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Jesus Death as King of the Jews

I now can mount a second argument for why Jesus almost certainly called himself the messiah during his lifetime.  Remember: by that I do not mean that Jesus wanted to lead a military rebellion against the Romans to establish himself as king. On the contrary, I think Jesus was not a supporter of a “military solution.”   Jesus was an apocalypticist who believed that God himself would take action and do what was needed – overthrow the evil ruling authorities in a cataclysmic show of power and destroy all that was opposed to himself, and so bring in a good, utopian kingdom on earth.  And Jesus would be made the king.

I don’t need here to give the extensive reasons for thinking that Jesus held to this kind of apocalyptic view in general – I’ve talked about it at length both in a number of my books and on the blog.  The question here is the more narrow one: did Jesus think he would be the king of the coming kingdom?  I have given one strong reason for thinking so: he taught his disciples that they would themselves be seated on thrones as rulers in the future kingdom.

Someone on the blog has asked why that means Jesus himself would be king over them.  It’s a good question.  The answer is that we have to think in terms of what a first century person in the Roman empire thought a kingdom was.  Kingdoms have kings.  They don’t have twelve kings.  That would be twelve kingdoms.  Every kingdom and empire in antiquity had one ruler (until the Tetrarchy; but that’s a completely other story).  Often they had rulers under them: client kings, administrators, governors, and so on.  But ultimately there was one king.

That’s what Jesus appears to be imagining the kingdom of God like.  There would be a king.  And under him twelve other rulers for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.   So who would be the solitary king?  The only reason the twelve would rule is because they followed and obeyed their lord and master Jesus.  He ruled them now.  He would rule them then.  He would be the king.

And now for another reason for thinking so.  It is beyond any real doubt that…

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Readers’ Mailbag December 4, 2015
Judas and the Messianic Secret



  1. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  January 10, 2016

    so all that claim about “my kingdom is not of this world” was john’s inventions?
    we have read about jesus’ kingdom in matthew, it seems more violent than earthly one. in jesus’ mind (or is it matthew’s mind?) angels can be deployed to do violence at any time.

    any other clues why the “my kingdom is not…” sayings are inventions and not historical?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2016

      Yes, this would be a Johannine saying, not something that Jesus said. To see the logic of that you’d have to see how scholars reconstruct the words of the historical Jesus. Again, I’d suggest my book on Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet….

  2. Avatar
    Kazibwe Edris  January 11, 2016

    Hello Dr Ehrman
    i quote:
    mark 14 :61
    Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah,[j] the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 Jesus said, “I am; and
    ‘you will see the Son of Man
    seated at the right hand of the Power,’
    and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

    i am not saying any of this is historical or that this conversation did take place. but let us assume that the conversation did take place. we have seen in mark that jesus’ coming kingdom would be violent. we have seen according to jewish thought what the messiah is going to do.
    when john said, “my kingdom is not of this world…” is he deliberately contradicting what is said in mark above?

    i quote :
    The High Priest Questions Jesus
    19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

    20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

    22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.

    23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

    comment: what happen to all that “you will see the son of man coming on clouds” talk?
    so jesus did not come and john had to create “this is not my world” ?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2016

      Yes, John’s view of the kingdom is very different from the view of Mark (and of Jesus, I would argue)

  3. Avatar
    Machaon  August 14, 2017

    The extraordinary and historical result was that, with the rise to power of Constantine the Great, Jesus (as the Christ) DID become ‘king’ not only over Judea but over the entire Roman Empire in a symbolic and constitutional sense.
    It just took 280 years to achieve.
    There is an epic irony that the very charge for which the Romans executed Jesus resulted in his exaltation to being the constitutional justification for kingship after Constantine’s reported conversion in 312 CE, a justification that underwrites monarchies in the West to this very day.

  4. Avatar
    Hngerhman  January 19, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    I’m sure you’ve answered this before, so apologies for retreading ground.

    I’m trying to consolidate my understanding around Jesus’s final week in Jerusalem. Namely, (a) what was Jesus’s blasphemy that took his activities from lower level “troublemaking” to a high religious crime (that would merit convening Sanhedrin) which also dovetails with (b) his execution by Pilate for a claim of kingship; given that Pilate’s sense of guilt around (b) and the Sanhedrin‘s sense of guilt around (a) may overlap in this particular instance, but are distinct issues at their respective levels of analysis. And (c) how would the authors of the gospels (or their sources) have had any informational access to the inner workings of either trial (aside from knowing their outcomes and then reverse engineering an account from there)?

    So, succinctly:
    (A) what was Jesus’s blasphemy?
    (B) how did this blasphemy interact with the enemy-of-the-state conviction?
    (C) by what means/evidence would the gospels (or their sources) have any insight on what went on inside either the Sanhedrin or Pilate’s trials, aside from reverse reasoning from their outcomes?

    Many thanks in advance!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 20, 2019

      My own view is that there wasn’t an issue of blasphemy. That’s a later accretion to the stories. I lay out my views of Jesus’ last days and hours at some length in a chapter in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, if you want to see what I think and why I think it.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  January 20, 2019

        Great – thank you. Purchasing now.

        • Avatar
          Hngerhman  January 21, 2019

          Thanks so much for pointing me in the right direction.

          Below I (overly simply) summarize in my own words the view I believe to be expressed in Chapt 12 of Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet, to ensure I have it approximately correct:

          (A) there likely wasn’t a blasphemy charge per se, it’s more that the sum total of Jesus’s disruptive activities rose to a sufficient level such that the Temple-related authorities arrested him, and then turned him over for a (likely fatal) sedition charge (either with that intent at the outset, or post whatever occurred inside the pre-Pilate meeting/trial), and that the blasphemy charge tradition arose later in the retelling of the narrative;

          (B) is thus taken care of by (A); and

          (C) (implicitly, from the analogical point made regarding no stenographer) there is little-to-no evidence other than that the trials occurred (in some form) and their respective outcomes obtained

          Thank you again for pointing me towards the book – it was (perhaps surprisingly) one of yours I hadn’t yet read – and for the clarifying point about the later accretion. Please correct me if my understanding articulated above doesn’t sufficiently encapsulate your thesis in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet (plus the accretion point).

          Very appreciative of your work and generosity of spirit.

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