The Kingship of Jesus is one of the themes of the book of John, particularly toward the end. In fact, the words “King” and “kingdom” appear 15 times in John 18-19, the two chapters describing His trial and crucifixion. Many of those occurrences, perhaps surprisingly, come from the lips of Pontius Pilate. The Jews delivered Jesus to Pilate for crucifixion. Because they had no legitimate accusation to raise against Him, and the law would not allow them to carry out a capital sentence even if they had, they raised one of the few issues likely to capture the attention of any Roman governor, “Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar” (John 19:12).
Though the accusation certainly captured Pilate’s attention, upon further review the procurator obviously determined that Jesus posed no real threat to the rule of Caesar (John 18:33-38; 19:12). Thus, with mocking amusement he paraded our Lord before the Jews as their king. Afterall, why would any subjugated people want to murder their own deliverer and king? His mocking jabs only stiffened the infuriation of the heart hardened Jewish elite. Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” To which they replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15).
Their statement is pregnant with tragic irony. By claiming “no king but Caesar” they effectively abandoned Messianic hope. For centuries the Jewish people recognized Jehovah as their only king. The song was sung, “O Lord our God, masters besides You have had dominion over us; but by You only we make mention of Your name” (Isa. 26:13). The people in Gideon’s day cried for his rule but he refused. “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8:23). Israel cried for a king to rule over them like the nations around them and the Lord granted the request (1 Sam. 8). But even those kings ruled on “the throne of the Lord” (1 Chron. 29:23) and at His pleasure. Old Testament prophecy makes clear the fact that Jehovah’s Kingly rule would be ultimately realized through the Messiah who would rule as King over His Kingdom (cf. Isa. 9:6-7). The Jewish leaders knew this fact well and yet their statement implicitly rejects anyone who would claim to be the Messianic King for which they longed.
Additionally, they unwittingly admitted that what Jesus had said about them all along was in fact true. The Jews claimed God as their Father (John 8:54), but in fact He wasn’t. To be the children of God is to serve God, to serve God is to acknowledge His Kingship, and to acknowledge His Kingship is to acknowledge the Kingship of the Son (cf. John 5:23). But they rejected the Son and thus rejected the Father. They did not really know the Father because they did not know the Son. “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” (John 8:19). Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God” (John 8:42), but they did not because they were of a different father, the Devil (John 8:44). One can claim incessantly to be a child of the Living God but simply making the claim does not make it so. Jesus pointed out this truth to the Jewish leaders time and time again and they refused to acknowledge its veracity. Yet by claiming “no king but Caesar” they outed themselves as being exactly what Jesus said they were.
Fundamentally the problem with the Jews was one of allegiance. Their claim of Caesar’s kingship over them was lip service motivated by hatred, they despised his authority over them. A similar statement could be made regarding their acknowledgment of Jehovah’s Kingship. They claimed to serve Him, but they really did not. The only real allegiance they had was to themselves and to their own tradition and ambition. Had they truly been the servants of God they would have recognized the Messiahship of Jesus and bowed themselves willingly before Him as humble servants. That truth applies today as well. Our mouths may easily proclaim “Jesus is Lord!” but what do our thoughts and actions say? Some of us are better citizens of the United States than the Kingdom of God. Our thoughts more focused on the preservation of the American ideal than the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Some of us have crowned materialism is the king of our lives. Much of our time and energy spent in pursuit of gain instead of the pursuit of holiness. Some of us are far too enamored with ourselves. We think constantly of what we desire instead of prioritizing what He desires. Where is our allegiance? Is Jesus our King or have we no king but Caesar?