When Pilate caved to the mob’s demand that Jesus be crucified, he had an inscription written on the cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Whether he meant this to be irony or an insult to the Jewish power brokers, the sign created a startling juxtaposition. Pilate affixed the claims of highest authority to the implement of the most shameful execution.
Such is the profound nature of the cross we encounter when we pause to consider who exactly is hanging on the judgment tree. Consider these three statements about Jesus.
1. Jesus is the judge of the world.
In John’s gospel Jesus asserts that he is the judge of the world. Specifically, his Father “has given all judgment to the Son” and “has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:22, 27). In this claim Jesus identified himself with the mysterious Son of Man figure in the prophet Daniel’s vision to whom the Ancient of Days gave “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14).
Jesus’ identity as judge of the world is so essential that he incorporated it into the core message he entrusted to his disciples. According to Peter, Jesus “commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). Paul made reference to the final day on which, “according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).
2. Jesus was judged by the world.
Despite the end-times authority Jesus will wield over all humanity, his mission as he went about preaching and healing was not to judge. “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world” (John 12:47).
For Jesus, saving the world meant subjecting himself to the judgment of those he would one day judge. When Judas brought the mob to arrest Jesus and take him to trial, our Lord reminded a combative Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) When, following a sham trial, the Jewish religious leaders took him to Pilate, Jesus challenged the Roman ruler’s claim to authority over life and death: “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11).
So when we ponder the identity of the one indicted, convicted, and sentenced to the judgment tree, we are beholding the judged Judge of the world.
3. Jesus was judged for the world.
Jesus’ stated capacity to prevent his own judgment communicates the grander purpose in his crucifixion. Later his apostles would capture this by attributing Jesus being “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). For through this human judgment Jesus received upon his shoulders divine judgment. On the cross Jesus became the atoning sacrifice “for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
This truth is nearly too beautiful to bear. The one who will execute the judgment of the world subjected himself to judgment by the world to bear the judgment for the world. The very judgment his Father has authorized him to mete out was borne on his own shoulders.
As we enter Holy Week this Sunday, may our hearts to take in the wonderment, the mystery of this event. May we ponder the judgment Jesus bore in our place and allow the appropriate gratitude to flow. May we tremble over the judgment that remains for those who do not believe. And may we seek to join the apostles’ witness about our sin-bearer to family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who face his final judgment.
“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:46–48).