Jesus Christ on Politics (3)
Another indisputable political incident occurs when Jesus is brought before the Roman governor, Pilate. The politics played between the Jewish leaders and Pilate is overt. The Jewish leaders need Pilate’s authority to execute Jesus, so they seek to influence Pilate to achieve this end.
As we will see, though the charges against Jesus are secular (i.e., treason), He refuses this frame of reference. Regardless, Pilate had to make his decision within the constraints of power politics as they existed at that time and place. It’s impossible to know if Pilate sensed the enormous spiritual forces at play within this event. Other Gospel accounts appear to suggest that he did (see Luke 23:13-25). In any case, it wasn’t Pilate who was in control, but rather the inexorable, omnipotent providential acts of God. Following is the encounter as described in John 18:28-40 (NIV).
28 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.29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
This is an odd reply. It’s as if they don’t want to state their charge against Jesus.
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Clearly the charge against Christ was the treasonous claim to be the king of the Jews, which was a direct rejection of Roman rule.
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
Jesus doesn’t answer the question.
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Note that throughout the entire discussion Jesus hasn’t directly answered Pilate’s question. The reason why has to do with the issue of “Truth.” Jesus was accused of claiming to be the “king of the Jews.” He was not. Rather, He was claiming to be (and in reality is) the savior of all mankind — Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Thus He could not in truth accept the charge.
However, Jesus also refused to explicitly reject the charge, because this was the worldly means by which the spiritual end of atoning for our sins would be achieved. Jesus didn’t want to be acquitted. After all, Jesus Christ is the Second Person in the Trinitarian Godhead, and, God had determined this event before the creation of the world.
So, by refusing to explicitly accept or reject the charge against Him Jesus was upholding the Truth while ensuring that His plan for salvation would proceed.
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
Here we may see in this sophisticated Roman politician a sort of proto-postmodernism. There is no way to know if Pilate asked this question honestly, ironically or contemptuously. Regardless, Pilate was taking the position that the “Truth” is something uncertain, and therefore, up for grabs in this world.
Almost two-thousand years later the real postmodernists would take the logical next step. When postmodern Christians confront Christ today, their response has to do with truth, but it is not in the form of a question.
With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
That which had been predestined to come to pass had no option other than to occur.
The “politics” in which Jesus Christ engaged were infinite, eternal and providential in nature. But this fact doesn’t disconnect our Christian lives from secular, political responsibilities. Rather, it enlightens, informs and guides our deliberations as we navigate the challenges of this fallen world. But this guidance can only be Christian if we acknowledge that there is an ultimate, unchangeable Truth and that it exists only in the Triune Christian God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This statement in no way denies that wisdom can be found outside of Christian sources. Nor does it denigrate the individual worth of any human being. All it does is to acknowledge that we are Christians because Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and Savior.