“Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33)
Why is this question of whether Jesus was the "king of the Jews" so important to Pilate?
But before we delve into this question, we should point out that Jesus' response to the question was different in Matthew, Luke and Mark. These books detail Jesus' response as:
“You have said so." (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2 and Luke 23:3)
So why is there a difference in Jesus' response in the Book of John? As indicated among other Biblical researchers, the books of Matt., Mark and Luke in many instances are precisely identical in many verses and historical detail. Some scholars say the writers of Mark and Matthew utilized the texts from Luke.
But why is John's different? Actually, Jesus' question to Pilate assumed "you have said so" but takes his response further into the source of Pilate's question. Jesus was indicating that this was an idea brought forth to Pilate by the Jewish leaders. It was not as if Jesus was trying to become the king - and thus usurp Roman rule. In other words, he was indicating this was a false accusation - coming from the Jewish priests.
But isn't the idea of Jesus being "king of the Jews" an accepted reality of the Bible? That is certainly what today's ecclesiastical Christian institutions have put forth. And this is detailed surrounding the appearance of Jesus:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matt. 2:1-2)
And when asked by Herod about the seeming threat of the Messiah to his rule, the Jewish chief priests answered with this quote from Micah:
“ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’" (Matt. 2:6)
But we can easily see that this is a misinterpreted quote. The original text was not referring to Jesus. How do we know this? We can simply read it in the text in Micah from which this quote was taken:
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses. We will raise against them seven shepherds, even eight commanders, who will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrians when they invade our land and march across our borders. (Micah 5:2-6)
So this great king that Micah is referring to is not a humble preacher who walks barefoot from town to town teaching about love of God, and is eventually murdered on the cross by the Israelites. Micah is speaking of a king that would rule over the physical nation of Israel.
Micah is not referring to a preacher who was dishonored by the Jewish leaders as we see here. Consider how Pilate came to try Jesus:
Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. (John 18:28-31)
So we see here that not only was the arrest instigated by the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, but Caiaphas' people - "the Jewish leaders" delivered Jesus to Pilate to be charged and persecuted.
Why did the priests of Herod quote that text then? And why did the Magi speak of the "king of the Jews"? As to the use of Micah, as we will see, this is an ecclesiastical institutional interpretation of Micah taken out of context to mean something it was not originally meant.
As to the Magi, the Greek word translated to "king" is βασιλεύς (basileus), which can also refer to a leader or teacher. A spiritual leader - which certainly Jesus was. And the word translated to "Jews" is Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios), which can indicate the either the Jewish people or the Jewish religion - the teachings as handed down through the lineage of teachers, from Abraham to Moses to David to John the Baptist and to Jesus. Jesus was a spiritual teacher who taught within that lineage. While David might have also been a king of the nation of Israel, we see that Jesus was a spiritual leader, who was not accepted in any governmental position of authority.
Does this fit Micah's description of the king of the nation of Israel who will lead it to victory over the Ammonites and peace with the Assyrians?
Let's get more clear about who Micah is referring to. As we laid out with John 5:39-40: Beyth Lechem (Bethlehem Ephrathah) refers to the small city in Judah, where King David was born. Following David's reign, and at the time of Micah, there were many wars between the Israelites and the Assyrians. After a number of generations, the Ammonites and the Assyrians battled with the Israelites, and the Israelite cities, including Jerusalem and its fortress walls, had been badly damaged in warfare. Israel was in a poor state, and was largely subservient to foreign nations and their kings (better described, actually, as large tribes).
The king Jotham arose out of the House of David to become king of Israel. Being a direct descendent of David, and also a devoted loving servant of God, Jotham was both a wise spiritual leader and an adept king. It was Jotham, in fact, who finally defeated the Ammonites, and created a truce with the Assyrians. Jotham then went about rebuilding the Temple, and rebuilt the walls of the city. He renewed Israel militarily, economically and spiritually:
Jotham made war on the king of the Ammonites and conquered them. That year the Ammonites paid him a hundred talents of silver, ten thousand cors of wheat and ten thousand cors of barley. The Ammonites brought him the same amount also in the second and third years. Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the LORD his God. (2 Chron. 27:6-7)
The fact that Micah is referring to Jotham is confirmed several verses later:
"And he will be their peace. When the Assyrian invades our land and marches through our fortresses, we will raise against him seven shepherds, even eight leaders of men. They will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrian when he invades our land and marches into our borders." (Micah 5:5-6)
The practical interpretations of all of these quotes reveal that ecclesiastical Christian teachers have, for centuries, sought to recklessly bend and twist the scriptures to make them appear as though the Old Testament was directly predicting Jesus' arrival as the one and only Messiah. If the texts refer to Jesus, why would it not be obvious? Is God trying to hide Jesus within the words of the Old Testament to trick some people? This is a ridiculous assertion.
So why are the writers/transcribers of the New Testament - using Micah to claim Jesus was the "Messiah" and "king of the Jews" if Micah's verses were about Jotham?
