The Death of the King

Each time we read in the gospels, we should be asking ourselves the question, “what does this passage say about Jesus?” Not every passage in the Bible directly relates to Jesus, but the gospel accounts are directly related to Jesus. Though John does not give as much attention to Jesus being king compared to Matthew, he takes time in John 18-19 to lay out the kingship of Jesus.

Here's an outline of how John highlights Jesus' kingship in these two chapters:

  • John 18:33-38 – Pilate, Jesus, and His kingdom
  • John 19:1-3 – mocking the king
  • John 19:5 – revelation of the king
  • John 19:8-12 – pitting the heavenly king against the earthly king
  • John 19:13-16 – revelation and rejection of the King
  • John 19:17-22 – public proclamation of the King
Jesus, the Promised King (John 18:33-35)

The point of this book is to pinpoint the person who is the Christ, the Son of God: it is Jesus of Nazareth. It’s important to note that the title “king” means very little with Jesus being a Jew. So John gives attention to Jesus being “the king of the Jews.” John 4:22-24 says that salvation is of the Jews.

The Old Testament contained many prophecies of a coming King. The Davidic King was promised in 2 Samuel 7:12-16, 24-29. We can’t dismiss the promises made to Israel and what Messiah would be to her (especially given the Davidic covenant and the prophecies made directly to Israel). Isaiah 9:6-7 prophesied that "a child will be born, and the government will be on his shoulders… of the greatness of his government and his peace there will be no end... He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom."

The events surrounding the birth of Christ revealed that He was the promised King. In Matthew 2:1-6, wise men were looking for the King of the Jews, and the Pharisees knew where to find him (cf. Micah 5:2). The Magi gave Jesus gifts worthy of a king. Herod eliminating all the male children under the age of 2 because of their threat to his position.

Gabriel’s words to Mary said, “He will be great and called the Son of the Most High, The Lord will give him the throne of His father David, and he will reign over His descendants, and his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:32). Many of our Christmas Carols reflect the theme or praising “Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

The coming of the King should have been no surprise to the Jews. They had been told of his coming, and under the circumstances of the Roman oppression, they were looking for the promised deliverer. However, the King that was Promised was a King that was first and foremost Spiritual.

Jesus, the Spiritual King (John 18:36-37)

Though Jesus was king of the Jews, Jesus would not become king by force. He told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem foreshadowed this: He came in on a donkey, something that a warrior would not be riding on (John 12:12-16, Zech. 9:9-10).

The Gospel of John seems to be a corrective of those who understood Jesus’ Kingship to be political or a planned overthrow of Rome. In John 6:15, Jesus evaded attempts by his followers to make him king by force. He told Peter to put his sword away (John 18:11), unlike those who came to capture him (18:2-3), soldiers and officials of the chief priests/Pharisees who came with torches, lanterns, and weapons.

Jesus came in humility. When Pilate asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (18:33) the word "you" is emphasized in the Greek in all 4 gospels. Pilate was incredulous – Jesus did not give off any air of being a revolutionary; His own people rejected and handed him over. In John 1, Jesus' own disciple-to-be Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” It wasn't until later that he confessed, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Though Jesus was the King of the Jews, entering His kingdom was first and foremost spiritual (John 3:3, 5). His kingdom was from another place, just like he told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again, or born from above. Entry into the kingdom requires spiritual realities, as later explained by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. As King he came to speak the truth, and for people to become citizens of the Kingdom, they would listen to the truth (John 18:37).

Though Jesus was a spiritual king, that doesn’t mean that His kingdom is only a spiritual kingdom. The prophecies of Jesus’ kingdom include an earthly aspect. Unlike kingdoms who have this earth as their origin, Christ’s kingdom is the kingdom of heaven. At His Second Coming, He will come as a political and military leader, and it will be Him as King over all the earth (Revelation 19). Everything promised about Him will come true, and His reign will be forever.

This reality – that Jesus is King, that His kingdom is not from this world, but that His real, tangible, kingdom is coming to this world when the King comes again – should take the center of our attention when we become worried or afraid at what is going on in our country or in our world.

If Jesus trained his disciples to go and make disciples, then our primary concern should be to speak the truth, the Gospel, of Jesus Christ so that citizens of our community will come to Christ – and not just here, but also everywhere around the globe, every ethnic group, every tongue, every nation. We are thankful when the laws of our land reflect God’s character, and when we can speak into the formation of those laws, we are even more thankful. As Christians, we should be the best citizens in our community.

However, Christians are not called to make their nations Christian nations. Revivals have taken place here and there, and Christians have certainly influenced nations for good. But in human history, when Christians try to make kingdoms the way the world makes kingdoms, what happens? History is very instructive on what happens when conversion comes at the end of a sword – either a legal on or a literal one. It is not a good result for the community physically or for the church spiritually when force is used to try to bring about needed spiritual change.

Using force in this way reveals a greater trust in earthly material success instead of trust in God’s plan for the ages. Do not put your trust in the success of earthly kingdoms.

Application Points

  • What kind of a Savior do you want? One who conquers a society by force or One who changes the hearts of His enemies? Are you content with having that mission – to go and make disciples – be your primary mission? As Christians, we want society to reflect characteristics of Jesus’ reign. The citizens of Jesus’s kingdom are to be salt and light, and we should be the positively active in our communities. Even in our country’s history, we have seen positive societal changes – freedom of religion, abolishing slavery, women having the same rights as men. We’ve even put language on our money and in our pledge of allegiance that acknowledges God. Yet Jesus is no less of a king when your candidate loses at the ballot box, when laws are changed, when your taxes go up, or when life becomes more difficult! Meditate on what Jesus really meant in John 16: “In Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
  • As Christians, we carry the Gospel - the good news – to the world, and we have the hope in a certain future with Jesus as King. Yet Christians can be some of the most angry, most negative, and complain the most. For the rest of our lives, we will be living in a tension: in one sense, 2 Timothy 3:1 is true, “know that in the last times things will get worse and worse.” But we also live in the reality of Matthew 16:18: “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Do not let your heart be troubled. Remember John 13-16. Why are we so easily upset? Jesus is King! Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord – so act like it!
A Hymn to Encourage: "There Is a Higher Throne" by Kristyn & Keith Getty
© 2002. CCLI 1422210

And there we'll find our home,
Our life before the throne;
We'll honor Him in perfect song
Where we belong.
He'll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die;
The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King;
We'll reign with Him.

Hear heaven's voices sing;
Their thund'rous anthem rings
Through em'rald courts and sapphire skies;
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow'r,
Strength, thanks, and honor are
To God our King, who reigns on high