King Jesus

By Marnie Barrell


An extension of Jesus' confrontation with Pontius Pilate, in the form of a courtroom drama.  Explores the idea of what Jesus' kingship might have meant to those around him.  Themes of truth, divided loyalty, authority.


Witnesses 1 and 2, (Male), 
Witness 3 (female), 
Jesus (if numbers permit – non-speaking, dressed in purple robe and crown of thorns.)


Reading: a dramatic reading of John 18:33-38
(After the Gospel reading, Jesus stands aside guarded by a soldier.  The Prosecution and Defense lawyers come forward as Pilate sits. The witnesses remain seated to the side until called.)
Pilate:   What is truth?  Hmmm.  (takes seat in centre)   Well now, we’ll settle this business properly.  The prisoner is accused of being a king.  It’s my job to deal with rival kings.  We have no king but Caesar! We acknowledge no authority greater than Caesar’s. Let’s see (looks at charge sheet) I see the prisoner has entered no plea and has no legal representation.  Do we have someone to act as counsel for the defence?
D:         Here, my lord.
Pilate:   And the prosecutor?
P:         Here, my lord.
Pilate:   You may proceed.
P:         My lord, the prisoner is charged with setting himself up as King of the Jews, claiming an authority that belongs to the Emperor.  Many witnesses have heard him make such statements.  Call the first witnesses.
(Witnesses 1 and 2 step up)
W1:     The story goes that when he was born wise men came seeking the new king foretold by the stars.  They thought he must be one of King Herod’s lot.
W2:      Yeah, they brought presents fit for royalty.  That’s what my mum’s auntie’s second cousin reckoned, anyway.
D:         Objection! That’s just hearsay and rumour.  And anyway, how can a baby be responsible for stories told about him?
Pilate:   Objection sustained.  Move on please.
W1:      He said lots of things against the Jewish authorities, how they let the people down and don’t do their job of standing up for the way of God.
W2:      He’s got a point there, if you ask me.  Pack of bloodsuckers.  Never done a thing for me.
W1:      Shut up, you’re not helping.  We know the Jewish authorities are friendly with the Roman administration, so it sounds like a criticism of Rome.  And at one stage the people definitely wanted him to declare himself king and stand up to you Romans.  He could easily have got some political power.
D:         But he didn’t, did he?  He refused to call himself king, even when the crowds pressured him.  Stick to the facts, we’re not interested in your opinions.
W1:      Well, er - actually he did reject the idea of being king at that time.
W2:      But hang on – he deliberately appeared in Jerusalem the way the old prophecies say: “Zion, behold your king, riding on a donkey”.  And the people acclaimed him as king, the son of David.  That’s not hearsay, that’s a fact.  I was there.
W1:      You were at the back of the crowd, shorty.  He could have been riding an aardvark for all you know.
D:         So what?  Lots of people ride donkeys.  How do you know his motives?
P:         Objection!  What do his motives matter?  We want the plain truth, just give us the facts.
Pilate:   Objection overruled.  The prisoner’s motives are clearly relevant to the case.  He at least accepted the crowd’s acclamation.  Playing king by acting out a prophecy is pretty serious stuff.
Soldier: Permission to speak, sir?  My soldiers had a bit of fun with him when he was arrested – they dressed him in a crown of thorns and a purple robe, smacked him around a bit.  You wanna be a king, you gotta look the part.  Image is everything, they said.  Couldn’t get him to argue back, though.  He just stood there with this purple thing hanging off him, didn’t say a word.  We thought he’d be a real nutter, you know, weird and raving, good for a laugh.
Pilate:   Thank you soldier, that will do.  Don’t want people thinking police brutality here.  Bad PR.
D:         I think you’ll remember, my lord, that he refused to make any statement when he was arrested.  He neither confirmed nor denied the King title.
Pilate:   That’s true.  He didn’t seem interested in the question.  He said King was my choice of words, not his.  He only wanted to talk about his mission to speak the truth, whatever that means.  But he did say he had a kingdom – just not a part of this world.  I have no idea what he meant.
P:         So he has a kingdom after all!  What other world than this could there be?  He must mean he has followers who’ll rise up to rescue him and proclaim him as a rival to Caesar.
D:         Oh, yeah, right.  Where are all these followers?  I don’t think we have to worry about this.  The crowd will forget him in a week.  Look at the facts.  He’s a poor deluded loser.  He’ll never make the history books. He didn’t cause a revolution, he was never crowned or acknowledged king.  So maybe he had a dream of being great, but hey, who doesn’t?  That’s not a crime, is it?
P:         I think we have to look a bit deeper here, my lord.  He said he has some kind of underground movement, a “kingdom not of this world”.  Maybe “King” is a figure of speech, a different kind of truth.  He has a group that doesn’t respect the Government and the law of the land as the highest authority.  That could cause big trouble in Rome if it spreads.
