“Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews, but my kingship is not from the world.” Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
John 18:33-38 (RSV)
I’ve been thinking about this text all week. I guess it’s appropriate, given that we have entered the Easter season. This exchange, in various forms is found in all four of the Gospels, by the way. There are variances of the exchange but, in all four Gospels, the question “Are you the King of the Jews” is asked and answered.
This is something we’re meant to pay attention to.
I have some thoughts and questions for us to consider on this most holy weekend.
Pilate’s question seems kind of funny, don’t you think? Why does he care who calls themself a king in Judea? It’s not like his power or the power of Rome could actually be threatened by some backwater, podunk carpenter who claims to be a king, right?!
It’s fascinating to me that Pilate asks a question that is markedly sarcastic and seems politically motivated…at least on the surface. Consider it for a moment. Pilate was governor of Judea. This was probably not exactly a choice spot for someone with political ambitions. I mean, it’s the middle of the desert and he probably had to put down insurrections frequently. But…if this man he’s questioning is some type of king that the people will listen to, he could become an ally for Pilate to help him control this district. Pilate is thinking about his own personal agenda.
So Pilate asks a political question. But it was also prophetic. What Pilate probably didn’t know was that the Messiah foretold, the king that had been prophesied, was to be the King of all the world. He would, according to prophecy, bring all nations pouring in to Zion to worship and he would rule the whole world with justice and mercy. This was foretold.
I doubt Pilate knew that or had studied the Hebrew Scriptures much. His question, as sarcastic as it was, underhanded and politically motivated, was also prophetic. Out of the mouth of a pagan Gentile was Old Testament prophecy fulfilled.
Jesus’ answer is telling. He sees through Pilate’s question and answers him accordingly. Pilate is thinking worldly power and Jesus throws it back in his face. Jesus says to him, basically, “You’re coming at this all wrong, Pilate. If this was a political power struggle, my people would have never let this happen. If this was a power grab on my part, I wouldn’t be here. My people would have fought to make sure this didn’t happen.” Jesus confronts Pilate’s question head on and identifies what’s really important to Pilate: power and ambition.
Pilate was looking for an opportunity to get ahead. Jesus was fulfilling the Father’s will.
Here are the questions I’ve been considering all week as I’ve thought about this text.
How do I see Jesus?
Is He a means to an end, as He was with Pilate?
Or, is He the King of the world?
Here’s the thing. It really didn’t matter if Pilate acknowledged Jesus to be the King. Jesus was, and is, the King. Jesus didn’t need Pilate to acknowledge that, or even believe it. It was and is a fact regardless of Pilate’s belief. And Jesus tries to tell Pilate that. He says, “I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
There are some things that are objective fact, no matter how you or I feel about them. There was something that was objective fact staring Pilate right in the face.
The Truth was standing in front of him and Pilate asks, “What is truth?”
The King of the world was standing in front of him and Pilate is thinking about his own ambitions.
It really doesn’t matter if Pilate acquiesces to the fact of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus is King, no matter what Pilate thought. Jesus is truth, despite Pilate’s sarcasm.
How do you see Jesus?
Your King stands before you on this most holy weekend. Not like a king you would expect in pomp and circumstance. Not one who can fulfill your own personal ambitions or give you power. Your King stands before you bloody and beaten, dying on your behalf, proclaiming to the world the truth of sin and redemption.
The King has died so that you and I may live. Look long at your bloody and crucified King today. Worship at the foot of the cursed tree where Life died so that we may live. Go to that rocky tomb; anoint His body with the oil of your tears.
But know that He did not stay dead! In three days, He rose again! He has beaten back all our ambitions and selfishness with His love and obedience and sacrifice! He has risen again so that we may know freedom! He has risen so that we may know joy! He has risen again so that we may know the truth!
Behold your King!
It’s not secret to anyone who has kept up with my blog that I have been on a faith journey for the last several years. Over the last two to three years, that journey has taken a noticeably catholic turn. There are two main reasons for this.
First, the Bible.
I take very seriously the Word of God. Everyone who knows me knows that, not only do I take God’s Word seriously, I love God’s Word. Reading, learning and studying God’s Word has been one of the great joys of my life to date. When I came to faith in Jesus, one of the first prayers I prayed was, “Lord, help me to love Your Word. Help me to hunger and thirst for Your Word. Give me a desire to know You in Your Word.”
Our gracious Father has granted that request. He has given me an ache in my soul that only His Word can fill. He has made me hunger and thirst after His Word. Man cannot live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I live and breathe for God’s Word. I read it and study it and dissect it.
I love and read and study God’s Word because it is His revelation of Himself to us. Of course we have general revelation in God’s creation. And we have others ways by which we may see God. But God has given us His Word written down so that we may know Him and serve Him rightly.
The second main reason for this is my reading and studying of the Church Fathers. Now, before anyone gets all upset, I am not saying that the Fathers are inerrant. I am not saying that they are on par with revealed truth in God’s Word. However, what I am saying is that they speak to us who, in our modern context, think we’ve got this thing figured out and they say to us, usually with one voice, that there are things about the Christian faith that make most Protestants really nervous.
The Fathers tell us what the Church has always believed and how the Church has always practiced her faith. This is enormously helpful for us today. There is a deep desire among many younger Christians today to connect with the historic Church…and I am profoundly grateful for this desire. I applaud it and encourage it for all!
I encourage it even it makes you uncomfortable and perhaps even leads you to conclusions that sound…well, Catholic.
