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Insight #15 — Jesus: King of the Jews (in-depth study)

The Son of God stood within before the Roman Governor. “Are You the King of the Jews?” The conversation that followed can be summed up in one word: “Yes.” Pilate went out to the mob. He asked, “Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” The mob replied, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!”

After Pilate whipped Jesus, the soldiers had a little fun with the King. They put a crown of thorns on his head, dressed him in a royal robe and mocked him: “Hail, King of the Jews!”

More heated discussion followed between the mob and Pilate. They cried out: “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.” Pilate then brought Jesus out before them and cried, “Behold your King!” More heated words. Then Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests replied, “We have no king but Caesar!”

That was the end of the “trial.” Pilate delivered Jesus to be crucified. He wrote a title to be placed on the cross: “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Not just in one language. It was written in three: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The chief priests strongly objected. Pilate’s reply? “What I have written, I have written.” So they crucified the King of the Jews. (See John 18:28 to 19:23.)


Jesus died as the King of the Jews. Thirty-three years earlier, He was born as the King of the Jews. He would have been killed then, too, if God had not miraculously intervened. Killed precisely for being the King of the Jews.

When the oriental wise men arrived in Jerusalem, they figured that King Herod would know where the King of the Jews had been born. They were wrong. Herod knew nothing. Indeed, the news troubled him greatly. He was king! Any future king would have to be his own son! How could someone be born King of the Jews, when he knew nothing about it?

“Knew nothing”? As a matter of fact, Herod did know something. Although he was an Idumaean, he practiced the Jewish religion and knew something about it. He knew the Jews were awaiting their Messiah. Notice that the wise men asked Herod where the “King of the Jews” had been born (Matthew 2:2). But when Herod asked the priests and scribes about the birth, he asked them where the “Christ” was to have been born (verse 4). (“Messiah” and “Christ” are the same. See John 1:41.) Herod clearly equated “King of the Jews” with “Messiah.”

The chief priests and scribes answered Herod’s question by quoting Micah 5:2, which prophesied Bethlehem of Judah as the birthplace of a “Ruler.” Herod accepted their reply.

Imagine! Herod equated “the King of the Jews” with the “Messiah,” the “Christ.” He knew His coming had been prophesied. He believed the prophecy as to the place of His birth. Herod thus knowingly dared to make an attempt upon the life of the very Messiah of God. At Jesus’ trial, the Jews had cried, “We have no king but Caesar.” At Jesus’ birth, Herod, in effect, cried, “I have no king but myself.”


“Messiah” is a Hebrew word. The translation into Greek is “Christ.” The translation into English is “anointed.” In the Old Testament, men were anointed to be prophets, priests and kings. It seems the concept of anointing is most often connected to kings. Secondly it is connected to priests and least of all, to prophets. It is no surprise then, that the Jews so often considered the Messiah to be a King, just as Herod did.

The Micah text does not use either the word “Messiah” or the word “King.” Other prophets do. Daniel comes near to using both. In his famous 70-weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27), he speaks of a certain length of time “until Messiah the Prince.” Apart from dates, Daniel makes it clear that Messiah the Prince would come before the second destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. This second destruction took place in 70 A.D. Messiah had to come before that date!

Zechariah also prophesied about the coming King.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He [is] just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). The fulfillment of this prophecy is commonly called “the triumphal entry.” It is recorded in all four Gospels, with Matthew and John referring directly to the Zechariah text.

The Pharisees did not like the triumphal entry. They did not like to hear the people proclaiming Jesus as the King. “The whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ‘Blessed [is] the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, ‘Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out’ ” (Luke 19:37-40). If the disciples had not praised Jesus as King, the stones would do it! Jesus is King!

Isaiah is often referred to as the Messianic Prophet because of his many prophecies of the coming one. One of the famous “King” prophecies is Isaiah 9:6,7. The specific words used in the text are “government,” “Prince,” “throne,” and “kingdom.”

“For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of [His] government and peace
[There] [will] [be] no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”

What a child to be born! What a Prince of Peace for Israel to look forward to! Only the zeal of almighty Jehovah God could accomplish this. Yet, when it happened, Herod, Pilate, the Roman soldiers, the Jewish leaders and the Jewish people fought against God’s power. But this, too, was prophesied!


What Herod and Pilate and the Jewish rulers did not realize was that they, themselves, were fulfilling prophecy. By rejecting and fighting against God’s prophetic Word, they fulfilled it.

“Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed (Messiah, Christ)” (Psalm 2:1,2). Jesus’ disciples in prayer quote this prophecy and then explain it this way: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27,28).

In this Psalm of David we have both the words “Anointed” (Psalm 2:2) and “King” (verse 6). In spite of the efforts of the leaders and peoples, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” A millennium before Jesus came into the world, God spoke through David of his plans for His King. The kings of the earth would try to stop the King, but they would be powerless.

“The stone [which] the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’S doing;
It [is] marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:22,23). When Jesus the Christ was rejected of men, He did not have to come up with a new plan of action. The rejection was in the plan! God knew from the beginning that the rulers and many of the people would not want the King. But God set Him up as King anyway.


The tomb could not hold Him! Death and Hades could not keep Him in their power. He was rejected of men but raised by God. Men rejected Jesus as King over them, but God set Him up as King on Mount Zion anyway.

On the day of Pentecost, 30 A.D., ten days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, a great gathering took place in Jerusalem. Jews from many nations were gathered for the annual feast, little knowing that Pentecost that year would become so famous. When many people today talk of “Pentecost,” the only one they have in mind is the one in A.D. 30. That was the Pentecost immediately following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

Before Jesus ascended, He told the apostles that they would soon be filled with power. He commanded them to stay in Jerusalem in anticipation. As they waited, they appointed Matthias to take the place of Judas.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve apostles. There was a supernatural sound like a mighty wind that caused a crowd to gather. The apostles began speaking in the languages of all the foreign Jews gathered there. The multitude was amazed and perplexed.

Simon Peter, to whom Jesus has given the keys of the kingdom, stood up and began his famous discourse. He spoke of the prophet Joel, who had prophesied these events. He spoke of the miracles of Jesus and of his death. Then in some detail he spoke of Jesus’ resurrection and the events that followed.

Peter used four lines of argument to prove Jesus’ resurrection: 1) the impossibility of His remaining dead; 2) fulfilled prophecy; 3) eye-witness reports; and 4) the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which the people were witnessing.

He quoted the 16th Psalm, a Psalm of David, and explained it in detail (Acts 2:25-31). David wrote the Psalm in first person. However, since David “is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day,” David could not have been speaking of himself.

Rather, David was a prophet. David knew that the Messiah (Christ) would be a descendent of his and that God “would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne.” Peter immediately follows these words with “he (David), foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ.” Notice that sitting on the throne of David is thus linked to the resurrection.

And what happened following the resurrection? Christ ascended and was “exalted to the right hand of God” (verse 33). This, too, was prophesied by David, in Psalm 110: “The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at My right hand” (Acts 2:34).

After heaping evidence upon evidence, Peter summed up: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (verse 36). God has made him Lord and Christ. Jesus is now Lord! Jesus is now Christ! Ever since He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of Almighty God. Since He is “Lord” He is Master and Ruler. Since He is Christ, He is Prophet, Priest and King. Now!


Jesus is now “seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1). Does this verse and Peter’s preaching contradict what David said in Psalm 2:6? “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion.” Does that mean earthly Zion or heavenly Zion? Earthly Jerusalem or heavenly Jerusalem? Which one is holy today?

Notice what the Apostle John, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says about earthly Zion-Jerusalem. Did he still consider it to be the Holy City? In Revelation 11:8 he wrote: “the great city… where also our Lord was crucified” “spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt.” Imagine! The once Holy City, because it rejected and crucified the Messiah, is likened by God to that homosexual Sodom and that idolatrous, enslaving Egypt. Quite unholy!

Galatians 4:25-26 clearly distinguishes the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly. “Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children–but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” God’s Jerusalem today is the heavenly, not the earthly.

Where is Jesus today? “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant… Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken… ” (Hebrews 12:22,24,28).

God the Father put Jesus at His own right hand in the heavenly Zion-Jerusalem. Is He now reigning? Is He now King? Listen to Ephesians 1:20-22: “which He (God) worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated [Him] at His right hand in the heavenly [places], far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all [things] under His feet, and gave Him [to] [be] head over all [things] to the church.”

Peter later wrote in his epistle: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him” (1 Peter 3:21,22). “Having been made.” Past tense. Accomplished.


The Ephesians text speaks of all the dominion of Jesus “not only in this age but also in that which is to come.” Consider reading it this way: “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in the age which is to come but also in this age.”