Pilate:   It’s given me trouble enough governing these Jews, I can tell you.  Their religion matters more to them than being part of the global community, the great Roman Empire.  This Jesus seems to be taking it to an extreme.  Even the Jewish authorities find him a bit over the top.
P:         And that’s the point, my lord.  There’s nothing more dangerous than these people who believe they have the truth direct from God.   It justifies any kind of unlawful activity if God told you to do it.  Overthrow the government, disobey the authorities, challenge the way things are – no problem if God’s on your side.  Of course, they can’t handle other people who also have the truth straight from God and it’s something different!
Pilate:   True enough.  And if so, then it doesn’t even help if we execute him.  We’ll just create a martyr and the message will still go on.  In death he’ll still be a king to people who followed him in life.  Mad living prophets are bad enough, mad dead prophets are still worse.
P:         And then there really will be a kingdom not of this world – an invisible secret society within Caesar’s kingdom, undermining it from the inside.  The man is clearly guilty of plotting against Caesar.  Even his death could work against law and order in the Empire.
D:         Oh, be reasonable!  Do you think he wants to be killed?  Is that part of his plot too?  This is ridiculous.  Call the next witness.  (Witnesses 1,2 step down, witness 3 steps up) Now, madam.  I believe you know the prisoner personally.  Would you call him an ambitious man?
W3:      Not at all, sir.  He’s one of us common people.  He’s only concerned about serving God and doing good.  He’s helped a lot of us in a lot of ways.
P:         Surely he’s trying to convert everyone to his way, though.  Society would fall apart if that happened.  That’s what he wants, isn’t it?  To be king of a world that’s run by his rules?
W3:      But sir, if we live by his teaching we’re not evil or anything like that.  He called us to be good Jews, loving God and our neighbours.  How does that make us rebels against society?  We respect his authority because he’s a good man and he seems to know God better than we do.
P:         So he is your king, then?
W3:      Well, we once thought that was where it was all heading, but now we see that he’s something much greater than a king.
D:         Be quiet, you fool!  You’re making it worse for him!  Greater than a king, indeed!  Even Caesar isn’t greater than a king!  Sounds like he’s claiming to be a God or something!
Pilate:   Watch your step!  Don’t speak against the divine Caesar, unless you care to join the prisoner?
D:         Er – no offense intended to the divine Caesar, my lord.  So, woman, is this Jesus setting himself up as being both a king and a god?
W3:      Oh, no, sir!  He’s never said he’s God.  But he does seem to be as close to God as a child to a parent, and he says we can all be like that.
Pilate:   Oh, great.  As if you Jews aren’t crazy enough already, without each one of you having a hotline to Big Daddy!  How do you know he’s not just manipulating you, getting you to do what he wants and calling it God’s will?  Some kind of power-trip for him?
W3:      I can’t prove it exactly.  But he makes sense.  He understands our lives, and what he said fits our values and our experience of God.  He makes us want to be better people and build a better world, where everyone is equal and respected.  That’s real truth as far as I’m concerned.
Pilate:   Sounds pretty subversive to me.  If everyone was equal, the slaves would get uppity.  I’d end up having to wash my own dishes.
P:         There’s another thing.  He said that if he’s killed he’ll rise again in three days, and he’ll come to judge the whole world.  What do you make of that?
Pilate:   Proves he’s a lunatic, I’d say.  Perhaps I’ll just lock him up in a padded room.
W3:      But what if it really happens like that?  Wouldn’t it prove he was telling the truth, and that he really has a power greater than yours?
Pilate:   Shut that woman up!  Arrest her and get her out of here!  If there are more like her, I’ll be sweating.  If I execute him, people like her will easily be convinced he’s risen from the dead.  They’ll be spreading his message like wildfire.  He’d be more of a nuisance dead than alive.  His followers will be like an ants’ nest, impossible to stamp out.
P:         We’ve probably proved he’s not a king in the normal sense, but he’s dangerously like the king of a secret society springing up everywhere among us.  Dead or alive he’s a menace to Caesar.
Pilate:   That's it.  He has to go.  Pity in a way, but there it is.  Crucify him. I’ve ordered a sign to be hung over him saying “King of the Jews”.
D:         Why not just “He said he was King of the Jews”?
Pilate:   Nobody’s proved that he DID say that.  What I’ve written, I’ve written.  I have a sinking feeling we haven’t heard the last of this.
W3:      And what if he does rise again?  What if he does come to judge you all, you brutes?  What will you say when you see him?  Long live King Jesus!  Long live King Jesus…..
(Soldier drags her away still shouting.  If there is a Jesus, he’s dragged away too.  The others stare after her looking worried.)
Copyright Marnie Barrell 2003, all rights reserved.
This script may be used without royalty payment, provided no charge is made to the performance. In return, the author would like to be told of any performance. She may be contacted at: