John 19: Understanding Culture
It is interesting to look at the political atmosphere that surrounded the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as we see in John 19. As Jesus was being crucified, He had a sign placed over His head.
Joh 19:19 And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Joh 19:20 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.
Joh 19:21 Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews.
Joh 19:22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written.
The Jewish priests did not want to identify with Jesus. They did not want people to read the sign and think that Jesus really was very their chosen King. I don’t know if that was because perhaps they were afraid of Roman retribution since earlier in the passage they affirmed that they had no king but Caesar. Maybe they were afraid it might be seen as a rebellion. I don’t know if the motivation was really just because obviously they had Jesus crucified for blasphemy, so they would not want a man they clearly did not approve of labeled a King.
Obviously, it is hard to psychologically analyze what was going on in the minds of these Jewish priests who did not want Jesus to be identified as the King of the Jews, but there was clearly some discomfort about what was happening here related to the culture of the time.
That is something we need to remember while reading the Bible. The Bible is not a record of everything that happened at every single point in history. There were thousands of other people in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. We don’t know what was going on with them. The Bible does tell us parts of history and it tells us what is really important, but it is also valuable as we look at history to see what we know about the culture at the time. Understanding the culture of the time can perhaps think about questions like this one. Why were the Jewish people so uncomfortable with the sign?
Again, the Bible contains all we need to know for salvation. I believe that entirely. However, I think that we can develop a more accurate understanding of certain parts of the Bible if we understand the audience the original books were written for.