"I am not a Jew, am I?" This is an interesting question that was raised by Pontus Pilate when he was trying to make a decision concerning Jesus in John's gospel (John 18:35). If Jesus is the King of the Jews, why should I care? I am not a Jew, am I? When we talk about the specific historical context of the gospel announcement, many times, if this is the first time you have ever thought of the gospel in this way, it seems to make the whole story much less relevant and much more distant from our own personal lives. We might feel like shouting out as the Roman Procurator, Festus, did at the apostle Paul, "Paul, you're mad! All this learning of yours has driven you crazy!" (Acts26:24).But cold water, even on a hot summer day, can come as a shock to us if we are not ready for it. Just because something might take us off guard, that doesn't not mean necessarily that we are in the wrong place, but only that we weren't prepared for it. But make no mistake, the gospel is a Jewish message that was first for the Jews and then later it came to the Gentiles. This is the order that Paul puts things more than once in his famous letter to Rome: "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." (Romans 1:16, 2:10). Jesus Himself declares to the woman at the well that "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). So how did this Jewish gospel become good news for me, a Gentile? We might also ask Pilate's second question to Jesus: "Your own people and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" (John 18:35).
The simple answer is that Jesus was becoming King even at the moment of His trial and crucifixion. But we are just as likely as Pilate not to even consider such rubbish. How could a crucified Jew be a king?! Nevertheless, Jesus makes this claim. It is more or less forced on Him by Pilate who was not looking to execute justice, but who was looking to understand what his rivals, the chief priests, were after. Pilate understood that the chief priests had handed Jesus over because they envied Him (Matthew 27:18), and he was eager NOT to grant them their request. Pilate didn't believe that Jesus was any legitimate threat, and certainly no king. The only "King of the Jews" that Pilate acknowledged and the only type of king Pilate recognized was the brutal King Herod, who was nothing more than a puppet of Rome and who displayed that fact when he sent Jesus back to Pilate dressed up in royal attire to mock Him. As far as Pilate is concerned, Jesus is on trial because of some intra-Jewish squabble that he could hardly care less about. "I am not a Jew, am I?" No, Pilate, you are not a Jew but the man who stood before you was far more relevant than you ever imagined. What Pilate didn't know about the King of the Jews, is that the rightful, Messianic, King of the Jews, according to their scriptures, was supposed to rule "from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth." Psalm 72:8. Yet, Pilate would not have believed this rubbish if I had known it. The man that stood before Pilate was, in his eyes, nothing more than a quirky character caught up in the political ambitions of those who wielded greater power in their sphere of influence. Jesus had fallen out of favor with the largely ruling class of Jews, and for that reason, Pilate was eager to spare Jesus simply to spite these despised Jews. In the end, the Jewish leaders outstripped Pilate's will by pulling out a card that they were loathed to use and which flew in the face of all their acclaimed scriptural hopes. The Jewish leaders reminded Pilate of who the world's true lord really was, both over Israel and over Pilate, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” John 19:12. This is a horrific, desperate, and tragic move by the Jewish leaders. It is a move scary enough for Pilate to do their bidding, but it is a move that is a basic denial of the central hope of Jewish aspirations, longings, and scripture. Pilate was not a Jew, but by the end of the trial, neither were the Jewish leaders. They had thrown their lot in with Caesar and were going to use his power to make their way in the world. Some of the famous Jewish revolutionaries declared that Israel had "no king but God!", but these Jewish leaders declared "we have no king but Caesar!" This is where Jesus stands in as the defining point for who is recognized as the true Israel. Either Jesus really was the King of the Jews, or there is no real point or hope in being Jewish. The world is either run by the Caesar's of the world, or Jesus really did, somehow, bring God's kingdom into the world through His death and subsequent resurrection. But if Caesar's exercise of "power" did not actually defeat Jesus, but rather somehow enthroned Him. Maybe we would all do well to learn what it means to be Jewish, Jesus style. That is in fact, the invitation of the gospel. This is good news to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.