Let me give you an example from my own life and faith journey. As I said, it’s no secret that my journey has led me out of Protestantism and into a distinctly catholic position. But I struggle and question many of the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. But I want to be intellectually and emotionally honest with myself and with you and maybe you need to ask yourself this same question.
Are my problems with the Catholic Church real problems with biblical reality or do I just not want them to be true?
Here’s my example. I have been wrestling with some things. One of them is all this dogma about Mary. For my Protestant friends...it’s okay for you to call her The Blessed Virgin. Scripture calls her blessed so it is quite alright for you too as well. But there are some things about the dogma of the Church that I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around.
Like the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The first time I heard this I literally laughed out loud. I was like, “Right. You mean to tell me that Joseph was married to her and never had sex with her? Right.” Seems logical, right? So, here’s where it gets interesting for me. As I said, been studying and wrestling with all this a lot. So, how can it be possible that Mary was perpetually a virgin and surely no one actually believes this, right?
Actually lots of people in the early Church believed it and taught it. I will give just one example: St. John Chrysostom.
“And when he had taken her, “he knew her not, till she had brought forth her first-born Son.” He hath here used the word “till,” not that thou shouldest suspect that afterwards he did know her, but to inform thee that before the birth the Virgin was wholly untouched by man. But why then, it may be said, hath he used the word, “till”? Because it is usual in Scripture often to do this, and to use this expression without reference to limited times. For so with respect to the ark likewise, it is said, “The raven returned not till the earth was dried up.”6 And yet it did not return even after that time. And when discoursing also of God, the Scripture saith, “From age until age Thou art,” not as fixing limits in this case. And again when it is preaching the Gospel beforehand, and saying, “In his days shall righteousness flourish, and abundance of peace, till the moon be taken away,”8 it doth not set a limit to this fair part of creation. So then here likewise, it uses the word “till,” to make certain what was before the birth, but as to what follows, it leaves thee to make the inference. Thus, what it was necessary for thee to learn of Him, this He Himself hath said; that the Virgin was untouched by man until the birth; but that which both was seen to be a consequence of the former statement, and was acknowledged, this in its turn he leaves for thee to perceive; namely, that not even after this, she having so become a mother, and having been counted worthy of a new sort of travail, and a child-bearing so strange, could that righteous man ever have endured to know her. For if he had known her, and had kept her in the place of a wife, how is it that our Lord commits her, as unprotected, and having no one, to His disciple, and commands him to take her to his own home?”
I read that and was like…wait…what?! Chrysostom goes on to talk about his “brethren” and I highly recommend you read it for yourself. By the way, Chrysostom was the man that many consider to be the father of the Orthodox Church and perhaps one of the greatest preachers that has ever lived.
But it wasn’t just the Fathers that believed and taught this. The hero of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther, also maintained the same teaching. Luther said, “Christ our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary’s virginal womb…This was without the co-operation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 22, 23.) By the way, Calvin and Zwingli also defended the perpetual virginity of Mary.
If you’re like me, you’re like, “Yeah but those dudes could be wrong.” Well, yes they could be. So let’s look at what the Bible has to say. Matthew 1 details Jesus’ birth for us and he says in verses 24 and 25,
“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
So right away, if you’re like me, you’ll say…See?! “He knew her not until…” implying that he “knew her” after the birth of Jesus. Problem with that is almost every commentator I read on this (including Calvin) says that phrase was put in there to prove that Jesus’ birth was not as a result of sexual relations with Joseph. But you may say, like me, “Yeah but the Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters.”
Does it? Here’s the problem with that. The Hebrew and Aramaic languages don’t have separate words for “brother,” “cousin,” or any other near relative. The term “brother” was used for all kinds of relationships (1 Corinthians 15:6, Matt. 23:8, Acts 7:23 to name a few).
Still not buying it?
Okay, another compelling piece…When Jesus is hanging on the cross, where are his siblings? If He had siblings, why weren’t they there? You may say, “Well, because they didn’t believe in Him.” Okay but neither did the High Priest and he was there, as were the Roman soldiers and many others. Don’t you think that if your brother was being executed, you’d show up, especially if you didn’t believe in Him? I mean, this is your opportunity to be able to say, “See, Mom?! I told you He wasn’t the Messiah.”
But aside from that, the interesting part is that Jesus hands over care of His mother to St. John. Now if you’ve done any sort of study on the culture of the day and the Jewish tradition, Jesus, as the oldest son, would have been responsible for the care of His mother (we assume that Joseph was dead by this time). And if He couldn’t fulfill those obligations, one of His siblings (if He had any) would be required to. But He didn’t pass that on to a sibling, He passed that responsibility along to one of the Apostles. Why?
Okay…so here’s what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that I buy all this as of yet. What I am saying is…
What if it’s true? What if the teaching of the Church for the last couple thousand years is true? Does that in any way diminish who Jesus is, what He accomplished? Does it change anything for you, for me?
Pray for me as I seek wisdom and clarity on these things I struggle with. You may say, “What difference does it make?” If you’re Protestant, you already know the answer to that. It matters because, if the Church is right about that…what else are they right about?
Pray for me. Pray for yourself and seek God’s wisdom in His Word, His Church and those who have gone before. We do this for the glory of Christ and of His Church!
Soli Deo Gloria!
 John Chrysostom. (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew. In P. Schaff (Ed.), G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (Vol. 10, p. 33). New York: Christian Literature Company.