A King? Yes and No.
Prepared by Dr. John Marshall
John 18:33-34 (Holman) Then Pilate went back into the headquarters, summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?”
Pilate entered the Judgment Hall to begin questioning Jesus. Pilate was allowed to condemn Jesus so that God might not have to condemn us. Christ let Himself suffer the indignity of being counted a criminal that we might not have to suffer the same shame. He was treated as an enemy to make us God’s friends.
In all four Gospels, “Are You the King of the Jews?” is Pilate’s first question to Jesus. My guess is, Pilate accented the You. You?!?! Pilate, probably expecting a ranting, raving revolutionary, was evidently stunned by what he saw in Jesus. Could this carpenter be the one the leaders said Rome should fear?
Pilate probably expected from Jesus a simple no to the question, but the subject was too complicated for an easy answer. If Pilate was worried about Caesar being overthrown, Jesus’ answer would have been no. If Pilate was speaking of the predicted King of Israel, Jesus’ answer would have been yes.
Rather than give Pilate a drawn-out explanation, Jesus took charge of the conversation. He became the interrogator. In what sense did Pilate use the word King? Did he have hard evidence, or was he proceeding solely on hearsay?
John 18:35 “I’m not a Jew, am I?” Pilate replied. “Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”
Pilate was not concerned about religious superstitions or theological wranglings. His only worry was whether or not Jesus was a threat to Rome.
Had Pilate maintained this attitude, Christ would have been freed. Jesus was never found guilty of treason against Rome. Pilate eventually condemned Him solely on the basis of religious accusations made in a religious courtroom.
Pilate confessed he had no charge of his own to bring against Jesus. Pilate probably knew nothing in advance about this case regarding a Galilean peasant. His knowledge was most likely limited to only what the religious leaders told him. Knowing only bits and pieces about the case, Pilate was perplexed. Had he known the whole story, he would have been completely dumbfounded.
To the Procurator, this case was bizarre. Pilate found it unusual that the accusation of treason to Rome was brought against Jesus by His own people. The religious leaders usually supported anyone who asserted Israel’s right to national liberty, but were now bringing to trial one who claimed to be their king.
For the religious leaders to surrender a would-be political leader in times when zeal for independence was at a fever pitch made Pilate suspicious. Pilate figured where there was smoke, there had to be fire. He wanted to know what crime Jesus had committed to turn likely supporters into bitter rivals. Surely Jesus had done something horrible to turn His own people against Him.
Had Jesus truly been guilty of what the Jewish leaders accused Him, they would have never brought Him to trial. The religious leaders who accused Jesus of treason against Rome were not paragons of loyalty to Caesar. They charged Jesus with the crime they were guilty of – hatred against Rome.
Though suddenly displaying extreme loyalty to Rome, their real reason for accusing Jesus was He had no plans to establish a political kingdom with them as its leaders. They wanted Him dead because His intentions were exactly the opposite of what they accused Him. The leaders wanted Jesus killed because He would not try to establish a political kingdom, but they convinced the Romans to kill Him on the pretext of fearing He would try to establish a political kingdom.
Sin always convolutes and distorts reality. Earth treated its best Friend as an enemy. The Benefactor of the Universe was treated as a criminal.
John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”
Jesus made it crystal clear He was a King, but of a Kingdom not based on military conquest. Don’t be surprised pagan Pilate had trouble understanding Jesus. Christ’s own followers often have not learned what He meant. Forgetting these words of Jesus has caused the church to suffer much sadness. When we use a kingdom of this world to advance our cause, it proves fatal to our purity.
We believers in the USA struggle with this mindset. Our government ended slavery, and ever since we have been tempted to lean on the government to fix all social ills. This sometimes leads to political alliances which are unhealthy.
May God grant us grace to understand what kind of Kingdom we believers belong to. Jesus’ Kingdom differs from all earthly kingdoms in at least five ways.
One, God’s Kingdom is different in its inception. Its origin is of Heaven, not Earth. It was birthed by One who came down from Heaven, who was begotten by the Holy Spirit, not by a man. Our Kingdom founder’s supernatural physical birth made it possible for all its citizens to have a supernatural spiritual birth.
A second difference is, Heaven’s Kingdom is indestructible. It shall last forever, in contrast to Earthly kingdoms, which all pass away. Jesus’ Kingdom will never end. He established it by shedding not the blood of others, but His own blood, and nothing can ever thwart the indestructible power of Christ’s blood.
Each individual citizen in the Kingdom is redeemed by the powerful blood of Christ, and thus also indestructible, knit to God with a bond that can never be broken. Since this connection between the Father and us is spiritual, it cannot be severed by this physical world’s properties, such as time or death.
A third difference is, Jesus’ Kingdom will continue to increase. Its expansion cannot be stopped. The world is unable to thwart the Kingdom’s spiritual weapons, prayer and the Bible, the sword of the Spirit. Christ’s kingdom will continue to win because it is driven by love, not force. Suffering members increase it more than artillery can. The blood of martyrs won many more converts to Jesus than did the swords of Crusaders.
A fourth difference is, the spiritual Kingdom is independent. Rooted in human hearts, its reign cannot be overthrown by any external earthly power.
Even mutiny from within is not a possibility. Its rulers will never leave office, because in God’s Kingdom, subjects do not elect their King; the King elects His subjects. No member of the Kingdom can ever rise up to claim ultimate human authority. No one ever has the right to lord over others in spiritual matters.
This Kingdom’s independence is also guarded by the fact we never have to draft a new constitution or amend the old one. We never require new legislation. The Kingdom’s only external binding laws were written long ago in Heaven and are forever transcribed in God’s unchanging law-book, the Bible.
Another prop of the Kingdom’s independence is the fact it is not tied to any territory, limited by geographical boundaries, or in need of earthly headquarters. It could do well without a Baptist church in Springfield, a Temple in Jerusalem, a Mosque in Mecca, a Cathedral in London, a holy river in India, a Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, a glass cathedral in California, and a Vatican in Rome.
A fifth difference is, Heaven’s Kingdom is incomparable, eminent beyond compare. The best blessing for any earthly government is to have citizens who belong to Jesus’ Kingdom. The USA’s early heritage is a good case in point. The most important gift a church can provide for any society is to win the lost.
Political considerations are important, but not as vital as spiritual concerns. People’s spiritual conditions are much more important than whether they are Democrats or Republicans, Masons or Rotarians, Tea Partiers or tea drinkers.
Spiritual reform is more important than political reform. It is wrong to be sadder about our candidate losing an election than about lost people going to Hell.
This world is not our final resting place. We are merely passing through. Believers should never view things of this life as ends in themselves. All we have of Earth is given to us to advance Jesus’ Kingdom. Our money, time, and strength must be used for the Lord’s cause, and in serving others. We should be devoting everything we are and have to advancing His Kingdom.