From the March/April 2019 issue of Discern Magazine

The Death of the King

Easter, a celebration not taught in the Bible, has become one of the world’s most important holidays, but the observance Jesus commanded is widely ignored. Passover is a reminder of the death of our Savior and King.

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One of the most important celebrations on today’s Christian calendar is the holiday called Easter. Even though there is evidence that the name itself derives from a pagan goddess of spring, it is popularly viewed today as the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Savior for mankind. But only passing attention is given to the day of His death.

Don’t get me wrong—the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a big event! We are saved by His life (Romans 5:10). But we must first be reconciled to God through Jesus’ death.

Jesus didn’t encourage or sanction the celebration of His resurrection or Easter Sunday, and He wouldn’t have approved of the many unusual symbols employed as part of the celebration. What do bunny rabbits and painted eggs have to do with the resurrection of the Savior of mankind? Nothing! In fact the bunny rabbits and painted eggs attest to the rich history of promoting a variety of gods, especially the goddess of fertility. Both rabbits and eggs are used as fertility symbols. (Learn more in our online articles “Origin of Easter” and “Easter in the Bible? Translation Error!”)

To focus on what Jesus did and what He wants us to do, let’s look at the story of why He was killed. He was accused of being a king—and so He is!

Jerusalem, A.D. 31

An amazing discussion took place in the city of Jerusalem the year that Jesus Christ died. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, had a real mess on his hands. The Jews were on the verge of revolt because of the brutality of the Romans. In the spring of the year, as the Jews were preparing to celebrate the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, tensions were reaching the breaking point.

Sometime prior to that spring the Romans had brutally slaughtered a group of Galileans while they were offering sacrifices at the temple (Luke 13:1). Pilate led this massacre, no doubt, in an effort to intimidate the Jews and prevent any future violence. According to Josephus, the Galileans were extremely restless under Roman rule. It seems that Pilate took advantage of this incident in Jerusalem to send a message to all the Jews.

Some speculate that this was part of the reason Herod Antipas, the Roman tetrarch for Galilee and Peraea, was at odds with Pilate. It was during the trial of Jesus that they patched up their differences (Luke 23:12). Herod was flattered, it seems, that Pilate brought him into the decision-making process when Jesus was being tried.

Pilate’s Passover dilemma

As the Jews began to flood into Jerusalem for the Passover that year, Pilate sensed there could be violence in the streets unless he did something. Scholars believe that the population of the city would swell by as much as five times during the Passover season. Having that many visitors in Jerusalem gave Pilate sufficient reason to be concerned.

What could he do to minimize the potential for riots?

Accusations against Jesus

This set the stage for a most unusual series of events. During their trial of Jesus, the Jewish leaders tried many ways to prove He was guilty. Eventually they asked Jesus if He was the Son of God.

He answered, “You rightly say that I am” (Luke 22:70).

With this, the Jewish leaders determined that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. Since the Roman government didn’t allow the Jews to exact the death penalty (John 18:31), they took Him to Pilate with charges of blasphemy, “perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King” (Luke 23:2).

Pilate was looking for a way to give Jesus over to the Jews to let them punish Him—beat Him or hurt Him in a way that would cause the problem to go away. But the crowd refused Pilate’s statement, “I find no fault in this Man.” So Pilate decided to send Him to Herod once he heard that Jesus was a Galilean.

“When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked if the Man were a Galilean. And as soon as he knew that He belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent Him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time” (Luke 23:6-7).

The King and His Kingdom

For more than three years, Jesus of Nazareth had traveled from Galilee in the north to the Judean wilderness in the south. Wherever He went He preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand and the time for all to repent was now (Mark 1:15). The true gospel message is the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus Christ accepted the title King of the Jews, but He is much more than the king of the Jews. He is soon to be the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). He will rule the Kingdom of God, which will be set up on earth at His second coming. He refers to this as “My kingdom” (Luke 22:30).

When Jesus was asked by Pilate if He was the king of the Jews, He responded, “It is as you say” (Luke 23:3). The other charges against Jesus fell by the wayside, but eventually this one stuck. The Jews were under the subjugation of the Romans, and they had no king. Herod the Great was their last king. For Jesus to take the titles of King and Christ was dangerous.

Even though Jesus knew He was going to die for this, He wasn’t about to deny who He was.

The death of the King

Before the day ended, Pilate washed his hands of the whole matter, declaring Jesus to be innocent.

Then Jesus was severely beaten, mocked and attacked for the next few hours. Finally He was nailed to a cross or an upright stake. (Scripture doesn’t definitively tell us the shape, and the Greek word stauros means an upright stake.) Then He suffered in excruciating pain for the next six hours.

Darkness came over the earth for three hours, and afterward He was dead. The Son of God, the King of the Jews and the coming King of Kings died just outside the walls of Jerusalem.

Remembering Jesus’ death on Passover

If Jesus Christ had never died for our sins, we would have no hope of the resurrection. We commemorate His death each year on the night of Passover, as He commanded (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).If Jesus Christ had never died for our sins, we would have no hope of the resurrection. We commemorate His death each year on the night of Passover, as He commanded (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

We deeply appreciate the significance of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is no biblical instruction to celebrate it. And it did not occur on Easter Sunday. Jesus rose from the grave late on Saturday afternoon (not the first day of the week), three full days and three full nights after being laid in the tomb. When the women showed up before sunrise on the first day of the week, Jesus was already resurrected and the tomb was empty (Mark 16:6).

A different type of king

Throughout history, whenever a king dies, there has normally been tremendous pomp and ceremony honoring and praising the dead king. Jesus Christ was a different type of king. He was not the arrogant, “you must serve me” type of king. He declared Himself to be a servant. He stated that He came to serve (Mark 10:45).

Imagine that! A king who sought to serve others. Historically, the most common trait of kings (and queens) has been one of self-indulgence: “I will live like a king, but not you. You are my servants.”

A momentous death

On a lonely hillside outside the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 31, a king died.

As He suffered, the world went dark for a period of three hours (Matthew 27:45). At His death, the curtain that separated the holy place from the holy of holies in the temple was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). Graves were opened, and people known in the community who had died in the days prior were resurrected (Matthew 27:52-53). An earthquake rocked the area (Matthew 27:54).

All of Jerusalem knew that something of great magnitude had taken place.

Yes, not just a king, but the King had died. He gave His life to make salvation possible.

Passover: commemorating the death of the King

To obey this King, we, as Christians, are to gather on the evening of the 14th of Abib, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. In Scripture it is called the Passover and is described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11.

In celebrating Easter, people use rabbits and painted eggs as religious symbols. But in keeping the Passover, we recognize each year that Jesus Christ gave His life to forgive our sins and provide the hope of eternal life. He is truly our King who came to serve!

The resurrection of Jesus is an important part of God’s plan to save mankind, but without the death of our Savior, we would have no hope. For that reason we are commanded to commemorate the death of the King—Jesus Christ, the Savior of all mankind.

Learn more about Passover and the other festivals of the Bible in our free booklet From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You.

About the Author

Jim Franks

Jim Franks is president of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He and his wife, Sharron, live in the Dallas, Texas, area.

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