Read: John 18:28-40
Have you ever been to a Renaissance fair, or maybe a “Medieval Times” dinner-theater? The whole point is to immerse you in the idea that you’re back in the 1200s, in a world of knights, kings, and castles, etc. For most of us today, this is what we imagine when we hear the word “kingdom”. It’s a campy, old-fashioned word we don’t use anymore, mainly because monarchies are pretty out of fashion for Americans. But in order to get to the root of today’s passage, we need to loosen our grip on our modern, stereotypical idea of “kingdom” and see it the way the authors of the Bible saw it: a people under the powerful government of a rightful authority.
In John 18:28-40, as Jesus is being led into court without a struggle, we see the clash of two kingdoms. Not three kingdoms, being the Jews, the Romans, and Jesus; the Jewish religious leaders were working hand-in-glove with the Roman government. When Pilate tells them to judge Jesus by their own Law, knowing that all they wanted was a reason to kill Jesus, the religious leaders ask Pilate to judge Jesus according to Roman law. With this request, the Jewish leaders are once again trying to appear to the crowds as those who followed the Law, traditions, and rules of their people, when in reality they are exactly what Jesus called them: hypocrites, traitors to the true King and enemies of His Kingdom.
But let’s not pretend that Rome is unique here. Rome was part of a larger structure that lives on today in culture, governments, and every power structure outside of the Kingdom of God, namely the kingdom of the world. It’s this kingdom of the world, this power-structure of human beings that Jesus had challenged, and is why we see Him in a Roman court in this passage.
Notice the language Pilate used about Jesus. He called Him “the King of the Jews,” but wasn’t willing to fully understand Jesus’ explanations of His Kingdom. Pilate, like the rest of mankind, recognized something different in Jesus, something that aroused His sympathy, maybe even reverence. He tried to save Jesus by saying, “But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover” (v. 39). He thought the crowd would surely pick the innocent Jesus, over the actual criminal, but they didn’t. Pilate knows there is something different about Jesus, but his conviction doesn’t run deep enough to put his foot down, and like everyone who lives off of the income of the kingdom of the world, he was scared of letting his power go. So he turned a blind eye to injustice and sentenced his own God to crucifixion.
The kingdom of this world is a tricky thing to nail down, and a lot of us would like to believe we’re not in the same camp as Pilate. But if we are not submitting to the Kingdom of God and living under the rulership of King Jesus, there’s only one other kingdom we can be in. The kingdom of the world chooses to avoid, hide, ignore, and even kill truth, because it cannot stand to be found out (John 3:20). We would rather indulge comforting lies about reality which justify our sin and make us feel safe, rather than listen to Jesus’ warnings and turn around (John 8:45-47). On the other hand, Jesus doesn’t just speak truth, He is the truth. In a culture bombarded with lies where everyone creates their own basis for meaning, we quickly become hopeless and feel like life can be meaningless. We were not made to invent our own reality; we were meant to step into God’s reality—the true reality of the Kingdom of God, living under His tender and loving rule.
Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus says that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He’s not just an arbitrary ruler, like some medieval king imposing on his poor subjects. He is the good King, whose way is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). The kingdom of this world is comprised of made-up rules and empty traditions, but the Kingdom of God is overflowing with the same life that sparked the galaxies into life, filled Adam’s lungs with life, and restored life to Jesus’ dead body, and will raise us up at the last day (John 6:40). Are we willing to follow God into truth? Who are we going to side with? By following what Jesus teaches, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we keep our eyes fixed on the Kingdom of God. Follow the King who gives life.
Here’s a challenge: read Matthew 5-7 and find the new Law of the Kingdom. Highlight or underline the parts that you think correspond to this passage. For example, Jesus talks about praying in secret. Pray that God will give you the strength and wisdom to live by His truth. Internalize this Kingdom mentality, let your mind be transformed by it (Romans 12:2), so that you can live it out with the choices you make every day. Rely on the authority of your King, because He gives power to those who want to do His good will. Love the King, serve Him, and experience His life in you now and for the rest of your eternal life.