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March 30, 2021
28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.
This is perhaps the greatest face-off in history. Jesus is handed over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate by the religious authorities in Judea who seek to have Jesus put to death - not on the grounds of heresy against God, but on the grounds of treason against Rome. Jesus has been accused of claiming to be a king. All four gospels tell us that Pilate seeks clarification by asking Jesus: Are you the King of the Jews? In every instance, Jesus gives a somewhat ambiguous response. He answers in the affirmative, but there is a hint of reluctance.
Some have tried to reduce the tension or remove the ambiguity by saying that Jesus is claiming to be a king, but Pilate doesn’t have anything to worry about because Jesus’ kingdom is “not of this world.” At first glance, it appears as if that could be what Jesus means. Is he simply claiming to be a spiritual leader fixated on another world? If so, that would imply that Jesus’ kingship has nothing to do with the real world in which we live. It would completely spiritualize Jesus’ authority and his domain, leaving thugs like Pilate with nothing to fear. But that is not the kind of king or kingdom that is presented to us in the gospels.
Upon closer examination, we see that rather than having nothing to do with this world, Jesus’ kingdom has everything to do with this world. That is why Jesus encourages us to pray: Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. So what is Jesus trying to say? He is claiming that his kingdom certainly has a this-worldly trajectory, but it does not have a this-worldly origin. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world in the sense that it is not from this world. His kingdom doesn’t play by the same rules. It doesn’t operate according to the same principles. He is a king, but not like one Pilate has ever seen before.
Jesus claims that the reason why he was born and came into the world was to bear witness to the truth. Pilate scoffs: What is truth? The only truth Pilate knows is what is wielded with a sword. As Francis Bacon put it years ago: “What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”
Pilate knows that Jesus is innocent, but he believes in expediency rather than truth. He releases Barabbas in exchange for Jesus. But here we see the true nature of Jesus’ kingship. He willingly goes the way of the cross because while his kingdom is not from this world, it is most certainly for this world. That is why Jesus was born and why he came into the world. In life and death Jesus bears witness to the truth: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
In what ways do you continue to play by this world’s rules rather than by the principles of God’s kingdom?