paralytic man. During His travels, Jesus retuned to Capernaum, a city where He had once lived (Matthew 4:13). Crowds of people surrounded Him. Four men, desperate to have their paralyzed friend healed, carried him to see Jesus. Because they were unable to get into the over-crowded house where Jesus was teaching, they removed tiles from the roof. With ropes, they lowered their friend down to where Jesus was.
We read, “Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they would not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ ” (Mark 2:3-5).
When Jesus announced to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” the statement did not require any visible confirmation.
Even so, everyone there including the religious leaders knew that only God could forgive sin. In their minds, Jesus’ statement of forgiveness placed Himself on a par with God. Jesus exposed their thinking when He told them, “Sure, it’s easy to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ But to prove that I have the authority to forgive this man, I will also take away his paralysis. ‘Get up off that mat and walk.’ ” The man got up and walked away (Mark 2:6-12).
The miracle followed Jesus’ declaration of forgiveness. However, the man’s sins were, in fact, forgiven whether or not the miracle occurred. The miracle only confirmed to the audience Jesus’ authority to forgive sin, something all agreed was only God’s right. In a similar way, the resurrection confirmed Jesus’ authority when He told Pilate, “You have no authority over me.” As with the paralytic, it would have been easy to say, “You can’t execute me without my approval.” Without some visible proof from Jesus, Pilate’s claim that “I have power to free you or to crucify you” would have seemed valid.
We must remember that Jesus foretold His own death and resurrection as a single, unified event. He would freely give up His life and rise from the dead on the third day: “Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ ” (John 12:23, 24). “He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ ” (Luke 9:21, 22).
Jesus Himself confirmed the magnitude of the question and timing of His authority. “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they my know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.’ ” (John 17:1-5). Jesus’ authority was from eternity as determined within the counsels of the Godhead (See also Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 9:26;
When Jesus confronted the Emperor’s envoy about who had the authority to have Him crucified, Jesus removed any doubt about His kingdom. Without a standing army or political office, He set the time, place and manner of His own death. The resurrection proved His power over the ultimate exercise of power by the Emperor—execution. Jesus’ authority was not of this world. The purpose of His authority was not political domination. He did not die as the unforeseen and unfortunate result of Pilate’s weakness. Jesus came to die as already accomplished in the mind and will of the Godhead: “Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom, prepared for you since the
creation of the world.’ ” (Matthew 25:34). “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8). In reality, Jesus’ authority was not in question when He stood before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. That had been settled from eternity (Hebrews 7:20-25).
Pilate thought he had the authority. The resurrection of Jesus proved beyond doubt that Jesus already had the authority
from out of eternity. Therefore, since He is from eternity, we all need to listen to what He had to say about truth.
What Is Truth?
Going to the narrative from the opening of this chapter, let’s review what Jesus claimed. “For this I came into the world, to testify to the truth: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37). You recall Pilate’s immediate response was, “What is truth?” He then walked away from Jesus to address the mob outside his palace.
Well, to what truth was Jesus referring? We know there are different kinds of truth. Here are some examples.
Mathematical truth: 2 + 2 = 4 4 x 4 = 16
Chemical truth: H2O = water NaCl = table salt
Scientific truth: Energy = MC2 The earth revolves around the sun
Propositional truth: The door is open. The cat is alive
Deductive truth: All dogs are mammals; Fido is a dog; therefore: Fido is a mammal
We recognize these kinds of truth. We also know that Jesus used numbers, drank water, made deductions and used salt as
a metaphor. That was not the truth He was speaking of. Certainly, Pilate was not interested right then in the kinds of
truth we have listed. He understood that something very unusual was happening. Pilate “. . . knew it was out of envy
that they had handed Jesus over to him. “While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message:
“ ‘Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man (Jesus), for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.’ ” (Matthew 27:17-20).
Jesus was about to be executed in the most horrid manner conceived by a brutal regime. Neither He nor Pilate were playing word games. In this most serious moment in Jesus’ life, Jesus declared He had come to “testify to the truth.” This was not some casual, throwaway comment intended to stall or divert Pilate’s attention. Jesus was carefully choosing His words. He was fully aware of the absurdity of the scene. A puppet of an earthbound, time restricted Empire was claiming to have power over the One, who from eternity, possessed all authority and power. Yet, as He declared that He was born to “testify to the truth and those on the side of truth listen to me,” Pilate walked away.
