A Game of Thrones

   Written by on November 3, 2017 at 10:08 am

logo-smith-gregIn George R. R. Martin’s novels, A Game of Thrones, which has become an HBO television series, the nobles from the Seven Kingdoms of the continent of Westeros battle it out to determine which family will emerge victorious and sit on the Iron Throne.  Meanwhile, wildlings from the north of Westeros, driven by need and an advancing army of the dead, also prepare to attack.  Across the Narrow Sea, a new queen rises, backed by her own forces and the power of three dragons.  Martin’s sweeping fantasy epic is marked by constant intrigue, murders, lies, betrayals, and couplings of many kinds.  In a titular quote, Cersei Lannister says, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.  There is no middle ground.”

A lot of people feel this way about the thrones they protect.  They feel like their lives depend on their upwardly mobile career, their influence on the school board, or the little territories they control in the local church or civic organizations.  For these folks, winning is everything, and control is what it’s all about.  Toward the end of John’s Gospel, powerful players strut and fret their hour upon the stage, determined to keep their thrones and defend their power in the face of a new threat—a Carpenter from Nazareth, whom many people called the King of the Jews.

As in Martin’s books, the priesthood in John’s Gospel is both corrupt and just as interested in wielding political power as they are leading the people spiritually.  Jealous of Jesus’ popularity, incensed by His unorthodox teaching, and threatened by the fear of a failed revolt against the Romans, the High Priest decides it’s better to have Jesus killed than allow Him to continue.  Jesus is betrayed and arrested, then tried by the High Priest.  After that, Jesus is sent to Governor Pilate, who is reluctant to pass sentence because he is afraid of the real power—not the religious leaders or even the soldiers he commands—but the people.  Yet, Pilate is between a rock and a hard place, because he must also answer to Rome.  In Pilate’s inquisition of Jesus in chapter eighteen, the reader observes, “With all this talk of kingdoms and thrones, it doesn’t look like the one who has the power is really in charge.”

Jesus is quick to point out that God, not Pilate, is in charge.  “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)  Even so, Jesus is brutally treated, and in a real-life scene that rivals the violence of George R.R. Martin’s books, he is scourged so badly that the flesh is ripped from His back.

In chapter nineteen, the game of thrones continues, with Pilate and the people trying to figure out who’s really in charge.  In a mockery of majesty, Roman soldiers press a crown of thorns on Jesus’ brow, set a purple robe on him, slap him across the face, and shout, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  Even though he sits on the throne, Pilate lets the people tell him what to do as they shout for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Never mind that only Roman law could call for the death penalty—and even then, for criminal actions and not religious opinions—Pilate allows the priests to tell him, “By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.” (v. 7)

The Bible says that when they say this, Pilate becomes more frightened than ever, because while he had known the people were demanding the crucifixion of a heretic, he had no idea that they were asking him to kill a god.  So he asks Jesus where He is from.  But Jesus does not answer.  Pilate asks, “Why don’t you talk to me?…Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (v. 10)

Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (v. 11)  With this one statement, Jesus shows that He may be beaten, but He is not defeated.  The One who seems powerless is about to take His throne on the cross.  The thorns He wears are more valuable than gold, because while He already was the Son of God, this crown earns Him the title of Savior.  Pilate may have at his disposal a legion of soldiers, but if His Father had willed it, Jesus could have commanded a legion of angels to come to His aid.  The priests may have influence, the people may have power, but God is in control.

But, still the game of thrones goes on, with only one of its players knowing the final score.  The religious leaders remind Pilate that if he lets Jesus go, he is no friend of Caesar’s.  Pilate feels the weight of the Roman crown bearing down on him, but he also fears the people—so he lets them decide.  They call for Jesus’ execution, and the governor capitulates, even though he finds no fault with the accused.  They take Jesus away and crucify Him.  Pilate has a sign placed above Jesus’ head that reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (v. 19)

Again, the game of thrones continues.  The religious leaders that Pilate’s inscription actually labels Jesus as their king.  They can’t quite tell if he’s being sarcastic or serious, so they offer a correction.  “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’” (v. 21) Pilate retorts, “No, what I have written, I have written.” (v. 22)  So Jesus, already recognized as Son of God by many, is crowned, enthroned on the cross, and literally declared to be royalty by a representative of the greatest empire the world has ever known.  The game of thrones is complete—In what looks like defeat, Jesus has triumphed.  Cersei Lannister said, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”  But Jesus has done both!

In this game, Jesus proves that when each player thinks they have the power, the religious leaders, the people, the soldiers, and Pilate are really living a farce.  In fact, God is maneuvering for the win.  The Bible says it’s all about Jesus, not us.  “Through [Jesus]God created…the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)  Because it’s all about Jesus, Revelation 4:10 depicts twenty-four rulers casting their crowns at His feet, and rejecting their own glory. In our lives, we must be careful lest we think too highly of our own position and power as well.  Don’t even bother trying to play the game of thrones, setting yourself up as if you’re in control—because God is on the throne.  Instead, trust the One who was willing to bear the scourge, the thorns, and the cross for you.  Let Him be the King of your life.

©2017 Greg Smith

About Greg Smith

Greg Smith is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County, VA with his wife and children. To read more of Greg’s writings check out his blog at revgregsmith.blogspot.com.

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