In Mark’s gospel he starts by saying he is writing a good story about Jesus, the Christ, God’s son. Right away we meet Jesus claiming that the good news in this story is that God’s Kingdom is here. But it gets even more interesting. It seems that Mark is telling a story about a Kingdom in search of a King.
A kingdom is the place where the king rules, where what the king wants done is accomplished. It doesn’t look like God’s will is being done in the world during the time of Jesus. Before we look at Jesus, there are a few other characters in this gospel that are acting more “kingly.” It’s clear some people thought they were more likely to be the one Israel was waiting for.
Who is the King?
Herod, the only other “king” in the story, tried to prove that he was God’s anointed ruler. During his life he expanded and built up the temple of God in Jerusalem so that the Jewish people would believe that he was the one God had chosen. His part in the story, as Mark tells it, is that he is the one who killed John the Baptist, the messenger preparing the way for God’s king in Mark 1. It doesn’t appear that Herod is the king Mark is waiting for.
The other contender for ruling power is Bar’abbas. In Mark 15 we read, “Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection” (NRSV). Insurrection. Rebellion. This man was no common criminal; he had been a leader in a movement to overthrow Rome and set up a new ruler in Caesar’s place. He fought violence with violence, and the people loved it. They shout for Pilate to release Bar’abbas to them, rather than Jesus. Maybe if Rome released the one trying to bring insurrection, he’d be able to try again! This can’t be the king that Mark is waiting for.
Then there’s Jesus. He goes out of his way to keep his identity secret during his earthly ministry. It’s as if he’s waiting for the right time. Jesus is on his way to receive his crown and it wouldn’t be right to make his kingship public until his “coronation day.”
When we finally see what Mark thinks is Jesus’ coronation day, it is an absurd scene. The first and only time Jesus is explicitly called “King” is when Pilate nails a sign above his head while Jesus is hanging on the cross (Mark 15:26). A king would receive a crown, a robe and scepter to signify their new authority, yet Jesus is crowned with thorns, and robed in shame. Instead of a scepter, he’s beaten with a club and mocked by the soldiers. Even the Jewish Priests mock Jesus as he's on the cross saying, "Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe" (Mark 15:32).
This looks nothing like the coronation of God’s anointed king! How can the king allow himself to be treated like this? If Jesus is anything, it seems he must be a failed king. “We backed the wrong man,” his followers thought. “We had hoped . . . but we were wrong!” A king, killed by the enemies he was supposed to overthrow, is a failed king. Period.
The King is Risen!
But that’s not the end of this story! Easter Sunday breaks into this bleak parody with an unexpected word of hope and victory. Bar’abbas brought insurrection, but Jesus brings resurrection. Resurrection makes all those parodies true: The crown of thorns, the purple robe, the title “Son of God” — all of it is true! Nobody thought it would turn out like this! But when Jesus rose from the dead it proved that God had actually made Jesus King. The will of the King was accomplished in his Kingdom on earth!
During Easter week, we do not remember a story of a failed king who died before he could bring his kingdom. Mark is writing the story of how Jesus became king. The cross is not something Jesus had to endure so that one day he might become king. The cross is his coronation.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. – Colossians 2:15 (NIV)
We don’t live in a dualistic world where Good and Evil battle as equals. Jesus is king and has defeated evil at the cross! How can you invite others into that reality this week?
As you reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, is there any area in your life where Jesus is not King? What would it take to let him rule there?
You can trust Jesus to be a good King.