Jesus — Guilty as Chargedcomment (0)
April 17, 2014
By Bob Terry
The sign on the cross said it all: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The sign was called a “titulus.” It contained the name of the person being crucified and the charge that resulted in the victim’s death. Rome wanted to make sure that passersby saw what happened to people who violated the empire’s rules.
Pilate paid special attention to this sign. Even if he considered Jesus a good man, everyone in Jerusalem had to understand what happened to a would-be king. Pilate ordered the titulus written in three languages — Aramaic, Latin and Greek. Aramaic was the language of Palestine and the Middle East. It had been for hundreds of years dating back to the exile. Jesus preached in Aramaic. Rabbinic literature was written in the Semitic language. It is what the people spoke so people from Israel could read the charge that brought Jesus to such an inglorious end.
Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. It was the official language, the language of the law. The Latin inscription verified this crucifixion was no accident. It was the decision of the Roman government that Jesus should die. And Rome’s charge against Him was that He was a rival king.
Normally the two languages would have been enough but this was not a normal time. It was the Passover. Hundreds of thousands of Jews and religious seekers from across the known world had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. Some scholars believe more than 2 million people crowded into the Jerusalem area for this most important religious observance of the year.
Pilate wanted to make sure those from other parts of the world could read the sign on Jesus’ cross so he had the charge written in Greek, the “lingua franca” or “common language” of the day.
The Gospels present slight variances about the actual wording of the sign but all agree that Jesus was charged with being “King of the Jews.” To that charge, Jesus Himself pleaded guilty.
John 18 presents the fullest record of Jesus’ exchanges with Pilate. Verse 37 records Pilate asking, “You are a King, then?”
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a King.” Matthew, Mark and Luke all record Pilate asking, “Are you the King of the Jews?” and all report Jesus’ affirmative answer, “Yes, it is as you say” (Matt. 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3).
There was no hedging or waffling in Jesus’ reply. He did not couch His answer in a story subject to various interpretations. His answer was direct and clear. Jesus told Pilate and the Roman Empire that He was King of the Jews.
Earlier that morning Jesus had stood before Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest, and the Jewish leaders called the Sanhedrin. It was Caiaphas who had counseled that it was better for one man to die than for the nation to be put at risk. Caiaphas had no intention of letting Jesus or anyone upset the arrangements that kept him in power as long as he kept peace between the Jews and Rome.
Frustrated by Jesus’ silence in the face of numerous charges, the high priest finally put Jesus under oath and demanded, “Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63).
This was not the first time Jesus had faced such a demand. John 10:24 tells of an incident on Temple Mount when the priests doing service there scolded Him and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus’ retort was, “I did tell you, but you do not believe” (v. 25). He then explained the miracles He did testified to Him being from the Father.
This time Jesus’ answer was more direct. Under oath to answer if He was the Son of God, the reply was straightforward. “Yes, it is as you say.” There was no misunderstanding. Jesus told the Jewish high priest and the religious leaders of that day that He was the longed-for Messiah, the Son of God.
Caiaphas could have believed. He could have fallen before Jesus and worshipped Him but he did not. “Blasphemy,” he cried and tore his clothes (Matt. 26:65). Tradition teaches that Jews were to tear their clothes whenever they heard an insult to God so it is likely that all the members of the Sanhedrin ripped their cloaks. They concluded this unlearned Galilean standing before them could not possibly be the Son of God. To claim such was to insult God and made Jesus worthy of death.
His own words condemned Him. Jesus told the religious leaders of that day that He was the King of the Jews.
Jesus had not kept His identity a secret. After healing a lame man at the Pool of Bethesda, the Jews tried to stone Jesus because He said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). The following verse explains the Jews understood that by calling God His Father, Jesus was making Himself equal with God.
In John 8:58, Jesus told the crowd who He was when He said, “before Abraham was, I am.” The result was another attempt to stone Him. In John 9:37 He told a man whom He had just healed that the Son of Man was standing in front of him.
To the pilgrims in Jerusalem that Passover, Jesus plainly announced who He was on Palm Sunday morning when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The language one spoke did not matter. Jesus’ actions said it all. There was no misunderstanding the claim Jesus made when He fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “See your King comes to you righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
To all the people Jesus of Nazareth said He was the King of the Jews.
The charge scribbled on the titulus hanging above Jesus’ head got it right. Jesus died as King of the Jews.
On this side of the cross there is another sign declaring who Jesus is. Romans 1:4 says Jesus was “declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead.”
Like Pilate, like Caiaphas, like all men everywhere, each of us must decide to call that message blasphemy or to join with those first disciples who called Jesus “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”