Names of Jesus: King of the Jews

And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:35-37).

The sign above Jesus’ head on the cross reading “King of the Jews” was meant to humiliate him. Before crucifying him, soldiers stripped him naked and put a scarlet robe on him, to mock him. They put a crown on his head made of thorns. They put a rod in his hands meant to look like a royal scepter and then beat him with it. They jokingly bowed down to him and then spit on him. They stripped his clothes once more and nailed him to a cross with the sign above his head to show everyone how powerless they believed this “king” was.

The people watching, who Jesus had been teaching and healing, mocked him too. They yelled out to him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” They saw Jesus bleeding, naked, humiliated, and about to die and could not believe this was the powerful king God had promised to rescue Israel. They believed their king would come to overthrow the corrupt government, and instead were watching him die by its hands. They misunderstood what a true king is supposed to be.

We misunderstand this too. We believe that a leader should be strong, immovable, and do whatever it takes to get his way. We choose leaders that protect our own interests and comforts. We want leaders who can forcefully overthrow the things we don’t agree with. We respect leaders who can’t be pushed around or embarrassed. We don’t want the type of leader we would see publicly humiliated and hanging from a cross.

But Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He is the leader that was promised to the people of God for hundreds of generations. He is the messiah who has rescued us from our sins. He is the creator and ruler of heaven and earth. And the crown he chose was not made of gold, but of thorns. Rather than being adorned with a fancy scarlet robe, he was clothed in nothing but his own scarlet blood. Instead of wielding a scepter of authority against his enemies, he chose to be beaten with it. He surrendered the comforts and angelic praise of heaven to die painfully while being mocked by those he loved.

Jesus is not the king that Israel wanted him to be, and he’s nothing like the type of leader we want either. He shows us a better way. Our King puts the interests of the poor and helpless above his own. Our King, in the darkest hours of pain and betrayal ever experienced said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Our King is marked by sacrifice, weakness, humility, mercy, and love.