They Killed the King.
Jesus spoke and acted with authority, like a king. Through his words and especially his deeds, he revealed the truth and reality of the kingdom of God and of his own kingship. As Peter later described it, Jesus was “a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst” (Acts 2:22). And again, “He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:37-38). He demonstrated his royal identity.
The common people received Jesus well at first, and many wondered and discussed whether he might be the Messiah, the long awaited king who would deliver them (John 4:29; 7:25-31, 40-43; 10:24; Matthew 12:23). The leaders of the Jews as a whole, however, never embraced him, and they ultimately turned the common people against him too. Jesus wasn’t what they were expecting or wanting in a Messiah. Plus, he exposed their hypocrisy and sin. Jesus’ overt statement that he was the Christ, the Son of God gave them the opportunity they sought to get rid of him (Mark 14:61-64). So they handed him over to the Romans and asked for a capital sentence. Since Jesus wasn’t a Roman citizen, this meant crucifixion. Even though he was killed by lawless men, the blame lay with the Jews in Jerusalem and their leaders. Without realizing it, they had killed the king (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 5:30; 7:52).
About noon on the Friday Jesus was crucified, an eerie darkness came across the land. It was also a very dark day for his disciples. The words and deeds of Jesus during his ministry had indicated that he was someone extremely special, come from God. He had told his followers he was going to suffer and die and even rise from the dead. But they hadn’t really understood it and didn’t seem to remember it now. They “had hoped” he was the one who would redeem Israel (Luke 24:21), but now their hopes had been dashed. Though the Romans had dressed Jesus in purple, put a crown of thorns on his head, and even posted a sign saying he was the king of the Jews, it was all in mockery. No one was discussing whether Jesus was the Messiah anymore. The horror and humiliation of Roman crucifixion would have made it especially difficult to see anything glorious about him. That Friday was a dark day indeed.
In fact, however, Jesus’ death was a part of God’s plan (Acts 2:23). While the passages above show that it is correct to say they killed him, the realization that it was done according to God’s plan and foreknowledge shows that this was not a matter of God’s will being thwarted. They killed Jesus, to be sure, but Jesus had also given up his life freely, because that was the will of his Father (John 10:11-18). God had not only planned it but had even written it into the Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47).
Later it would also be revealed that the crucifixion was a matter of the king sacrificing his life for his people. What appeared to be the moment of his defeat was actually a great victory for all who follow him. His death would have suggested to some that he was a sinner, and in a certain sense he indeed became a sinner for our sake (2 Corinthians 5:21). We now understand that Jesus died for our sins and that his death is a focal point of God’s grace. But none of that was apparent on the day he died.
Surprisingly, when the early proclaimers told non-Christians about Jesus’ death, they did not go into its atoning significance—not according to the book of Acts. When I first noticed this, it not only surprised me, it bothered me—a lot. For a while I even tried to reason that they must surely have proclaimed that Jesus died for our sins but that for some reason Luke simply hadn’t recorded it in his accounts in Acts. But then I realized I was reasoning based on what I thought Scripture should have said instead of what it actually does say. Though the Letters in the New Testament clearly teach that Jesus died for our sins, that is not the point the early spokespersons made about it when they spoke the gospel to non-Christians as recorded in the book of Acts.
Instead, they emphasized the necessity for the Christ to suffer, and that, by killing him, the Jews had unwittingly cooperated with God’s plan (Acts 2:23; 3:13-18; 13:27-28). In doing so, they fulfilled what God had written into the Scriptures. Next time we will see that the apostle’s emphasis on the Jews killing Jesus also served as a foil for something else truly remarkable that God did and that the early spokespersons always proclaimed immediately after referring to his death. Spoiler alert: the story does NOT end here!
Until we get to the next segment of the story, though, it is worth pondering the point made in Acts that it was necessary for God’s anointed one to suffer and die. The Jews didn’t have room for a suffering king. Do we? Can we fit suffering and glory together in Jesus? The personal implications of this raise an even tougher question, Do we have room for both suffering and glory in our own journey? Glory is coming one day, to be sure, but Christ showed us that suffering comes before glory. Can we accept suffering in his name in our lives?