Compass or King? by Christopher Harbin

Compass or King?
Christopher B. Harbin
John 18:33-37

I was a language major in college. You would likely think that my classes in German, French, Spanish and Greek taught me to be careful about how we use language and the meaning we expect of the terms we use. Defining the terms we use is important. Rather than one of my language classes, however, it was a class on World Religions that brought the issue front and center. We were discussing some of the tenets of Confucius. One of those tenets has stuck with me now for decades. We need to clarify the terms we are using to make sure we are communicating clearly. When we do not clarify, we may use words with one meaning while another interprets them with a wholly different meaning.

''Are you the King of the Jews?'' We don't often bother much with this question, but it is a rather strange one on so many levels. We hear the question and read it from a traditional Christian perspective that tells us that, yes, Jesus is the King of the Jews, just not in the way Pilate imagined. We place Jesus as spiritual king, as King of Heaven, as the rightful Lord of all. In the process, however, we don't stop quite long enough to ensure that we are reading the term quite the way that either Pilate or Jesus interpreted it.

Pilate, the Roman authority, was asking Jesus, a Jewish peasant, whether he were the King of the Jews. Politically, Pilate well knew who the king was. Rome had installed Herod as the puppet king to symbolically allow the Jews a representative in governance under Roman occupation. Pilate had no doubt regarding Herod's position, no question that Jesus had somehow usurped Herod in defiance of Rome. Jesus was not being followed by crowds; there was no uprising at his arrest; he had been delivered by the Jewish authorities.

It would seem rather that Pilate was asking Jesus whether he was the rightful king of the Jews, or if he considered himself such. Doubtless, Pilate had heard of the Jewish expectations for ...


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