Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37)
For centuries, God’s people expected a coming Messiah who would be a king.
Not only did God tell the patriarchs that the curse-breaker would be a king (Genesis 3:15; 17:6; 49:10), but he also established a monarchy whose line carried the torch of his promise. God pledged to King David, “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Samuel 7:12). For hundreds of years, faithful Israelites waited for this “root of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:10), this “righteous Branch” of David (Jeremiah 23:5), this ruler from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). They waited for a king.
When the king finally came, however, he walked among his people largely unrecognized. Though they had long expected a king to come, they had not expected this king. He was different from the monarch of their imaginations. But for those who had eyes to see, he was far, far better.
Matthew begins his Gospel by writing, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). In other words, here is the story of Israel’s king, “the Christ” (Greek for Hebrew Messiah, anointed one). But as he goes on to describe the king’s coming in the next two chapters, we see that this king is not as we might have imagined. He is “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2), sure enough, but he is born into poverty, obscurity, and oppression. He is the condescended King.
Though conceived by the Holy Spirit himself (Matthew 1:18; also Luke 1:35), the infant Jesus was born into a family without rank or title, without privilege or power. When threatened with the wrath of King Herod, they had no one to whom they might appeal for help; flight was their only option (Matthew 2:13–15). The boy whom Mary and Joseph welcomed into the world was a king in swaddling cloths, a king born among commoners, a king whose ordinariness made him all but incognito to those in high places.
Herod sat too high upon his throne to see Jesus as anything other than a threat to his own kingship. Indeed, the glory of this newborn king could be seen only by those who took the posture of the magi: “Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2:11).
While Herod raged, and Israel’s scribes lost sleep, the humble fell before Immanuel, and hailed the condescended King.
Three decades later, the king’s condescension went to depths unimaginable: not only from heaven to earth, but from earth to a cross. With his hands and feet pierced, his back lashed and bleeding, the sign above his head told the true story: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). He is the crucified king.
Those looking on had no eyes for such a king. They were waiting for the regal Son of Psalm 2, who would rule the nations with a rod of iron (Psalm 2:9) — forgetting, all the while, the rejected Son of Psalm 22, who would be scorned, poured out, and forsaken (Psalm 22:1, 6, 14). They saw before them a man crushed and condemned; they missed “the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Had Jesus desired, he could have summoned twelve legions of angels to come to his aid (Matthew 26:53). But Jesus did not come to rule from angelic heights. He came to rule from the cross. And so, he wore our curse as his crown (Matthew 27:29); he ascended the cross as his throne (Matthew 27:37); he reigned as king with nails in his hands.
While soldiers stole his clothes, and scribes and elders mocked, all heaven fell before Christ, and hailed the crucified king.
To those looking on, Jesus’s loud cry before dying may have sounded like a last wail of defeat (Matthew 27:50). It was, in fact, his declaration of victory (John 19:30). Christ is not only the condescended and crucified king; he is also the conquering King.
It was only a matter of time, then, until the King returned from enemy lands, bringing the spoils of his victory. It was only a matter of time until death could no longer hold him, and the light that first dawned in Bethlehem would shine out again from the tomb in Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time until his body would take one miraculous breath, and our King would conquer death.
When Jesus’s disciples met their resurrected Lord back in Galilee, they could not stand before his glory. “When they saw him they worshiped him” (Matthew 28:17). Though many still rebel against him, and others steadfastly ignore him, very soon, all the world will likewise fall before Jesus, and hail the conquering King.