"Are you the king of the Jews?" (Matt. 27:11)Why would Pilate ask Jesus this? Because as the Roman governor of Jerusalem, Pilate was in charge of maintaining the peace in Jerusalem, and someone claiming to be a king could be a revolutionary. The Roman leadership in Rome sought to control the Jewish population. The Jews were paying the Romans good tax monies. They wanted to maintain order within the Jewish regions and continue receiving the taxes and other benefits of occupation.
The Book of Matthew clearly points out that the decision to put Jesus to death was made by the Jewish chief priests and elders:
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. (Matt. 27:1-2)It is thus obvious that when the Jewish priests handed Jesus over to Pilate, they told him that Jesus claimed to be the king of the Jews. They knew this would concern Pilate who would see Jesus as a threat to maintaining peace and order among the Jews. With the priests saying that Jesus was basically a trouble-maker, and claimed to be the king of the Jews, Pilate therefore accommodated the Jewish priests' desire to murder Jesus' physical body.
This is supported by Pilate's response to Jesus:
"Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" (Matt. 27:13)This clearly indicates that the Jewish priests are manipulating the information being presented to Pilate about Jesus.
What does this mean? Does this mean that Jews in general are responsible for Jesus' body being murdered?
This is a deranged conclusion - one arising from sectarianism. And it is this distorted conclusion that has resulted in the widespread persecution of innocent Jewish people over the centuries.
In fact, Jesus himself was not only a Jew, but was a Jewish teacher. He was a rabbi, as evidenced by both his students and even pharisees greeting Jesus as "rabbi" (John 1:38 and elsewhere).
This event is not about Jews killing Jesus. This event is about those who seek to maintain their own authority and power being threatened by someone who is teaching about loving God.
Jesus in fact taught the same teachings as Moses, David, Samuel and other great Jewish teachers who also emphasized in their teachings love for God. Just consider how important love for God was in Moses' teachings:
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut. 6:4)Moses was not the only Jewish teacher to teach love for God. Consider Joshua's instruction to his followers:
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep his commands.” (Deut 7:9)
“If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as He swore to your forefathers.” (Deut 7:12)
“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to revere the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 10:12)
“Love the LORD your God and keep His requirements, His decrees, His laws and His commands always.” (Deut 11:1)
“So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love the LORD your God and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul…” (Deut 11:13)
“If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow--to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to hold fast to Him” (Deut 11:22)
“you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 13:3)
“because you carefully follow all these laws I command you today--to love the LORD your God and to walk always in His ways - then you are to set aside three more cities.” (Deut 19:9)
“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the Hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and life.” (Deu 30:6)
“For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” (Deut 30:16)
“and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to Him. For the LORD is your life” (Deut 30:20)
"But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Joshua 22:5)Also consider Hosea's instruction:
"But you must return to your God; maintain love and justice, and wait for your God always." (Hosea 12:6)And consider Joel's instruction:
"Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity." (Joel 2:13)And David's teaching to Solomon:
"And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts." (1Chron. 28:9)Consider the instruction of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes:
"Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Revere God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole [duty] of man." (Eccl 12:13)And Samuel:
"If you revere the LORD and serve and obey Him and do not rebel against His commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God - good!" (1Samuel 12:14)And Job:
"How great is God - beyond our understanding!" (Job 36:26)And from Proverbs:
"So that your trust may be in the LORD, I teach you today, even you." (Proverbs 22:18-20)These and so many other verses by the ancient Jewish teachers indicate that their central message relates to re-establishing our relationship with God and loving God. This is also what Jesus' most important instruction was, mirroring Moses' teaching:
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matt. 22:37-38)So why again would the Jewish chief priests want to murder Jesus? Because Jesus' teachings - even though they mirrored the teachings of Moses and other Jewish prophets - threatened their authority and power amongst the people. They could see that Jesus had real authority. He was able to convince others to dedicate their lives to coming to know and love the Supreme Being.
But the Jewish priests were not interested in helping people come to know and love God. Their interest was in maintaining their positions of authority so they could live comfortably and dictate to others. Jesus threatened that simply because Jesus was attracting thousands and thousands of followers.
And Jesus was teaching his followers to question the authority of the ecclesiastical Jewish priests. He was criticizing their teachings, because their teachings were focused upon engaging in so many rituals while ignoring the core teachings passed down from the ancient Jewish teachers like Moses, Joshua, Abraham and David. They de-emphasized their teachings relating to loving God and doing God's will because they were not interested in loving God. They were not interested in pleasing God or doing God's will. Their interest was their own will.
And it is this interest - self-centered interest - that is at the root of our rejection of the Supreme Being, and what landed us here in the physical world to duke it out with all the other self-centered people. It is self-centered interest that is at the heart of sinful behavior and activities that are offensive to God. It is our desire to please ourselves. It is our desire to take care of ourselves (or the extensions of ourselves like our country, our sect or our religion). It is our desire to be comfortable. It is our desire to become famous, wealthy, admired, powerful and respected.
These self-centered desires are diametrically opposed to love. Love means caring for someone else, while self-centered interest means caring more about myself, even at the expense of others.
These self-centered desires - including the desire to maintain a paid position of ecclesiastic authority - caused the Jewish priests to arrest Jesus and manipulate Pilate in order to have Jesus' body murdered by the Romans. (Not that the Roman governor is necessarily free of responsibility - both the executioner and the accuser must take on responsibility.)
And the reason Jesus accepted the accusation - of being the "king of the Jews" - is because he was a spiritual leader of the people, authorized by the Supreme Being. The word "king" is being translated from the Greek word βασιλεύς (basileus). According to the lexicon, the word can mean "prince, commander, lord of the land," or "king," as well as "leader of the people." While he was no government authority, Jesus truly was a spiritual leader of the people. He had many disciples and students, and he was leading people by teaching them to love God. In other words, he was leading people (or those who followed) back to God.
The deeper lesson in Jesus' statement and in the circumstances around his trial is that regardless of what kinds of robes a teacher may wear; regardless of their hierarchical position or their institution; and regardless of whether they are opening a book of scripture as they teach; a teacher should only be accepted if they are teaching us to love God and please God with our lives. These are the teachings of authority, as they come from God. And these are precisely what Jesus taught, and why he made the greatest sacrifice: To show us just how important those teachings really are.
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Book of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)