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24 November. Luke chapters 23-24
And so we come to the end of Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, with the trial, crucifixion and resurrection. He also starts here, with the appearance of Jesus p the Emmaus Road, his account of the beginnings of the Christian church. It ends with Jesus instructing the disciples to “proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations” (24:27), a task which Luke’s second volume (Acts of the Apostles) records.
From all this, the heart of the Christian Gospel, I will take the references to Christ as King, for that is the focus of Catholic and Anglican worship this Sunday (the 5th Sunday before Christmas) .
First, the Jewish “assembly” takes Jesus before Pontius Pilate and lays charges against him, including that of claiming to be a king. Pilate asks for Jesus to respond to this charge, and Jesus says “you say so”, perhaps meaning, “if you are prepared to believe that I am a king as these people say, then I am”. But Pilate does not consider any of the charges against Jesus to merit a death sentence, only a flogging.
Then, on the cross, the Roman soldiers also mock him “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (23:27). Maybe they were the same people who had mocked him in the same way with a purple robe at his trial. And finally, there was an inscription over him, attributed in John’s gospel to Pilate, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’”
It seems that this was the most controversial title for Jesus in his day. The Jewish people had not had a king of their own since before the Exile over 500 years earlier, and the Roman Emperor represented by the governor was the head of state in his day. It does not seem from the Gospel stories that Jesus went about calling himself King: it was a title possibly given to him by his followers out of admiration, but mainly as a controversial political claim by his enemies in order to try and provoke Pilate or Herod to try him for treason. The fact that neither of them did so shows that they did not consider him a political threat.
In Luke’s account of the Emmaus road and the subsequent appearance to all the apostles, Jesus still does not use this title about himself, preferring “Messiah” (although as that means ‘the anointed one’ it carries much the same meaning). Christians do call Jesus the King, though – but not “King of the Jews” for we believe his reign is over not just the Jewish people or the state of Israel, but all of creation. Jesus’s kingship really only started with the Resurrection. When we celebrate Christ the King and then move into Advent, we remember not only the fact that he reigns invisibly on earth now, but also the centuries of waiting that preceded his coming, and the faith that he will come again in visible form to take up his rightful place among us.