What Pontius Pilate Can Teach us About Living in the Era of Coronavirus
The scene was electric. Three players were engaged in a battle with cosmic consequences. There were the Jewish leaders, wielders of religious and social power desperate to hold onto it. There was the governmental leader, Pilate, who ruled the region with military and economic power, determined to use it to keep the peace. And then there was one condemned man, brutally flogged and beaten almost beyond recognition, standing helpless in the midst of it all. Or so it seemed.
Pilate, desperate for a political solution that will appease the people, interrogates the condemned man.
“Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:8-9)
Jesus hears the voices of the people outside, urged on by the power of the culture controllers, shouting for him to be crucified. He looks into the eyes of the Roman Prefect, seeking to use his political power to negotiate a way out. Jesus is surrounded by all the might that the world can muster; a kingdom of social power overlaid by a kingdom of military and political power. And what of this scourged and pitiable man caught in the middle?
In this moment, Jesus makes an extraordinary claim.
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
Audacious! Absurd! To believe such a statement one would have to either be mad or…
…have the kind of deep faith that sees the world for what it really is despite all of the displays of power that seem to say otherwise.
In these words of Jesus, we hear the proclamation of the reality of a new form of power, the establishment of a new kingdom, the inauguration of a new king. But the story is even bigger than this. You see, with this king ruling over this kingdom with this power, we have a new understanding of the world and its history. Are you ready?
All human history, all world history, all scientific history is subjugated to this new reality we call salvation history. That is, the story of God’s loving and saving intent from creation to the cross to today is THE history of the world, of the entire cosmos. Theologians call it heilsgeschichte (gotta love that word!). Salvation history, God’s kingdom, heaven’s power, Jesus’ reign – it is the one true reality of the world in which we live. Remember the other words Jesus said to Pilate,
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:35-37)
Three kingdoms are at war; the kingdom of social and cultural power, the kingdom of political and economic power, and the kingdom of God, led by a humble servant filled with grace and truth.
What does this have to do with us in an age of coronavirus? Well, consider this:
- The political powers of our day with all their blustering and antagonism, with all their thirst for control at all cost, they are not the THE power that is ruling our world;
- The economic crisis with its threat to undermine our financial systems and the security they bring is not THE source of our security;
- The current value system of our culture, which breeds antagonism toward all things Christian and seeks to humiliate, shame and intimidate God’s people is not THE truth of this world;
- The history we see unfolding in these days of pandemic and quarantine is only a subset of THE history of God’s will and work unfolding through God’s kingdom for His glory.
The question is, do we see it, do we believe it?
When we watch the news, engage with social media and listen to our neighbors, will we, like Pilate, believe that other powers and other kingdoms are really in charge? Do we see the history of our world disconnected with God’s will and way? Do we live these days in the era of coronavirus as if political leaders, cultural shamers and economic forces are ruling over us, ultimately controlling our lives and future?
Or do we see Jesus, His kingdom come and coming?
Here’s a challenge. Find a 3×5 card and write on it ‘Heilsgeschichte’ and put it next to your TV or computer screen. Let is remind you that no matter what is in the news or on social media, the history that is being played out before us in the world is a subset of the larger story, God’s story that is both woven within and stands over and against everything we see and hear. That is our faith, that is our hope, that is our story.
God give us the eyes to see your kingdom and our place in it.