Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:25-26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22
Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews
Jesus was condemned to die by the Romans because he was a political threat, someone who might lead a rebellion against Rome. The charge was utterly ridiculous as Pilate himself understood. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world, and there is no proof either biblical or in other ancient sources that suggests that Jesus ever had any intention of leading a revolt. (I understand that some misguided “scholars” have tried to paint Jesus as a “revolutionary peasant.” As John Calvin said, “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”)
But Pilate had to crucify Jesus for some reason and titles such as “Christ,” “Messiah,” or “King” were all the reasons he needed. Now it was the custom that the Romans would post the charge or crime that the condemned man committed to shame him and teach others not to commit the same error. (By the way, Roman citizens were not crucified, only subject peoples.) So Pilate had the crime Jesus committed written and placed on the cross, and in three languages so that no one might miss it: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” One wonders if Pilate placed the inscription so prominently as to embarrass the chief priests who, indeed, complained, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said I am King of the Jews,’” only to be rebuffed by Pilate’s curt response, “What I have written I have written.”
“The King of the Jews,” that’s what the chief priests said he said. Though Jesus did not deny that he was a king when others called him so, Jesus never proclaimed himself a king, and indeed refused the honor when some wanted to take him by force (John 6:15). The chief priests falsely accused him of proclaiming himself a king. And yet, he was king, is king, and will one day be hailed as such when every knee bows and tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10). The irony is that the pagan procurator, Pilate, who laughed at the suggestion that Jesus was a king, writes the truth of the matter for all to read, much to the chagrin of the very people who rejected him as king, while falsely accusing him of trying to be one! It’s a tangled web, but that’s what sin does: tangles things up. And yet, God makes even the devil preach His holy word, which is what Pilate does here; and God has a way of using unbelievers to shame His own people, which people are shamed here. And still through all of man’s sin, scheming, and hardness of heart, God’s triumph comes shining through as will be made clear on the third day. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary and conceived by the Spirit, is Son of David, King of the Jews (Luke 1:68-75).