28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover. 29 So Pilate, the governor, went out to them and asked, “What is your charge against this man?”
30 “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” they retorted.
31 “Then take him away and judge him by your own law,” Pilate told them.
“Only the Romans are permitted to execute someone,” the Jewish leaders replied. 32 (This fulfilled Jesus’ prediction about the way he would die.)
33 Then Pilate went back into his headquarters and called for Jesus to be brought to him. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
34 Jesus replied, “Is this your own question, or did others tell you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate retorted. “Your own people and their leading priests brought you to me for trial. Why? What have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “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.”
37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime. 39 But you have a custom of asking me to release one prisoner each year at Passover. Would you like me to release this ‘King of the Jews’?”
40 But they shouted back, “No! Not this man. We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
I only want to make one point today. What Jesus says here about his kingdom not being of this world, not being an earthly kingdom, we tend to think of that meaning that Jesus’ kingdom was a spiritual kingdom not a material kingdom. This feeds into the already/not yet thinking so popular in some circles (including the Vineyard, which I am part of). But is that what Jesus meant here? Is he drawing a distinction between here and now worldly kingdoms and his own, somewhere else and not now (or not fully now) kingdom? Read it again closely, does the text say that or do we read that into the text?
I think the most obvious thing Jesus is saying here (and remember, we use the obvious parts to help with the less obvious parts) is that his followers are not going to engage in violent opposition to Pilate’s Roman soldiers. We already saw Jesus speak to protect his followers during the garden arrest, at least part of what he is doing here is trying to protect them from Pilate. More than that, remember what I shared last week about the Spirit-Paraclete coming to convince the world that its ways of expressing authority have been condemned (click here to read that)? What Jesus says in v. 36 here echoes that. Jesus is not saying his kingdom is not here and now. He has been declaring the kingdom to already be here throughout his ministry. Here, let me give my own paraphrase:
In v. 36, Jesus basically says, “my kingdom doesn’t do things the way your kingdom does them, Pilate. If it did, my people would fight to set me free, but that’s not how we do things.” In v. 37, Pilate thinks he has Jesus pinned, “You said kingdom, so that means you do claim to be a king?” To which Jesus responds, “You use the words ‘king’ and ‘kingdom’ because you can only think in those limited categories, but I came to tell the truth – that your way of ruling people has been condemned. The people who understand this will gravitate to me and that’s how my alternate kingdom will grow, not through conquest, but through shared love of the truth.”
Please understand, I am not suggesting an entire takedown of the already/not yet idea. That idea does have some good, textual basis. But this is not part of that and by reading it in (which I think a lot of people do, even ones not associated with already/not yet teaching), we miss what Jesus is actually saying to Pilate. Jesus is speaking prophetically to a representative of Rome, explaining the basic defect in their system. And I do think we sometimes make too much of already/not yet, using it as a shortcut instead of doing the work to answer hard theological questions. (Looks like another topic I will need to explore next year.)
In short, Jesus tells Pilate, “I don’t do kingdom like that,” which is a message many present day church leaders need to hear as well. We are more prone to fight than to love, more prone to argue against than stand with, more prone to all those expressions of worldly power that have already been condemned. Jesus gives us a very different way of leading and influencing, but it involves washing feet (literally and figuratively), so we would rather not. When we lead more like Annas, Caiaphas, or Pilate than like Jesus, we undermine the work we are trying to do for the kingdom. Because we don’t do kingdom like that.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.