Re-reading some of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion this Easter, I have been struck again with the prophetic significance of the sign above the cross, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matt Ch 27 v 37).
Though all the gospels emphasise the kingship of Jesus to some extent, it is more clearly seen in Matthew’s gospel. It is in Matthew that we get the genealogy, which establishes Jesus as the son of David, the son of Abraham. Any rightful king of the Jews had to be descended from David – Herod was not even a full blooded Jew and was considered a usurper – and part of the messianic expectation was a re-establishing of the Davidic line. It is significant that Matthew includes the visit of the Magi, who had received a cosmic revelation of Jesus’ birth. It was their enquiry to Herod (the usurper) about Jesus (the true King), which provoked the massacre of the babies at Bethlehem.
However, it is as Jesus is brought before Pilate that his Kingship is highlighted. When Pilate asks the question of Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus affirms that Pilate is right. Even the soldiers cry out “Hail King of the Jews”. Whilst they did this in mockery, under the hand of God who brought all this to pass, their testimony, though given in loutish ignorance, is actually true.
The final testimony was the placard above the cross. It was usual for the crimes of a crucified felon to be written upon a piece of wood or parchment and nailed on the cross above their head, so that anyone passing by could see the reason for their death. Pilate knew that the Jewish leaders had delivered Jesus to him out of malice and envy, and that there were no genuine offences which he had committed. We do not know what went through Pilate’s mind when it came to the time to declare his judgement to be written on the placard for Jesus, but whatever his reason for doing so, he caused one of the most significant prophetic truths of all time to be written there as a statement that would last for all eternity. “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”.
If Jesus had merely been a carpenter, even a carpenter who was the perfect son of God, his death could not have atoned for the sin of the world.
When Adam sinned, he did not merely sin as a private individual, but as the man whom God had created as the first and foremost – the king – of the human race. Adam was our representative head, who led humanity in sinful rebellion against God. Just as any national leader who declares war, does so on behalf of the nation he represents, Adam led us to side with Satan and oppose God, and there have never been any conscientious objectors who opted out. That is until Jesus.
But if Jesus had merely been a Jewish carpenter, even a perfect, divine Jewish carpenter, he would not have had the authority to declare peace with God and negotiate the appropriate terms of peace.
When Jesus Christ died, he did so as the atoning lamb, but also as the representative head – the king – of God’s people, and as the priest who (in the line of Melchizedek the king/priest of Jerusalem) was able to carry out his own sacrifice with all the legitimate authority of heaven and earth.
The one thing that Jesus could legally be accused of, was that he had accepted the rightful role of King of a fallen, sinful and rebellious people, and as such could legitimately be executed for their fall, their sin and their rebellion.
Oh the wisdom and righteousness of God! The death of Jesus as the second Adam who was both the last of the old order and the first of the new, fully satisfied those in leadership of the Jewish nation, it satisfied the law of Rome, which covered the then known world, and it fully satisfied the righteousness of God.
Now with Jesus as the firstborn from the dead, the king and representative head of God’s new creation, who can possibly lay anything against our charge when we submit to him and present him to God on our behalf?