“Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
When Jesus was born, wise men in the East, star-gazers, saw an amazing sight. They were aware of an old prophecy among the Jews that a star would appear (Numbers 24:17), and that this heavenly sign would indicate the birth of a special king. So they headed off to Jerusalem. Where else would you find a King of the Jews? They went right to the top, asking King Herod himself, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”
Bad move. Herod wanted to know when the star appeared, then checked into the location — and proceeded to exterminate all babies under two years old in that area. He wasn’t giving his kingdom to any newcomer.
When he was on earth, Jesus talked different times about “The Kingdom of God” but people didn’t understand him. They so much wanted a David or a Charlemagne to conquer their enemies. But Jesus never campaigned for a throne, or even for a place in the government or the Sanhedrin. One day when an enthusiastic crowd tried to force him to be king, he slipped away from them. (John 6:15)
The Jewish leaders just didn’t get it.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the Messiah would come to establish the kingdom of God, he answered them and said: “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17: 20-21
Still, they worried about Jesus one day making his play for the kingdom of Israel. They didn’t know he’d already refused having the whole world as his kingdom. Satan had come to him right at the beginning of his work and made this spectacular offer:
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, sheweth him all the kingdom of the world in a moment of time.
And the devil said unto him, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” Luke 4: 5-7
Standing on that mountain, Jesus would have seen the great Chinese Dynasty of the time, the Japanese Emperor’s palace, the Inca kingdom and how many others, in addition to the Roman Empire. Could he see only what existed then, or could he even look into the future and see King Charlemagne, the Ottoman empire, the power of Spain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Sun King’s splendor in his palace at Versailles, King Aurhur’s court or Great Britain when she ruled the waves, the Russian Tzars, the United States in its ‘Camelot’ era? Did he see these, too?
But Jesus totally refused. “Get thee behind me Satan; for it is written; thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” Verse 8.
Could Jesus look ahead and see the rejection, the cross, the shame, when he refused Satan’s offer?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem that last time, for the Feast of the Passover, the Scribes and Pharisees watched with a jealous eye as the crowds thronged Jesus, welcoming him as a king, laying palm branches in his path. They realized that one word from him would do it. The raising of his arm and a shout to the crowds, “The time has come. Let’s deal with Rome,” and all those people would rally behind him.
They recalled the miracles he did; they saw the dead raised. If Jesus would turn his miraculous gift to military ends, even the mighty power of Rome would be toast. They may have muttered to each other that “If he sets himself up as king, the Romans will send in the troops and wipe us out,” but did they honestly believe that? Or did that rationale spring from fear?
They knew where they stood with Jesus. He’d called them “blind leaders of the blind.” They in turn had made it clear to one and all that they thought Jesus was a fake – a son of the devil, even. Still, there must have been a niggling doubt, unspoken questions about all those miracles. And raising the dead? Suppose he does seize the throne? What will happen to us?
Hadn’t Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, how the land was let to men who weren’t faithful (Matt 21:33-41.) “He will miserably destroy those wicked men…” And the parable of the talents, where someone in the past had been set up as king, but his citizens didn’t want him to rule over them. The new king went off to his superiors and got back-up and when he returned, what did he do? One of his first commands was: “As to those men who wouldn’t have me rule over them, bring them and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:12-27)
When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and accused of being the ringleader of a rebellion against Rome, Pilate asked him bluntly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3)
Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight to save me from the Jews (who want to see me dead.) But now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
Note: This is my paraphrase. Take a moment to read verses 28 -36 to get the whole exchange between Jesus and Pilate.
At that point Pilate knew Jesus was no threat to Rome and wanted to release him, but the Jewish leaders weren’t having it and Pilate, to avoid an uprising, gave in to their demands. In defiance of the Jewish leaders, Pilate even had a sign tacked on Jesus’ cross saying, “The King of the Jews.”
Centuries later, ideas about his Kingdom — where it’s at and/or going to be – continue to bounce around. A ton of books have been written, quoting this or that scholar — and these teachers mean well but they tend to just build on each other’s thinking. Then time proves the scholars wrong and the waters get murky again. Another Bible teacher steps up with another book, another clear explanation of what’s ahead for this world and a new wave ripples through evangelical circles.
It has a certain magnetic appeal, this idea of Jesus someday coming like another Charlemagne, the conquering hero who’ll set up his kingdom and make people follow the rules. Trouble is, this picture is so anti- all his examples and teachings.