The Truth Is Revealed
What kind of truth did Jesus talk about while on earth?
God, His nature and being
The Son of God (Son of Man)
Human relationship with God
The time and place of eternity
Sin, its results; its forgiveness
The nature of God’s Kingdom
Reality: The Seen versus the Unseen.
There was much more on which Jesus talked, but these establish the perspective from which He spoke. When Pilate interrogated Him, Jesus was referring to revealed truth. He hadn’t come to lecture about mathematics, science, logic, or similar kinds of truth. He was sent as a witness to God, to proclaim His nature, His Kingdom, His redemption—all things that can only be discovered by humanity through Divine revelation. As in a court of law, Jesus was called by God Himself to testify because He had personal, direct knowledge of facts and events from eternity. He was credible because of His person, His experience and
His relationship. He did not have to provide supporting evidence to be a witness to the truth.
As we study the four Gospel narratives, we observe that Jesus’ “witness to the truth” was virtually complete by the time of His crucifixion. Remember, too, that His death and resurrection were part of that witness. In fact, they were the capstone of God’s revelation that dramatically displayed His absolute holiness, love, justice and mercy. He came into the world with God’s authority and as His Witness. If the resurrection were necessary to prove His status as witness to God, His crucifixion should have taken place at the very beginning of His teaching mission.
Jesus’ death and resurrection could have occurred much earlier in His life. He had the power to give up His life at any time. “I have authority to lay it (His life) down and authority to take it up again.” (John 10:18). Early in His teaching, Jesus drew strong opposition. It reached a point that the religious leaders kept looking for a way to kill Jesus without arousing the people or the Roman authorities. After some straightforward truth in His hometown synagogue, we read that “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him over the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:28-30; also Matthew 12:9-14).
Not only were the time and place of His birth under God’s authority, so was His death. “When the time had fully come, God sent his son.” (Galatians 4:4). The apostle Paul also reminded his associate, Timothy, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” ( Timothy 1:9, 10). To another fellow pastor he wrote, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith . . . a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time and at his appointed season he brought his word to light . .
” (Titus 1:1-3)
We remember that John the Baptist identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin.” Jesus Himself declared that He would give up His life, voluntarily, as “the good Shepherd” to reclaim the lost of the world. (John 10:14-18). His death was not accidental. It was part of God’s eternal plan to present His Truth to the world in His Son.
The Proof of Truth
Part of the truth Jesus witnessed to was His own death and resurrection. When that took place was not critical to their effectiveness. He was to go through the ordeal of the cross as had been discussed with His heavenly Father God, in eternity as well as the day before. In the garden on the Mount of Olives, Jesus reviewed with His heavenly Father their conclusion from eternity: He Himself would provide the ransom for fallen humanity. He submitted to His Father’s will. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:39-44). God’s plan to redeem the human race required the death of His Son. Only a perfect and infinite sacrifice could remove the sin of the world. Only One coming from eternity could redeem the race that came out of time. The resurrection did not introduce Jesus into the eternal realm. Jesus was already functioning in an eternal order in which God was in charge.
God’s purpose in creating mankind was to include us in that eternal order. Unbelief in what God said halted His plan in the Garden of Eden. The cross and the resurrection made it possible for God’s plan to be restored. Humanity could again live in eternity. From eternity, Jesus came in time to show us how to live as a part of eternity. His teaching was from eternity into time. He lived and gave life from eternity into our day. He was born, lived, died, and was resurrected within the framework of eternity.
Jesus’ living and dying and rising from the dead from eternity enabled Him to lift us out of time and place us into eternity. As He once declared to some questioners, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” (John 5:24-26).
Therefore, the resurrection did not empower Jesus as Witness. The resurrection certified that what He said and did was the Truth (See Hebrews 9:11-15; 13:20). The resurrection took place because Jesus is the eternal Ruler over all other forms of power, including death, the ultimate enemy. Death could no more hold onto Jesus than could Pilate control Jesus’ destiny. Jesus chose the time and place of His death and predicted His resurrection. He did this because He is King.
The stage is now fully set for us to study the relationship between the King and the Kingdom and its rules.