On the last Sunday of the liturgical calendar, we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. As members of the church, we are part of the Kingdom of God that Jesus founded and oversees. The salvation history will culminate when the Father enthrones Jesus as the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). When the high priests questioned Jesus in the Sanhedrin, their main accusation against him was blasphemy. However, when they referred him to Pilate for capital punishment, they presented him as a rebel “king of Jews” against the Romans. Hence, the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate centered on Jesus’ kingship. He acknowledged his kingship to Pilate, but of a different world (Jn 18:36). Jesus told his disciples: “you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world” (Jn 15:19). Let us acknowledge the glorious sacrifice of our redeemer, who has chosen us to be the citizens of his divine kingdom. We must remain dedicated to his leadership to gain entrance into the fullness of his kingdom.
BIBLE TEXT: JOHN 18:33-37
Messiah the King
(Jn 18:33) Pilate then entered the court again, called Jesus and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (34) Jesus replied, “Does this word come from you, or did you hear it from others about me?” (35) Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?” (36) Jesus answered, “My kingship does not come from this world. If I were a king like those of this world, my guards would have fought to save me from being handed over to the Jews. But my kingship is not from here.” (37) Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” And Jesus answered, “Just as you say, 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 on the side of truth hears my voice.”
After the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, the soldiers brought him to Annas, who questioned Jesus about his disciples and doctrine (Jn 18:19). Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas, the high priest (Jn 18:24) who interrogated him in the Sanhedrin. The synoptic gospels give details of this trial. Their main accusation against him was blasphemy, claiming himself as the Messiah (Mt 26:65; Mk 14:64; Lk 22:70-71). Since they wanted crucifixion for Jesus, they brought him to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Pilate asked the Jews, “What charge do you bring against this man?” (Jn 18:29). They presented Jesus as a criminal (Jn 18:30) who opposed the Roman government, and they wanted the governor to crucify Jesus (Jn 18:31).
Messiah the King
(Jn 18:33) Pilate then entered the court again, called Jesus and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Pontius Pilate was the fifth ruler of the Roman region of Judea, the center of Jews, which included the site of the Jerusalem Temple. So, he administered Judea for the Roman Emperor Tiberius and subordinate to the legate of Syria for ten years, from around 26 to 36 A.D. As the prefect of Rome, he was an overseer of the Roman soldiers, a judge with authority to inflict capital punishment, and in charge of Roman taxation. The Sanhedrin forwarded Jesus’ case to Pilate for crucifixion. They made false allegations in order to stir up Pilate’s anger towards Jesus.
Pilate then entered the court again
When the Sanhedrin gave Jesus over to the authority of Pilate, the governor’s troops brought him into the Praetorium, which was the palace of the governor. Though his permanent residence was at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, he came to Jerusalem because of the Passover feast. As the leader of the Roman Empire, he had to maintain order during the Jewish assemblies and guarantee that they would not become a rebellion against Roman rule. Mark 15:16 shows that the entire six hundred soldier cohort was present.
When the Jews brought Jesus to Pilate’s residence, “It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover” (Mt 18:28). The Jews regarded the Gentiles and their residences as unclean. As they had not fulfilled the Passover obligations, they refrained from entering the abode of the gentile governor. Respecting their sensitivity, Pilate went out of his palace to enquire their charge against Jesus. After hearing them, he went back to his court to talk to Jesus.
called Jesus and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
The Jews’ primary accusation against Jesus was blasphemy for proclaiming himself as the Messiah. Besides this, they detested Jesus for disregarding the Sabbath, objecting to the Jewish authorities, influencing people through his miracles and teachings, and attacking merchants in the Temple. The Jews adjusted the claims they had made against Jesus when they talked to Pilate, as these were of no concern to him, who was acting on behalf of the Roman emperor.
