Standing against the Messiah

This coming Sunday is the celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. In yesterday’s post we considered Jesus’ famous words: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Today we explore those people and leaders who formed “an unholy alliance” against Jesus: those who mocked him and those who condemned him.

The people stood by and watched; the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God.” Luke pictures the majority of the people (laos) don’t mock Jesus (contrary to Mark’s description); they are simply watching. Executions were popular functions and doubtless many attended this one. But it was the rulers, not the people, who mocked (cf. Ps. 22:6–8). The leaders sneer (v. 35; lit. “look down their noses” or “thumbed their noses”) and the soldiers mock (v. 36) and one criminal blasphemes (v. 39). They all say the same thing: “Save yourself” – essentially the same temptations of the devil in Luke 4 – avoid the pain and suffering of the cross. Culpepper notes that “The irony here is that Luke underscores both Jesus’ real identity and the true meaning of his death. Jesus was hailed as the Savior at his birth (2:11); as the Son of Man, he had come to seek and save the lost (19:10). But just as he had taught that those who lost their lives for his sake would save them (9:24), so now he must lost his life so that they might be saved.

Among the rulers, they addressed one another, not Jesus, as they spoke of his saving activities they used two epithets: the Christ of God and his Chosen One. Clearly they intended to mock the words as signs of God’s special favor as they contrasted words with the actual plight of Jesus, there on the cross. Yet unknowingly they invoke terms already in use in Luke’s gospel. Jesus has been acknowledged as Christ (or Messiah) by Simeon (2:26), the people (3:15), demons (4:41), and Peter (9:20).  Jesus is God’s chosen one (9:35, Transfiguration).  These very names ironically used, but nonetheless true, also become the charge of treason.

Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”  The inscription differs with slightly different words in each of the four gospels. John’s form is fullest and gives the equivalent of the Latin INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum) that appears on Catholic crucifixes. IRNI is Latin for “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Latin uses the letter “I” instead of the English “J”, and “V” instead of “U.” The Johannine passage notes that the inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek.

All four Evangelists mention the inscription on the cross. Such a placard would announce the crime for which the condemned man was being executed. The inscription in three languages (John 19:20) this is not unusual. What is clear is that Pilate was proclaiming that Jesus died as King of the Jews. He was taking a grim revenge on the Jewish leaders who had forced him into this position. But he was also unknowingly proclaiming Jesus’ royalty, a theme significant to Luke.

Image credit: Christ the King, Krakow Poland, Pixabay, CC-BY-NC

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