Not of This World (John 18:33-37)
As a history buff, it’s exciting for me to live in Virginia! When you think of American history, you think of Massachusetts-Lexington, Boston; Philadelphia-Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell; and Virginia. Jamestown. Mount Vernon, Monticello and the very Virginian men-George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Patrick Henry and his famous declaration: “Give me liberty or give me death.” While other states played an important role in the founding of this nation, Virginians had a great deal to do with why this country is as it is-after all, four of the first five Presidents were from Virginia.
The challenges facing those early Virginians were great. After all, how do you go about founding a nation? Where do you start establishing a nation from scratch? If you were to build a nation, what type of nation would you build? What type of government would you have-a democracy, a democratic republic, a monarchy, a constitutional monarchy? What type of defense structure would you want established-a strong navy, a strong air force, a strong army? What type of infrastructure would you construct? What type of tax code would you write? What type of educational system would you advocate?
The theoretical, hypothetical questions I just posed to you were essentially posed to Jesus throughout His ministry. The expectation of a physical, fleshly King of Israel was real. Herod and the magi expected a physical, fleshly King. The magi came from the east and asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matt 2:2). When Herod heard a king had been born, he killed all the males two years old and younger. The people tried to make Jesus a physical, fleshly king by force: “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (Jn 6:15). The inscription above the cross read: “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Lk 23:38).
In this morning’s text, Jesus is asked about what kind of country He wants to build. Is He going to have that powerful kingdom that the Jews want and the Romans fear? But Jesus says that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world!
Scripture (John 18:33-37)
I almost feel sorry for Pilate here. He’s being asked to mediate a religious dispute of a faith that’s not his. He’s being blindsided. Yes, Jesus is the King of the Jews. Yet, Pilate isn’t given the whole story. The Sanhedrin doesn’t appreciate that Jesus’ teachings are becoming popular with the people. But, that accusation isn’t going to send Jesus to Pilate and merit the death penalty. Thus, the Sanhedrin uses Messianic language-King of the Jews-to get Jesus in hot water.
He asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” For Pilate, this is an important question. “King of the Jews” was a title much older than the time of Jesus. It was a political title.
If Jesus claims to be the King of the Jews, Pilate has a problem. Jesus’ claim is then treasonous and Jesus needs to be put to death. If Pilate does nothing and Jesus gains followers, Pilate himself may be put to death.
Jesus doesn’t answer Pilate, but He asks another question. Why would Jesus respond like He does instead of answering the question? I think he’s trying to get at Pilate’s heart. Jesus basically asks Pilate: “Are you interested in learning more, or are you simply repeating what my accusers have said?”
Pilate makes very clear that he has no interest in discussing the matter. He’s not a Jew. He doesn’t know all the ends and outs of what it might mean to be King of the Jews. Pilate simply needs an answer.
Jesus gives Pilate his answer. He is the King of the Jews. But unlike other kings, His kingdom is not from this world.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses “this world” not only for this physical reality but for the reality of a world under the sway of Satan. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out” (Jn 12:31). “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:14).
Therefore, when Jesus says that His kingdom is not of this world, I believe He means two things:
- It is not a physical kingdom-no borders, no earthly throne, etc.
- It is not a kingdom under the sway of Satan. I.e., there’s no cutthroat politics-where every man is out for himself-like in the kingdoms of this world. The people of Jesus’ day knew about such politics-you didn’t dig up dirt; you just killed the guy.
If Jesus’ kingdom were of this world, He would have had an army ready to prevent His arrest and trial. Peter tried and cut off Malchus’ right ear (Jn 18:10). Jesus, however, reminds Peter that His kingdom doesn’t operate that way.
Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world!
Because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, the church operates much differently from the rest of the world.
In this world, greatness comes by making a name for yourself and trampling over others. Look at the election we just had-all the negativity, all the “Look at me and let me tell you how bad this other guy is.” Yet, in Jesus’ kingdom greatness comes from serving. Matthew 20:25-28. Jesus in this morning’s text demonstrates that greatness comes from serving. He could have set Pilate straight. He could have called an angelic host to stop the trial. But, in humility, Jesus serves you and me by willingly going to the cross.
How will you be great this week? Whom will you serve? How will you serve? Find someone this week whom you can serve. Doesn’t need to be “big” service. You can do something small simply to demonstrate that greatness in Jesus’ kingdom comes from serving.
In this world, we find much “change” that cannot be part of the kingdom of God.
- The women’s “lib” movement. Women are supposed to be able to do whatever men can do-in many ways, that’s healthy. But, when it comes to matters of Jesus’ kingdom, it cannot be that way (1 Tim 2:11-14).
- Much of what passes for worship is no longer the simple, spiritual worship of Jesus’ kingdom. We’re told we need to change and become more “entertaining.” But, in Jesus’ kingdom, we always remember that worship is about entertaining God and not us. Revelation 4:9-11. The heavenly hosts are focused on worshiping God and not pleasing themselves.
Because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, the citizens of the kingdom must act “not of this world.”
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:14). 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.
How different are we? Do we tell the same jokes that everyone else in the office tells? Do we watch the same TV shows that those in the world watch? Do we drink the same beverages those in the world drink? How different are we?
No, we don’t need to do the Amish thing and separate from the world, but we must be different! How different are you going to be this week? What change do you need to be part of the kingdom of God?