"King of the Jews"


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"King of the Jews"

Copyright © April 23, 2011 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am using an ethnic slur. The "J" word. Maybe that is part of the reason Christian and Jewish people have had such a hard time understanding one another for 2000 years. Could it be that Gentile believers in Christ, like me, have presented to the Jewish community a theology that makes them less than full partakers of the blessings of their own Messiah? Have we strayed so far away from our own heritage that we have forgotten the beautiful vine into which we have been grafted?

Pontius Pilate, the Roman overlord before whom Jesus stood accused in Mark 15:2 asked Him “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus’ own reply was not a denial, but an acknowledgment that that was the accusation against Him. Strangely, the Jewish political and ecclesiastical leaders themselves were the ones who had brought this charge against Him. They hoped, in doing so, to bring the wrath of Roman imperialism down upon Jesus’ head, so that they could destroy Him.

It is interesting to note that Pilate recognized the envious motivations of the Jewish leaders (Mk 15:10). He was also probably aware that they desired to transfer that envy to their Roman rulers, who had every intention of quenching any popular uprising against their authority.

Again, it may be that “Jew” has become an ethnic slur in our own times. It has the feel of the “N” word. It has to often been appropriated by anti-Semitic hate groups in the last 200 years of history. It has the same sensibility as had Pilate when he asked his demeaning question. “Are you one of them? Are you a Jew? We are Rome! No Jew boy will ever conquer us!” Maybe I am wrong. But I think I see Pilate’s racism exposed.

Jesus, as I said three paragraphs ago, never denied the charge that He was the king of the Jews. King of the Jews implies that He was and is the Messiah ben David (son of David). Jesus as the Son of David is basic to the teaching of the early Church. (Rom.1:3,4; 2 Tim 2:8).

Mark chapter 11 is the record of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem just some days prior to His crucifixion. As Jesus rode a colt, the people lay palm branches before Him. Verses 9 and 10 read “And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed [be] the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.” It is apparent here that the people believed Jesus was about to reinstitute the Davidic kingdom. Their hope was that this One they were honoring was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises of a Son of David who would put down the rule of the nations and make Israel the centerpiece of His earthly sovereignty.

The Old Testament clearly taught that a descendent from the house of David would exist on the throne of Israel for perpetuity.

And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took [it] from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David. (2 Sam 7:12 – 16, KJV.)

The theme of an everlasting Davidic kingdom is continued through the Psalms, and the later prophets. Psalm 2 is a royalty song declaring the authority and power of The David lineage over the nations. Over time, the psalm was recognized as a reference to the Messiah (see Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 19: Psalms 1-50, page 68.) The Jewish hope in the time of Jesus was for the appearance of “Messiah ben David” (“Messiah Son of David”). Other scriptures in the Old Testament continue and expand upon this Son of David theology. (Ps 89:3,4; 132:11-13; 110:1 f.; 45:6,7; Isa 9:6,7; 11:1 f.; Jer 23:5,6; 30:8,9; 33:14-26; 34:20-24; 37:24,25; Zech 6:12,13; 12:8,10; 13:1; etc.)

The Messiah ben David concept always included political as well as religious implications for the Jews. By the time of Jesus, the highly influential Pharisees leaned heavily in the direction of a coming political savior. This is evident from the Pharisaic Psalm of Solomon 17, which was written prior to 63 BC (New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, p.649). There, the Messiah is anticipated as the one who would overthrow the foreign oppressors of Israel, forcing them into servitude, and even driving out the alien sojourners who lived in their midst. (See Psalm of Solomon 17: 22-31; accessed online on April 23, 2011, at


for the full text).

There appears to be a tension in the New Testament between two themes; that of Messiah as Savior, and that of Messiah as the Davidic heir to the throne of Israel. In Matt 19:28, (parallel Luke 22:29, 30), the Messianic rule is clearly in mind and the Apostles are actually promised co-authority with Christ. They will sit on twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. (We will look at this more deeply later when we consider how the Apostles themselves interpreted those words.) The Lukan parallel offers us a slight twist on Jesus’ words, implying a more salvation oriented approach, where entering into the Kingdom of Christ and His Father means fellowship with God. Significantly, in the next two verses, the saving grace of God is exemplified in Jesus’ prayers on behalf of Peter.

That the Jews of Jesus’ time were possibly missing the big picture by concentrating on a political Messiah is seen in Jesus’ gentle challenge to their theology in Mark 12:35-37. If the Son of David is the heir of David’s throne, is not David the greater one in whose shoes the son follows? Then how is it that David calls him Lord? Jesus does not deny the Davidic sonship or it’s equivalency to Messiah. Instead, he appears to challenge the shortsightedness of viewing the Messiah in merely political terms.

Psalm of Solomon 17, above, is a perfect picture of the Jewish mindset at that time. The idea of vengeance against the political enemies of Israel takes precedence over any other theme of the passage. When the Jewish people realized that Jesus’ agenda was far different from their own, and that the hope for political deliverance was not a part of it, they turned on Him.

