And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Ceasar.”
No king but Ceasar? That’s a scary thing to say at any time in history. The King is the final word, the final authority, the final arbiter of truth, the true source of protection, and the one to whom we swear highest loyalty and allegiance. And here, in an effort to rid themselves of a Messiah whose persona, ethic, lifestyle, and vision for God’s reign was offensive, the scholars and religious elite of the day come out with this: “We have no King but Ceasar.”
In the infancy of the church however, the new community of faith got it. Most of the martyrs in the early years of the church shed their blood because of their refusal to utter the simple phrase, “Ceasar is Lord.” No, there is a higher authority than Ceasar, a higher calling and loyalty than the state can ever ask of us. Jesus had said, under the inquisitive light of Pilate’s questions, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
We should be wrestling with our dual citizenship, because Jesus told us to. And while the early church did this well, later on, the marriage of Church and State led to a different model, offering the illusion that loyalty to the state was loyalty to Christ and His Kingdom. But it was a mirage. Rome was not the Kingdom. Germany was not the Kingdom. The People’s Republic is not the Kingdom. The British empire was not the Kingdom. And the government, ‘of, for, and by the people’ is not the kingdom either, no matter which party is in power.
We need to be careful that we’re aligned with the early church and Jesus, both of which kept their vision of a distinction between the state and Christ’s reign. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves in the crowd, shouting with so many, “We have no King but Ceasar.” Few words in history have been more damning, dangerous, and misleading.