This out-of-context contriving of Jesus as the "king of the Jews" has been fanatically put forth to try to promote Jesus by those who could not see his real authority as God's representative. They have tried to make Jesus out to be some sort of king of a race or nation because they do not see who Jesus really is. They failed to understand Jesus' actual role and his actual mission, and because of that, have tried to use him for their own purposes of creating authority amongst their institutions. And thus they formulated through creative referencing (out of context with surrounding text) some sort of false kingship over the nation of Israel.
Why? Well, there have been different objectives put forth by different people over the centuries. Jesus' false promotion as some sort of 'king of the Jews' or great Messiah of the Jews was initially put forth in an attempt to create authority among the people to convert them in the times after Jesus left the planet - by those who were not Jesus' true students and disciples.
At first it was an attempt to create authority among those who were Jews. And later it was used by the Romans to create authority within their ecclesiastical Roman Catholic institution. Because the Roman rulers were utilizing this institution to exert their control and authority throughout the Roman empire and its satellites, they needed to create as much authority as possible. So they supported this false concept that Jesus was some sort of Jewish king - which was initially promoted by the Jewish leaders under Caiaphus in order to have Jesus persecuted.
Yet we know this was a false accusation, because Jesus was not the king of the Jews. He had at least 72 followers and students. But he had no governmental authority among the Jewish people, even among the Jewish temples - as illustrated by the fact that the Jewish high priest Caiaphus had him arrested.
Rather, Jesus' authority came from the Supreme Being. He was God's representative. This didn't make Jesus a king, it made Jesus a servant - a loving servant of God. Just consider this statement by Jesus:
"...I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me." (John 14:31)
He also said:
"Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father." (John 10:37)
A person who does "the works" of someone and does whatever a person "has commanded" is most certainly a servant. Such a person is not promoting themselves as a king. They are promoting themselves as a servant.
This notion of servant is also described throughout the New Testament and by Jesus himself with the Greek word υἱός (huios), which we have discussed at length previously - as referring to a servant or follower when used outside the context of a physical family. See these discussions for the evidence.
But in Jesus' case, a servant of the Supreme Being. And being a servant of the Supreme Being empowered Jesus. It gave him real authority. It gave him supreme authority.
Just consider if a person gets appointed as an ambassador of the U.S. They might be a normal person - a person who can barely pick up 100 pounds without injuring their back. But when they begin serving as the ambassador, they assume authority. They have the entire U.S. government backing them up.
In the same way, Jesus' authority came from the Supreme Being. This is why he said:
“If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me." (John 8:54)
Jesus is talking about authority here. It is God who is giving Jesus his authority. And what was God giving Jesus authority over? Was Jesus ruling over the Jews as accused by the high priest Caiaphus and Pilate?
Don't be ridiculous. Jesus' authority was in his teachings. Jesus had the authority to save people by teaching the Truth:
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." (John 14:23)
But what about Jesus being the Messiah? Wasn't he the Messiah?
The word 'messiah' (Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ or mashiyach) - directly translates to 'anointed one' - as described in the Old Testament as being God's representative - one of His priests. In other words, 'anointed one' and 'messiah' are synonyms in Hebrew, using the root word משח (mashach):
"Anoint them just as you anointed their father, so they may serve Me as priests. Their anointing will be to a priesthood that will continue throughout their generations." (Exodus 40:15)
Those were the names of Aaron's sons, the anointed priests, who were ordained to serve as priests. (Numbers 3:3)
In addition, there are a few uses of the Greek word translated to Messiah in the New Testament. The Greek word is Μεσσίας (Messias), which also means 'anointed,' though ecclesiastical writings have translated it to 'savior' or 'messiah.' Thus 'messiah' and 'anointed one' are also synonyms in Greek.
The use of the word messiah through the texts of the Bible and among the prophets describes a role - not a single person. We might compare this to how the title of "President" of the U.S. is utilized. While there have been many "Presidents" - anyone occupying that office or has occupied that office is given the title "President." And there can only be one President. There can't be two Presidents at once. So the role is considered singular. And as such, a person might greet the President as "President" and this would be correct. But it would be incorrect to state that only one person could ever hold this office.
It is the same with the word "Messiah" as used in the Scriptures. This is a title - a role. Not a single person. And yes, Jesus was Messiah. But he wasn't the only Messiah.
Thus we find that the Biblical texts describe a lineage of God's 'anointed ones' or 'Messiahs' through the centuries. Each of these prophets were loving servants of God. They were God's representatives. This great lineage of Messiahs includes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), Moses, Joshua, Eli, Samuel, David, Solomon, Job, Jonah, Noah, Micah, Jotham and others, as well as John the Baptist and Jesus. They were all loving servants of God who were in the role of God's representative. As God's representative, each was empowered to save those around them with their teachings.
But who is the real Savior here? It is the Supreme Being, who empowers His loving servants. These 'prophets' were empowered by God.
This is why Jesus often quoted the prophets. Why would he quote their teachings if he was not following them as Messiah? Even Jesus' most important teaching came directly from the teachings of Moses:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38 and Deut. 6:5)