The Jews interpreted Jesus’ religious accusations as political cases and portrayed him as a Roman opponent, even though he had never challenged the Roman rule. They told Pilate, “We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Messiah, a king” (Lk 23:2). Therefore, they falsely accused Jesus of inciting people against the authorities, refusing to pay Roman taxes and proclaiming himself king of the Jews, which was contrary to Roman policy. These were usually a source of annoyance for the Roman governor. Jews who were hostile to Roman authority pretended to be in favor of the pagan government for ill purposes. Their claim was “Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (Jn 19:12). If Pilate did not sentence Jesus in a way that conformed to their wish, he would be deemed an adversary of Caesar (Jn 19:12). Thus, they imposed a pressure tactic on Pilate to crucify Jesus.
The Jews had accused Jesus of claiming to be their king without the emperor’s permission. So, Pilate had to question it, even though he did not know of Jesus having said such a thing. Hence, Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” That implied, “Are you the long-expected king of the Jews?” or “Are you conspiring against the Roman emperor?” Pilate knew that apart from King Herod Antipas in Galilee and himself as governor in Judea under the Roman emperor, there was no other king for the Jews. However, if anyone claimed as the king of the Jews, Pilate had to take the case seriously and sentence capital punishment.
(34) Jesus replied, “Does this word come from you, or did you hear it from others about me?”
Instead of denying his kingship or proving his innocence, Jesus boldly raised a question to Pilate, who had judicial power over him. Though Pilate had the good intention to free Jesus if innocent, Jesus’ goal was not to escape from the custody. Like the innocent lambs the priests slaughtered in the Temple, he willingly subjected himself to trial, false accusations, torture, and sacrifice. He came to the world to save humanity and offer his life as a ransom for the people’s liberation from the bondage of Satan.
“Does this word come from you?”
Jesus was present in the governor’s court with the soldiers when Pilate went out and listened to the charges that the Jews had brought against Him. However, Jesus knew the false allegation was on his claim as a secular king of Jews. Though the Jews accused Jesus as a rebel claiming to be their king violating the Roman regime, he knew Pilate would not believe in it. Since Jesus quickly rose as an unusually popular leader among the ordinary people, Pilate must have scrutinized the teachings and activities of Jesus through his secretive team. So, Jesus’ question to Pilate implied whether he believed in what the Jews accused, or his question was just based on what he heard from the Jewish leaders and asking for verification.
“Did you hear it from others about me?”
From Jesus’ birth to his ascension, people considered him the king of Israel.
Those who mocked Jesus as king knew the widespread belief of the people that Jesus was their king. However, those who accepted Jesus as the Son of God or the Messiah were uncertain what type of king Jesus was.
(35) Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew?”
Pilate might know the Jewish faith that their God, Yahweh, had promised them a deliverer, known as the Messiah. So, the implied question of Pilate was: “Am I a Jew to believe you as the Messiah of the Israelites? I am not well versed in your religious politics.” So, Pilate asserted that the question was not based on his belief or doubt.
It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me.
The subtext in Pilate’s statement is, “I do not believe you as the king or political liberator of Jews. But I am questioning you because your Jewish people, headed by the chief priests, want me to trial you for their political gain.” Pilate’s answer to Jesus’ question was he heard of the claim of kingship from the accusers of Jesus. Pilate, acting in his capacity as a Roman official, had no accusations against Jesus.
the chief priests
During the public ministry of Jesus, Caiaphas was the High Priest, and his father-in-law and former high priest Annas was the head of the Sanhedrin and coworker of Caiaphas. Both were known as high priests. Besides these two, the heads of the twenty-four courses of priests were known as chief priests.
The soldiers arrested Jesus and brought him to Annas for religious trial at night. Annas was corrupt and had bribed the Romans to get into the high priesthood. He had business alliances with the merchants, who were money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals in the temple area. Since excessive exploitation was taking place in the name of God at the holy place, Jesus had wiped out the businesspeople. This stirred up Annas’ anger against Jesus, leading to his arrest and trial. Caiaphas, the high priest of the time, was also involved in the trial of Jesus.
