We have no king but Caesar

Tiberius Caesar, Public Doman
Bust of Tiberius Caesar, Public Doman

It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
John 19:14-16 1

This morning while I was going through the Stations of the Cross and reading through John 19, I was struck by a statement by the chief priests. They told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.” Now, I realize that this can be rationalized into a manipulative statement in order to get Pilate to crucify Jesus, but it struck me as more than that this morning when I read it.

The Jewish people hated the Romans. They were being oppressed by the Romans and their promised land had been stolen by the Romans. The Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah to free them from this oppression. In a strange turn of events, however, when the Messiah actually turns up, they end up declaring allegiance to the Romans instead of the King over all Creation. Much like the Israelites declaring it was better in Egypt, the Jews choose to bow down before the powers of Rome.

Even though is mostly a political move, I believe it shows the true motives of their heart. Instead of turning to God and his ways, they choose to follow the ways of this world. The Jewish leaders refuse to accept any way other than the way that they deem to the right way.

Brian Zahnd writes about this event in his book Beauty Will Save the World, “Pilate’s truth and Caiaphas’s truth, despite outward appearances, were one and the same. There was no denying it. In the end, Pilate and Caiaphas shared the same truth. When Caiaphas and the chief priests confessed, “We have no king but Caesar,” they showed their true colors. They also betrayed everything Moses and the prophets and the entire Hebrew tradition stood for! In that moment, the chief priests took off their religious masks to let Pilate know they knew how the real world is run. They were in on the secret. They knew the score. The power to kill is the ultimate truth. So they would pray their prayers and make a show of religion—for that was their charade—but in the end they would confess that their real king was the one who could command armies and unleash the greatest power with the most violence.” 2

Crucifixion of Jesus, Russian icon by Dionisius, Public Doman
Crucifixion of Jesus, Russian icon by Dionisius, Public Doman

On this day, Good Friday, the power of Caesar clashed with the power of Christ. It seemed like the power and violence of Caesar won, but the real victory was Christ defeating death by dying.

On Good Friday, we are called upon to proclaim allegiance either to Caesar or to Christ. The way of the world is tempting because it comes with money and power, and the way of Christ is difficult because it cruciform and requires us to lay down our lives as well. In the end, however, only one Lord will stand victorious.

The power of the world is tempting, but the cruciform life is beautiful. “The beauty that saves the world is the beauty of the cruciform. In a kind of majestic passion play we find the beauty of the Beatitudes on full display at Calvary. The cross is nothing less than Jesus giving the last full measure of devotion to the saving beauty found in the Beatitudes.”3

Who will you choose to follow today? Will you be disciple of those who offer power, or will you be a disciple of the one who bids us to come and die?

1 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
2 Zahnd, Brian (2012-01-03). Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity (p. 74). Charisma House. Kindle Edition.
3 Ibid (p. 222).

One thought on “We have no king but Caesar

  1. David 10/21/2014 / 4:54 pm

    I’ve been looking for someone to recognize the profundity of this statement, and you really nailed it. But I think it goes even deeper. There are 4 different Kings at play here and you have mentioned 2 of them: Caesar and Jesus. The chief priests, in an effort to put to death the “King of all Creation” as you correctly state, align themselves with the ruling earthly authority who can accomplish the task for them. God, the Father, is a 3rd “King” of sorts. To us Jesus and the Father “are one” (John’s Gospel) but this was not the case for the Jews at the time of Jesus. The point I’m trying to make (that Brian alludes to) is that the chief priests hated Jesus so much that they were willing to foreswear their allegiance to Yahweh (supposedly their true “King”) to gain the power (from an earthly “King”) to murder Jesus (the real King). But there is one more important “king” here. Why was it important for the chief priests to put Jesus to death in the first place? Because he was a threat to their religious authority, their…well… their kingship!

    Thanks for letting me post.


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