Does being a Christian mean that Jesus rules in our hearts or is there more to it?
Was Jesus king of the Jews? How does that compare to government leaders of this world? Where is Jesus’ authority from? And what is the truth of Jesus’ reign?
We will examine Pilate’s questioning of Jesus in John 18:33-37 and what Jesus had to say about his kingdom.
John 18:33 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.”
(Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)
1. King of the Jews (vs. 33)
Pilate asking if Jesus was king of the Jews was not new. Nathanael called Jesus the Son of God, the King of Israel (John 1:49). A large crowd of Passover visitors hailed him as king of Israel (John 12:13). Pontius Pilate ruled the Roman province of Judea from 26-36 AD, as one of 30 different Roman Prefects, Procurators and Legates who governed during that time. The Roman province of Judea existed from 6-135 AD. Its capital was Caesarea on the northwest coast and not Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was the 5th Roman Prefect. Archaeology and history record him as being an equestrian, a knight to us. As Prefect or military governor over the Roman province of Judea, calling Jesus king of the Jews could have been a political threat and enough for a charge of plotting against Roman rule.
2. Comparing Pilate and Jesus
Pilate represents the politics of this world, whether we call it monarchy, democracy or another government variety. He used his political power for selfishness even destroying those who got in his way. Jesus washed people’s feet and gave his life for them. Pilate caused terror. Jesus brings peace. Pilate's followers imitated his violence. Jesus' followers put away the sword of violence and hatred. Pilate governed by the will of Caesar, which could change any minute. Jesus rules by the will of God, which will never change. Royal families are viewed by their subjects in many ways from indifference and disdain to love and loyalty. French and Americans may view royalty negatively. Some view their monarchs as benevolent national parents who provide military protection, political unity and prosperity for all. How do we follow king Jesus and his politics of love?
3. Not of this World (vs. 36-37)
Though people may try to bring their Christian values into political office, the politics of this world is not the politics of heaven. Jesus emphatically states that his kingdom is not “of” or “from” this world. Like a lawyer bulldozing a case, Pilate only heard that Jesus admitted to being a king. Like both sides of politics, Pilate only hears facts that support his position. Did Jesus mean that he only rules in the hearts of men as some put it? Did Jesus mean that he is from above rather than from earth? The end of verse 36 clarifies it: literally Jesus’ kingdom is not “from here.” Coming from heaven, Jesus’ kingdom ultimately overrules all human authority. What if his kingdom was from here? Then his servants would fight for him, but Jesus had rebuked Peter for drawing a sword.
4. Love of Truth (vs. 37)
Do we stand for the truth, even when the truth is not what we want to hear? Historical revisionism is a phrase used in popular culture to mean a falsifying of history. It really means a simple re-examination of the facts. What some call revisionism is technically negationism, a denying of past history. Honest revisionism simply seeks to find the truth. An example may be asking whether Antonio Meucci or Alexander Bell invented the telephone or whether Christopher Columbus or Leif Erickson was the first European to discover America. What is true Christian politics? Is it based on fear or faith, hate or love, greed or generosity, selfishness or selflessness. Rather than worry, should we just accept that some may not be his sheep (John 10:26-27)? If we really love truth, do we recognize what Jesus says as true?
Unlike earthly governments, the government of Jesus comes from heaven. He is a king that loves his people and gives what no human government in the entirety of human history has been able to give, eternal life in joy and peace.