The One before whom they laid palm branches, and hailed as their King-Messiah, mere days later they decried as a pretender to the throne. They demanded the release of the insurrectionist Barabbas instead of Christ, whom Pilate had just called “King of the Jews”. They cried out for His crucifixion. This “king of the Jews” then died at the hands of the Roman beast! How could that happen? Even Jesus’ own disciples were discouraged, and wondered if they had been wrong about this Man in whom they had invested their very lives.

Although the resurrection restored the hearts and faith of Jesus’ disciples, it had not yet curbed their expectations for a regime change. These believing Jewish disciples and even the Apostles still anticipated a revived Jewish empire after the resurrection. Acts chapter one may be the most important chapter in the history of the early church for our understanding of how the Apostles interpreted the Old Testament’s promises of the revival of the Davidic Kingdom.

Acts 1:6-7 betrays the disciples' continued hope for a restoration of sovereignty to Israel. Jesus does not answer their question directly, but instructs them to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and then they will take the Gospel throughout the earth.

Next, (Acts 1:9-11), we read Luke’s record of Jesus’ ascension into heaven fulfilling Daniel’s vision/prophesy concerning the Son of Man. Just as the Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days (a veiled reference To God), so Jesus ascends to the heavens in a cloud.

I saw in the night visions, and, behold, [one] like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion [is] an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom [that] which shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13, 14. KJV.)

There is a clear implication of the juxtaposition of Acts 1:9-11 with Dan 7: 13, 14. It appears that here is the answer to the Apostles' question about when the Kingdom of Israel would be restored. As the Son of Man comes in clouds before God to receive rule over all the earth, and a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, so Jesus ascends to His Father to receive eternal gifts for His people (Eph 4:8; Heb 2:4; see also all of 1 Cor 12). The coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the enabling to go into all the earth with power to convert the nations is a direct result of the ascension of Christ to the throne of His Father. The anticipated kingdom of David, expressed in the life of Jesus, the son of David, now moves beyond these earthly themes. By Jesus’ resurrection we see the proof of His divine and eternal Sonship.

This is confirmed in Romans 1:3-6. Jesus is of the seed of David by birth, confirming His right to all the promises regarding the Messianic son of David. He is confirmed to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead, and because of that confirmation, we have received all that we need to take the message of God to the nations for their conversion. (Cf. 2 Tim 2:8).

Now recall our discussion of the Apostles sitting on 12 thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Once again, we see Acts chapter one as the pivotal point of New Testament theology. The universal message of the cross, of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension into heaven to the right hand of God, and the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the empowerment of the Church and the salvation of the world, are all here!

The Apostles are not shortsighted. Immediately after the ascension of the Lord into heaven they choose a successor for Judas so that there may be twelve. They are fully aware that the rule of the Son of Man in Daniel has begun. They instantly understand that Jesus’ ascension was for the very purpose of His coronation as King of kings. They realize that the rule and authority of the Lord over all the earth, the time of the regeneration that Jesus spoke about in Matt 19:28, had now begun. They knew, consequently, that it was necessary to complete the full number of the Apostles after the loss of Judas.

This act on their part was a tacit admission that they believed the Kingdom of God had exploded upon the world scene in their own time. The reign of the Apostles over all Israel began with them. While old political Israel may soon pass away, (it did in 70 AD), the Apostles knew that they were the Israel from above, the heavenly city who’s builder and maker is God. The New Jerusalem of Revelation 21:12-14 has twelve gates named after the tribes of Israel, and twelve foundation stones on which are the names of the twelve apostles. The foundation of the New Israel, the heavenly city, is the teachings of the apostles as they spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

So what about this wonderful vine into which we Gentiles have been grafted? Is God through with the Jewish people? Certainly not, according to Paul in Romans 11. Remember! Jesus is of the Seed of David. The twelve apostles were all Jews. The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was a Jew! The first converts to Christ were all Jews. The first Church was the Jewish Church. The Gospel went out to Judea, and Israel, and Samaria first before it came to the ends of earth.

Paul is so concerned with the importance of the Jews to God that he spends three full chapters of his most important treatise dealing with that subject (Rom 9 - 11). At the last, he warns us not to think of ourselves as special, because God has reserved branches of the cultivated olive tree for future re-engrafting.

I don’t think anyone knows quite what God’s plans are regarding the modern state of Israel, but I do know we have a responsibility to pray for them and to evangelize them. We have a tendency to view the Jewish people as having some special relationship with God whereby He will just wink at their ignorance and let them into heaven because they are the seed of Abraham. Of course, that is not true.

We do know from Romans 11 again, that when God pours out His Spirit on them a second time, the vast majority will be saved. Paul says it will be like life from the dead (v. 15), and that even greater blessing will come upon the whole world as a result of their national revival (v. 12). God is not finished with the Jews whom He foreknew.

So, yes! I'm sure I am wrong about some things, but on this I am clear: Jesus Christ the King of the Jews has become the King of Kings over all the nations and He is working and we are working by His power so that the Gospel may go freely to the Jew first and also to the Gentile, to the glory of our God.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the NewEdisonGazette.com. You may contact him at dje@newedisongazette.com.


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