Pilate was trapped. He knew that the prisoner was innocent, that whatever claims he had been making to kingship were far different than the usual routine of Messianic fervor in Palestine. But he also knew that the hostile crowd of Jews (stirred up by the religious leadership) were determined to have this man executed, and the last thing he needed was a report to reach Caesar’s ears that the Governor of Syria tolerated self-appointed kings. So justice gave way to self-preservation.
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." So he delivered him over to them to be crucified (John 19:14-16).
“We have no king but Caesar.” This was certainly an astonishing claim for Jews to make, especially during the Passover week, when patriotic fervor was at its peak. At the very time when they were remembering the victory the Lord gave Israel over a foreign oppressor, the Jews present before Pilate swore their allegiance to Caesar.
This wasn’t simply a matter of rejecting Jesus as the Christ. Regardless of what these people thought about Jesus, their loyalty belonged to another King besides Tiberius. Yahweh – the LORD – was the true King of the Jews.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:4-7)
The desire of the people for a human king was really a rejection of the LORD as king. And by the same token, when the mob professed its allegiance to “no king but Caesar,” it wasn’t simply rejecting Jesus. It was rejecting the LORD. This is the tragic choice that Jesus warned about. “The one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).