During the Passover, the priests would traditionally select an unblemished lamb for sacrifice. Similarly, Annas and Caiaphas, with the support of other chief priests, chose Jesus for slaughter. Jesus voluntarily offered himself up for his sacrifice. It fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all. Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth. Seized and condemned, he was taken away. Who would have thought any more of his destiny? For he was cut off from the land of the living, struck for the sins of his people” (Isa 53:6-8).
“What have you done?”
Pilate was convinced that Jesus never declared himself as a political leader of the Israelites. So, he was wondering what caused the Jewish elites to hate him so much that they even wanted a most painful and humiliating crucifixion. Pilate was curious to know the reason for such a severe conflict between Jesus and his opponents. The governor was eager to ascertain the truth directly from Jesus because of Pilate’s impartial position. Pilate, in his authority as judge, was determined to assure that the accused was guilty of a serious crime worthy of a death sentence.
(36) Jesus answered, “My kingship does not come from this world. If I were a king like those of this world, my guards would have fought to save me from being handed over to the Jews. But my kingship is not from here.”
Jesus answered, “My kingship does not come from this world.”
Pilate might have expected Jesus would deny the accusation about his kingship. Instead, Jesus affirmed himself as a king. He was emphatic, however, that it was not an earthly one. Thus, he posed no threat to any governmental authority. Jesus had told the Jews earlier, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world” (Jn 8:23).
Jesus acknowledged he was the king that God promised to David through the Prophet Nathan. “When your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam 7:12-14). This was only partially fulfilled in Solomon, the descendant and son of David. So, the Israelites have been waiting for the God-promised ruler, who would be the Son of God and an everlasting king. However, the nature of this kingdom was unclear to the people. Jesus explained to Pilate that his kingship was of divine origin.
“If I were a king like those of this world, my guards would have fought to save me from being handed over to the Jews.”
Kings and kingdoms of the world are prone to waging war for defense and attacking adversaries. If Jesus’ kingdom was of this nature, then he would have fought for it and avoided capture by the Jewish authorities. Jesus could safeguard himself through his divine power, or he could defend his realm with the support of his disciples and devotees. Before the God determined time for his death, Jesus had escaped from the assassination attempts of his enemies:
The apostles of Jesus could defend him from the enemies.
The admirers of Jesus: The Jewish authorities knew that the followers of Jesus would defend him.
Twelve legions of Angels: After Peter struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his ear, “Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?’” (Mt 26:52-53).
“But my kingship is not from here.”
Jesus asserted himself as the king, but not of this earthly plane. His answer indicated his sovereignty in a heavenly kingdom. Although Pilate, a non-Jewish person, could not comprehend it, Jesus gave him a guarantee that he did not need to be concerned about the charge of Jesus’ temporal rule. The trustworthy reply of Jesus persuaded Pilate of his blamelessness and the deceptiveness of the Jewish leaders. This caused Pilate to take steps to set Jesus free.
(37) Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” And Jesus answered, “Just as you say, 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 on the side of truth hears my voice.”
Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?”
Jesus’ reply puzzled Pilate. Jesus admitted his position of royalty while confirming that it was from a separate world. So, the governor’s response, “So you are a king?” expressed his inference of a strange kingship of Jesus. Pilate needed more clarification on that to assure Jesus was not claiming worldly domination over the Jews.
And Jesus answered, “Just as you say, I am a king.”
Jesus affirmed to Pilate that his understanding was accurate. Jesus asserted himself as a king with more clarification that followed. The synoptic gospels also document the response of Jesus to Pilate as, “You say so” (Mt 27:11; Mk 15:2; Lk 23:3). The meaning of the usage is “yes.” Jesus used a similar expression when the members of the Sanhedrin questioned Jesus, “Are you then the Son of God?” His reply was, “You say that I am” (Lk 22:70). The high priest asked Jesus, “I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus responded, “You have said so” (Mt 23:63-64). Thus, Jesus told the truth by admitting himself as the king, the Messiah, and the Son of God.
