For the Love of God, Volume 1/March 28
From Gospel Translations
Exodus 39; John 18; Proverbs 15; Philippians 2
WHEN PILATE ASKS JESUS whether or not he is “the king of the Jews” (John 18:33), what interests him is whether or not Jesus presents some sort of political threat. Is he one of these nationalistic, self-proclaimed “messiahs” who are intent on wresting authority from the Roman superpower? If so, he must suffer a capital sentence.
When Jesus finally replies, his answer is like none that Pilate ever heard: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36). One might profitably spend a lot of time pondering this response. We shall focus on four points:
(1) The meaning of kingdom here cannot have the static sense of realm, as in “the kingdom of Jordan” or “the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” It means something closer to the dynamic sense of kingdominion, of kingly rule, for Jesus focuses on what his “kingdom” is “of” or “from,” i.e., what is the source of his kingly rule. This does not mean there is no domain to this kingdominion, no realm connected with it; there is, as we shall see. But it is not the focus of the use of the term here. (2) Jesus says his kingdom is “not of this world”; it is “from another place.” In other words, all the kingdoms and centers of political strength that human beings construct trace their authority to realities in this world. Not Jesus. His kingdom, his ruling authority, is “from another place”—and readers of this gospel know that that means from heaven, from God himself.
(3) That is why his servants will not fight. His kingdom does not advance and become an empire the way the empires of this world achieve success, viz. inevitably with a great deal of military drive. The kingdom of God does not advance by human armies and literal warrior-saints. One wishes that those who stirred up the Crusades had meditated a little longer on this text. Apparently Pilate believed at least this part of what Jesus was saying, and therefore saw him as no political threat (18:38).
(4) But this does not mean that Jesus is making no claim whatsoever with respect to the kingdoms of this world. He insists he is King Jesus, even if his source of authority is not in this world, and his servants will not defend him by resorting to arms. Nevertheless the time will come when all will acknowledge that he alone is Lord of lords and King of kings (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), and all the kingdoms of this world are destined to become his (Rev. 11:15).