Jesus is standing before Pilate because a group of Jewish priests are at the end of their rope with him. The priests want to kill him, but Rome won't allow it. Rome wants to wield the power of the sword themselves. But the Jews are happy to create a problem for the Romans so they'll want to kill Jesus.
This episode takes places in John 18. Pilate poses a series of 4 questions to Jesus, the first of which was essentially, "Who are you?" Pilate asks Jesus, "Are you the king of the Jews?" He knows the priests are up to something, so he asks Jesus himself if the charges are true. In true Jesus fashion, he answers Pilate with another question.
When Pilate doesn't get the answer he wants, he gets frustrated. He asks Jesus another question: "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?"
Basically, Pilate asks, "Why should I care?"
He's getting nowhere with Jesus, he doesn't know what to charge Jesus with, so it's almost like he's stalling. He doesn't want to sentence an innocent man to capital punishment. But there surely has to be something to you. So...what have you done?
As Pilate tries to get to the truth, all he finds are more questions. He's also a political man. He knows that sometimes, politicians will do whatever it takes to keep their power, whether or not they wield it rightly. This is true in the case of the priests.
In Matthew 23:27, Jesus calls the Pharisees "white-washed tombs." They're impeccable on the outside, but on the inside, they're a rotted corpse.
In John 10, Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd, which of course, is him. In the Old Testament prophets, they routinely call the religious leaders bad shepherds. And since the Pharisees and priests know the Old Testament quite well, they understand that Jesus is contrasting the present religious state of the leaders with himself.
In short, Jesus has made no bones about the quality of spiritual leadership in Jerusalem. And the spiritual leaders are tired of it. So, they have enlisted another politician to take care of the problem.
Pilate asks this question, but this time, Jesus doesn't respond with a question. This time Jesus says, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Sure, Jesus is a king—the cosmic king of the universe. He will inherit everything as God's only begotten Son, and then he will hand the kingdom over to the Father at the end of the age, when the last enemy—death—is defeated.
But for now, Jesus outlines his purpose. He has come to bear witness to the truth, which is equal to listening to his voice. Jesus speaks the words of truth.
Do you want to know what God is like? Listen to Christ. Do you want to know the purpose of creation? Listen to Christ. Do you want to know how your sins can be atoned for? Listen to Christ.
Jesus is a king, but he's a very particular kind of king. Yes, he is a threat to Pilate, but Jesus also isn't a politician. He's a teacher, a healer, and the agent of creation. Can Pilate claim any of those titles?
He's a threat to Pilate, but not in the way Pilate thinks. Pilate is actually playing right into God's hand, his sovereign plan, this whole time.
Jesus does essentially answer Pilate's first question, "Who are you?" Though he answers in the form of a question, he affirms his Jewishness and his kingship (even if Pilate doesn't see the enormity of it).
If Jesus' kingship is established, then "Why should I care?" isn't a bad follow-up question, especially if the people are trying to kill their king. What kind of king is Jesus, anyway?
Jesus is the cosmic king of the universe. Through Jesus Christ, the Father brought all things into being. Through Jesus Christ, the Father redeems fallen humanity from total depravity. Through Jesus Christ, the Father is establishing an eternal kingdom where God will dwell his redeemed, glorified people.
Pilate should, in fact, care quite a bit.
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