For this I was born and for this I have come into the world
Jesus was distinct from all other humans in that he was born with a mission to fulfill. His Father sent him from heaven on a mission as He had promised to Adam (Gen 3:15) and reiterated through the history of salvation. His adversary was not the Romans but Satan, who misguided Eve through untruths. God’s truthfulness was his shield, and he was determined to lay down his life in pursuit of his goal. His incarnation was not to judge or rule the world, but to save it. So, Jesus had no intention of worldly kingship. He had denied all such requests from the people.
Jesus forced no one to follow him. All the apostles and other disciples joined him out of their free will. He also did not instruct his disciples to compel anyone for conversion to Christianity. Becoming a part of his spiritual kingdom, the church, would be a personal choice after hearing the gospel. Unlike other worldly kingdoms, his church does not have any geographical boundary. Therefore, Jesus depicted himself as a spiritual ruler of all those who embraced his gospel.
Jesus was not against the Roman dominion over the Israelites because he knew that the slavery of the chosen people happened because of their disobedience to God. When they obeyed God, they were free from foreign dominance, and God was their defense. Hence, when the representatives of Pharisees and Herodians questioned Jesus on tax payment to the emperor, Jesus replied, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mk 12:17). Pilate must know it through his secret service.
to bear witness to the truth.
Jesus made clear to Pilate that the reason for his incarnation was to bear witness to his Father, who is the ultimate Truth. John quotes Jesus giving witness to the truthfulness of God. The Father is full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). He is trustworthy (Jn 3:33), true (Jn 7:28; 8:26), the only true God (Jn 17:3), and his word is truth (Jn 17:17).
Jesus, who came from the Father, reminded people that God is their true king. When Gideon saved the Israelites from Midian, the Israelites requested Gideon that he and his descendants must govern them. His answer was, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you. The LORD must rule over you” (Judg 8:22-23). One day, the Son of God will rule over the world forever, fulfilling the prophesies of the Old Testament (Isa 9:5-6; Dan 2:44; 7:13-14).
Jesus conveyed the truthfulness of His Father, as the world is under the sway of Satan, the fabricator of untruths who misguides humanity. He started that with Eve, who acknowledged to God, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen 3:13). Then on, “the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:9) is predominant. Jesus told the Jews who tried to kill him, “You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe me” (Jn 8:44-45). While speaking of the great tribulation, Jesus warned, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). Jesus came to correct the people from Satan’s deception and finally, to destroy him forever. Hence, Paul wrote, “Draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens” (Eph 6:10-12).
Everyone who is on the side of truth hears my voice.
Since God is the truth, those who are on the side of truth are God’s obedient children. They adhere to the teachings of Jesus who descended from heaven. “He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy” (Jn 3:32-33).
Since Jesus gave witness to the true God, he himself is also true. During his meeting with the disciples, Jesus said in answer to a question of Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father” (Jn 14:6-7). Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him. “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). So, Jesus is the truth and the means to know the Father, who is the true God. Though common people accepted the witness of Jesus, the religious leaders declined to accept him and continued to side with the deceiver.
Origin of the Feast of ‘Christ the King’
The Feast of ‘Christ the King’ is of recent origin. The background for considering this feast was World War I (1 August 1914 to 11 November 1918) and the lack of peace even after the war. Pius XI, the then pope, wanted to give importance to the kingship of Christ as “Prince of Peace.” The pope published an encyclical, “Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio” in December 1922 and another one, “Quas Primas” in 1925. Pope Pius XI first established the feast in 1925 and the church observed it on the Sunday prior to All Saint’s Day or the last Sunday of October. The Pope intended to remind the Christians that they should show allegiance to Christ the King rather than to the earthly rulers.
Pope Saint Paul VI moved the feast of Christ the King to the last Sunday of the liturgical year in 1970 and renamed the feast as “Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe.” That is relevant because of two remembrances. This is a reminder to Christians of the impending arrival of Christ when he will establish God’s kingdom with Jesus as its sovereign. It also leads into the season of Advent when we prepare for Christmas, the birth of the newborn king.