It is true that Jesus will exercise more power when He comes again. Hebrews 2 explains Psalm 8 as being ultimately fulfilled in the man Jesus. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2:9). Jesus is now crowned. However, verse 8 clarifies “But now we do not yet see all things put under him.”

Psalm 110:1,2 says,
“The LORD said to my Lord,
‘Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.’
The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion.
Rule in the midst of Your enemies!”
There is a process here. Christ is now ruling at the right hand of God, but all his enemies are not yet under his footstool. Christ is today ruling in the midst of His enemies. One day in the future they will all be put under his feet. Today they can choose to oppose Him. Tomorrow they will be forced under His power.

Paul certainly had Psalm 110 in mind when He by the Holy Spirit penned 1 Corinthians 15:22-28. These verses make it clear that Jesus does not begin to reign when all his enemies are put under his feet. On the contrary, “He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy [that] will be destroyed [is] death.”

Psalm 110:1 says “Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” 1 Corinthians 15:25 says “till He has put all enemies under His feet.” Certainly both speak of the same thing. According to the former text, what is Christ doing “till”? “Sit at My right hand.” According to the latter text, what is Christ doing “till”? “He must reign.” “Sit at My right hand” is equivalent to “reign.”

For the present, as Psalm 110:2 says, Jesus must “rule in the midst of (His) enemies.” His rule will be absolute, but it is not so today. Nevertheless, He is now ruling; He is now reigning. Today Jesus is reigning in the midst of His enemies. Tomorrow He will be the absolute “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).


There is more about Jesus in Psalm 110. Notice verse 4:
“The LORD has sworn
And will not relent,
‘You [are] a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.’ ”

Who was this Melchizedek? The only historical information we have about him is in three scant verses of Genesis 14:18-20. Who was he? “Melchizedek king of Salem… [was] the priest of God Most High.” Both a king and a priest.

The book of Hebrews directly quotes Psalm 110:4 three times, and several other times repeats the phrase “according to the order of Melchizedek.” What was his order like? Hebrews 7:1-3 agrees with Genesis and connects it all to Jesus. “Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… first being translated ‘king of righteousness,’ and then also king of Salem, meaning ‘king of peace’… made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.” Jesus is both a king and a priest. Hebrews 8:1 again contains the view of Jesus’ double function: “We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.” In the heavenly Salem (Jerusalem). Jesus is now reigning (in the midst of His enemies) and, as Priest, He is interceding for His people.

This double function of Jesus is referred to in one of the “Branch” prophecies. It says that both functions are exercised “on His throne.” Zechariah 6:12,13: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, saying: ‘Behold, the Man whose name [is] the BRANCH!
From His place He shall branch out,
And He shall build the temple of the LORD;
Yes, He shall build the temple of the LORD.
He shall bear the glory,
And shall sit and rule on His throne;
So He shall be a priest on His throne.’ ”

Another Jewish temple could not fulfill this prophecy. The temple of the Lord today is Jesus’ church (1 Corinthians 3:16,17.) We know from many verses in Hebrews that Jesus is our Priest today. Where? On His throne. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy” (Hebrews 4:16). Now, what is He also doing on that throne? He is doing what is the most common thing to do on a throne. He is ruling, according to Zechariah’s prophecy.


From Jesus’ birth to His death, many people did not like the idea of His being king. This was true as the Gospel spread throughout the Roman Empire. In Thessalonica, the mob accused the Christians of “acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king–Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

The Jews were expecting their Messiah-King for centuries. However, when He came, because He did not fulfill their earthly expectations, many of them rejected Him.

Today, many still want Jesus to be their earthly King. They reject His spiritual kingship. They reject His reigning now from the heavenly throne.

It is so common today to say, “I take Jesus as my personal and sufficient Savior.” How often have you heard people say, “I take Jesus as my personal and sufficient King”? “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).

Is Jesus Lord of your life? Is He your King today? Those who rejected Jesus’ kingship, by so doing fulfilled Psalm 2. It would be better for us to fulfill the last three verses of the Psalm.
“Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish [in] the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed [are] all those who put their trust in Him.”

There is a difference between Jesus’ kingship today and Jesus’ kingship tomorrow. Today He rules in the midst of His enemies–and He invites everyone to accept Him as King. Tomorrow He will come in all His glory and He will impose His kingship with “a rod of iron” (Psalm 2:9). There will be no choice, no invitation. Those who reject Jesus as King today will become enemies under His feet tomorrow. Those who accept Him as Priest and King in their lives today will enter into His eternal glory.

(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)