April 28, 2016
When the Lord delivered the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt through the leadership of Moses, and led them into the Promised Land through the leadership of Joshua, it became customary after that for many generations to have leaders or judges over the tribes of Israel, who were also prophets, but never a king, for God alone was the King of the Jews, His chosen people, and He asked for nothing but their faithfulness, and in return He would make them victorious over their enemies and make them prosper in their new land. But in the days of the Prophet Samuel, the last judge of Israel, the people of Israel no longer wanted the Lord as their king, but they wanted to be like all the other nations, with a man as their king to lead them. When the Prophet Samuel brought their request before the Lord, He replied: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights" (1 Sam. 8:7-9). The Lord respected the choice of the people, but also warned them of the negative side effects of having a mortal man as their king over Himself. And when the people insisted on indeed having a king like all the nations, then the Prophet Samuel appointed for them a man named Saul, who went on to turn against the Lord in disobedience, and fall defeated by his enemies.
About a thousand years later the Jews were given a second chance to choose either God or a man as their king. Would they learn the lesson of the past and make good on it, or would they doom themselves to repeat their past error?
After Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and delivered Him to the Jewish leaders, who in turn delivered Him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Jesus was asked by the Roman governor: "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus didn't respond to this question with a yes or no, but inquired what prompted him to ask such a question (Jn. 18:33-34). Then He explained that though he may think He is the King of the Jews, in fact His kingdom was not of this world, but of another (v. 36). For long ago the Jewish leaders rejected the Lord as their king, having earthly aspirations and desiring a kingdom of this world, and when they handed over the Lord Jesus for trial, they were again rejecting the Lord as king. And when Pilate asked the chief priests what they would like him to do with Jesus, they said to crucify Him for claiming to be the Son of God. "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered (Jn. 19:15). And just as in the days of the Prophet Samuel, when the Jewish leaders rejected God as their king, choosing a mortal man as their king, so also in the time of Jesus, they rejected the Son of God as their king, and chose the mortal Caesar as their king, who a few decades later would bring destruction to Jerusalem and banish the Jews from their homeland, and in turn they requested for the Creator of all to be humiliated and crucified by His creatures, and that He Who delivered their forefathers out of bondage in Egypt would be bound to the wood of the Cross. Even when they saw Jesus hanging on the Cross, and the ancient prophecies fulfilled, they protested the sign Pilate had fastened to the Cross, which read: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews" in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. To their protests Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written" (Jn. 19:19-22).
Saint John Chrysostom drew upon this juxtaposition when he commented on this passage in the Gospel of John (Homily 85): "The Jews, who at first enjoyed the influence of God, sought the law of royalty from the Gentiles, and in the wilderness after the manna remembered the onions. In the same way here, refusing the Kingdom of Christ, they invited to themselves that of Caesar. Wherefore God set a king over them, according to their own decision. When then Pilate heard these things, he delivered Him to be crucified. Utterly without reason. For when he ought to have enquired whether Christ had aimed at sovereign power, he pronounced the sentence through fear alone. Yet that this might not befall him, Christ said beforehand, 'My kingdom is not of this world;' but he having given himself wholly up to present things, would practice no great amount of wisdom."
And commenting on the sign which was fastened to the Cross by order of Pilate, Chrysostom added: "At the same time he is requiting the Jews, and making a defense for Christ. For since they had given Him up as worthless, and attempted to confirm this sentence by making Him share the punishment of the robbers, in order that for the future it might be in no man's power to prefer evil charges against Him, or to accuse Him as a worthless and wicked person, to close moreover their mouths and the mouths of all who might desire to accuse Him, and to show that they had risen up against their own King, Pilate thus placed, as on a trophy, those letters, which utter a clear voice, and show forth His Victory, and proclaim His Kingdom, though not in its completeness. And this he made manifest not in a single tongue, but in three languages; for since it was likely that there would be a mixed multitude among the Jews on account of the Feast, in order that none might be ignorant of the defense, he publicly recorded the madness of the Jews, in all the languages."
On the Cross the Lord Jesus sat upon His Throne as what Pilate perceived to be the King of the Jews, but being rejected by the Jews, He in fact sat as the King of Glory, for His kingdom was not of this world. And when He breathed His last breath, His soul descended into Hades, and presenting Himself before the gates of Hades, the following conversation ensued between Himself and Hades: "Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in." "Who is this King of Glory?" "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in." "Who is he, this King of Glory?" "The Lord of the Powers — He is the King of Glory" (Ps. 23 (24):7-10). And with this the gates of Hades were smashed, death was conquered by the Author of Life, and the souls of the righteous of old were released from the ancestral curse. And henceforth all those who glorify the King of Glory, both Jews and Gentiles, will be glorified by the King of Glory, and will enter into His reign.