Summary: As Christians, we are commanded to honor our leaders, to pray for them, to obey them but Psalm 146 cautions us not to put our trust in them or praise them in the same manner in which we trust and praise God.
Jesus stands before Roman’s highest and most powerful representative in Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. Pontus Pilate looks at Him with a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. He absolutely hates being involved in these petty local squabbles. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asks. Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked Him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:34-38).
“If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). There is a profound irony in Jesus’ statement. It sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? “If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews” (John 18:36). It sounds hopeless because no one is fighting for Him, is there? He has not only been handed over to the Jews but handed over to Pilate, who is the most powerful political and military authority in the region. And yet, Jesus is far from helpless or hopeless. “But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). Jesus’ power and authority doesn’t come from Caesar or from Rome. “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3) … and who knows that better than Son of God Himself.
At the moment, Pilate believes that he is the most powerful man in the room … and in the eyes of world, he is right. As a Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate had the power of Rome, with all its wealth and military strength, backing him up. His duties as Prefect included such mundane tasks as setting and collecting taxes and managing construction projects … but his most crucial responsibility was that of maintaining law and order … and he was willing to do whatever he had to do in order to maintain his power and his control. What he couldn’t negotiate he would accomplish with brute force. His word was law and when he spoke, he spoke with the authority of Rome.
Standing before him was a “man” who didn’t seem like much of a threat. A carpenter from Nazareth. A wandering “prophet” with a few followers. As Jesus Himself admitted, no army to fight for Him, no one to defend Him. And yet, this innocuous carpenter, this prophet, who preached about the love of their Jewish god, this plain man performed acts of power beyond anything that Pilate or Caesar could possibly imagine. How many people had Pilate cured of leprosy? Or blindness? How many lame now walked the streets of Jerusalem or plowed their fields or plied their trades because Pillate had healed them? How many people had Pilate put to death, and how many had this plain-looking carpenter from Nazareth brought back to life? Pilate had the power of life and death over the body, but Jesus had the power of life and death over the soul.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3). The Jewish historian Philo described Pilate as a man and a politician who was “naturally inflexible … a blend of self-will and relentlessness” … a petty and unpredictable tyrant who was “vindictive and quick tempered.” He was cruel, corrupt, and inhuman … a mid-level politician with Jewish and Samaritan blood on his hands.
After interrogating Jesus, Pilate went back out to Jesus’ accusers and told them: “I find no case against Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit … with Roman blood on his hands (John 18:38b-40).
Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they dressed Him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking Him in the face.
Pilate goes out for a third time and said to them: “Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no case against Him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” (John 19:1-5). “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help” (Psalm 146:3).