By Tyson Thorne

October 10, 2019

John 52 Large

The passage we discuss today is some of the powerful writing in all of literature. It's not that John's writing is that good (though he is a good writer), its that it's a first hand account of subject matter that literally changed the world. The death of Jesus is powerful in any language, and every attempt to bring the event to film has had varying success but has helped reach hundreds of thousands of people come to grips with their sinful condition and need for a savior. We don't want to diminish the subject matter in any way.

Because the passage speaks so clearly and purposefully about the death of Christ, and because so many others have already done such great work in uncovering the details of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, we're not going to cover that ground again. Instead, there are two areas I'd like us to focus on besides the obvious, The first of these occurs over the dispute between Pilate and the religious leaders in verses 19-22:

Pilate also had a notice written and fastened to the cross, which read: “Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews.” Thus many of the Jewish residents of Jerusalem read this notice, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the notice was written in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The king of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am king of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

Pilate was evidently very impressed with Jesus. Despite the fact that his men ridiculed Jesus by placing a crown of thorns on his head and dressing him in a royal purple cloak, Pontius recognized authority when he encountered it. I think he also trusted Jesus' word more than he did the unscrupulous Temple authorities. Signage like this was unusual as well, rather than a title it usually listed the prisoner's offense. By using the plaque to honor Jesus' title was unique, so it's something that Pilate thought of on his own and decided to do. I believe it was a way of honoring the Son of God without putting himself in an awkward position politically. The religious leaders of course took offense. Rather than say the sign was a bad idea, they asked that it be amended in a way that removed the truth claim it made. Pilate wouldn't budge and essentially told them to "deal with it."

The question this raises is simple: was Jesus really the king of the Jews or was that simply rhetoric? To answer this question we need to look back in the book to see what evidence there might be either way. The most obvious passage to turn to is John chapter 12. A king is anointed, something Jesus experiences when Mary takes her perfume to wash Jesus' feet. The very next day Jesus enters Jerusalem in the true manner of a king in a passage known as The Triumphal Entry. The people of that great city greeted Jesus by laying palm fronds in front of the donkey he rode in on and sang a royal psalm naming him "the King of Israel." John also makes the statement in the opening chapter saying, "He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him." This clearly states Jesus' authority over the land. The fact that the people wanted him to be king is also clear in 6.15: "Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone." The plaque was accurate, and the religious leaders were trying to obfuscate the truth.

The second observation I believe in important is something John himself emphasizes but which is often overlooked. John makes a special effort to show how many of the events fulfill prophecy. John 19.24 corresponds to Psalm 22.18. 19.28-30 corresponds to Psalm 69.21. 19.31-33 correspond to Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, and Psalm 34:20. 19.34 corresponds to Zechariah 12.10. John's point is that Jesus' death is completely unique in all the world. Not only was it unique because of who he was — the Son of God and the King of the Jews — but also because the details of his death were foretold hundreds of years in advance. This alone ought to convince any reader that Jesus' claims about himself, his purpose and mission, and the meaning of his death and resurrection are to be trusted, believed and acted upon.

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