As we commemorate the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, I’m convinced we often overlook a vital question: What, exactly, got Jesus into such trouble with the authorities?
Although entire books could be written on this, today I’ve been stunned by the answer found in John chapters 18 & 19. A hint is found when the Roman soldiers flogged Jesus, gave Him a crown of thorns and purple robe, and mockingly said, “Hail! King of the Jews!”(John 19:1-3).
You see, Jesus got in trouble with the kingdoms of earth because He declared Himself the divine representative of the kingdom of heaven.
Proclaiming the heavenly kingdom wasn’t a new message. Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptizer, both began their ministry by challenging the crowds, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17, Matthew 3:1-2).
Make no mistake about it, this message will get you into trouble. People aren’t fond of having their sins exposed. They’re used to being their own king and serving their own kingdom. Rather than taking up their cross and dying to themselves, they expect God to cater to their wants and needs.
Yes, King Jesus wants to give us an abundant life (John 10:10). But first we must surrender control to Him.
The kingdom of God is a threat to our personal, self-centered ways. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded us, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Ouch… I want to come and dine, but Jesus bids me to come and die!
God’s kingdom is also a threat to any religious and political authorities we’ve pledged allegiance to. When Pilate tried to release Jesus, the Jewish leaders told him, “Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar” (John 19:12). They actually had a point. There’s only room for one king in a kingdom.
It was common in the Roman Empire for people to affirm, “Caesar is Lord!” So it’s no wonder the early Christians caused trouble when they began to declare, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” (Philippians 2:9-11).
This good news was a dangerous message, yet it’s how the apostles turned the world upside down:
“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too…and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king – Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7 NKJV).
My friends, let’s never forget that there is “another king.” He’s not a Democratic king or Republican king. You’ll never be able to recruit Him to your own cause or political party. As one old preacher said, “Jesus didn’t come to take sides; He came to take over!”
No wonder Pilate was baffled when Jesus told him, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom” (John 18:36). What kind of crazy kingdom is not of this world?! Earthbound people can’t even begin to comprehend such a thing.
Pilate is a foreshadow of today’s confused, compromised, postmodern leaders. While our culture struggles to detect the truth, courageous truth-tellers are typically ridiculed, censored, and cancelled. How fitting that Pilate would ask Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).
Notice that Jesus faced one of history’s early examples of “cancel culture,” and it’s no wonder. He not only spoke the truth, but He also embodied the truth (John 14:6). However, don’t miss the happy ending: Even if truth momentarily seems be cancelled (Isaiah 59:14), it’s destined to RISE AGAIN!
No King but Caesar
Although Pilate couldn’t really understand the Savior’s words, he made a valiant attempt to reason with the hostile crowd. After repeatedly telling them he could find no fault in Jesus, he said in frustration, “Look, here is your king!” (John 19:14).
Pilate’s efforts were to no avail, for the crowd had already made its choice. And notice that the religious leaders then made one of the most chilling statements ever uttered by humankind: “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
How tragic! Yet this is exactly where many people find themselves in today’s postmodern culture. If we refuse to embrace Jesus as our king, we consign ourselves to be ruled by tyrants. When we turn our backs on Jesus, we inevitably choose either dictators or revolutionaries like Barabbas (John 18:40).
Ask yourself: Do you really want “Caesar” to be your king? Will you submissively allow governmental authorities to rule your life, mandate your health decisions, and prescribe what must be taught to your children?
As citizens of atheistic countries have tragically discovered, there are dire consequences to rejecting Jesus and His kingdom. History shows that the rulers of this world love power. While they claim to be benevolent, they increasingly use their power to become harsh taskmasters.
Inscription on the Cross
When criminals faced crucifixion, a sign on top of the cross notified the public of the charges that led to the person’s execution. Pilate fittingly ordered that the Master’s inscription would read:
JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
What a strange charge! Jesus was crucified for being king. And though the religious leaders protested the wording of this sign, Pilate refused to change it.
Perhaps you’ve never given much thought to Jesus and His kingdom. Like many people, maybe you’ve relegated the story to ancient history – nothing relevant to your life today.
However, the story has never been timelier. Jesus said the message of the kingdom would go out into the whole world before His return (Matthew 24:14). Today He’s calling His followers to boldly challenge people to embrace His lordship once again.
This should be exciting for us, but it’s also sobering. Just as happened with Jesus, John the Baptizer, and the early church, preaching the kingdom will get you into trouble. You might be OK if you simply assure people God wants to bless them with “their best life.” But it becomes offensive when you start challenging people to turn from their sins and submit to Jesus as their King.
It used to be fashionable for Christians to declare, “WE ARE KING’S KIDS!” I still think this is a great proclamation – if we realize that being a “King’s kid” may get you crucified!
Dear friends, when you truly embrace the lordship of Jesus and live the message of His kingdom, I’m confident you will receive many crowns in heaven. However, don’t be surprised if you’re first given a crown of thorns here on earth.
American Christians have generally been spared this kind of opposition, perhaps because we’ve been content to be lukewarm. But history shows that persecution is the norm for those who wholeheartedly follow Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).
The message of the kingdom will get you into heaven. But first it’s likely to get you into trouble.