33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus 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.” 37Then 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.” – John 18:33-37
It is my opinion that this portion of scripture, particularly that which is in bold, has been sorely misunderstood over and over again. Let’s start with how Christians view the Kingdom of God.
Many Christians equate heaven with the kingdom of God, a celestial castle of sorts in the sky where we go when we leave this world, sit on a cloud, play a harp for the rest of eternity. Everyone’s happy, but there’s not much else to it.
So, what did Jesus think his kingdom was all about?
nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Luke 17:21.
The Jews have spent millennia seeking the kingdom of God, and in Jesus’ time it was no different. The translation that the scholars of his time pointed to a political overthrowing of the Empire that oppressed them, and they expected their Messiah to be the one who led the coup. When Jesus didn’t fit that bill (especially on the cross), they rejected Him, but Christ preached often about the kingdom of God as something other than what they thought it would be. The stories about the treasure in the field for which a man sells everything for, or the pearl the merchant gives up his life savings for, were definitely things the Jews could understand. They all dedicated their lives to seeking the kingdom of God, but not at the cost that Christ asked. What Christ asked is that they expand their views of the kingdom to include everyone, including the very people who oppressed them. He asked them to stop seeking to take down their enemies by force and instead win them over with love and compassion.
The dominant scholarly circles of the time could not accept such teaching, for it went against all they thought the scriptures foretold. The lay people, drawn to the light yoke of Jesus, flocked to it at first, but often left later on when the path became difficult for them to follow. Those who stayed with him still felt the heavy discouragement and loss at his death, but were rewarded with overwhelming joy and hope at His resurrection from the dead. At his ascension, they still didn’t understand what the kingdom of God meant, but Jesus simply told them that help was coming, and that they would be the ambassadors of the kingdom.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the disciples finally understood what Jesus was saying all those times, and realized the power the Kingdom of God truly had here on Earth. It had the power to free the captives, to bring down rulers from thrones, and to make even the most evil of men serve the one true king. They didn’t run for office to spread this Gospel; they spoke it everyday in their words and actions and miracles performed in the name of Jesus. Effectively, Jesus started the first and one and only grassroots movement in a people that needed to come under one banner: the banner of the Lamb.
This is why Jesus told Pilate his Kingdom was not of this world: it did not function like the other kingdoms of the world (his followers shared everything they had with one another, called each other brother and sister, and showed no favoritism to rich or poor), nor was it capable as functioning as a political system as this world would have it run. Regardless of these things, the kingdom of God is still like a treasure a man finds in a field, goes and sells all he has, then buys the field. His followers gave everything they had for the great treasure they had found (we’ll discuss those parables more in depth another time). This treasure wasn’t found in the kingdoms of the world that resort to violence, but in the hands of a man who turned the other cheek, and who allowed himself to be handed over to the authorities, that all might find it. His followers had given up all they had, all the kingdoms of the world had offered them, to follow the Lamb.
The kingdom of God is not some sparkly city in the sky, but is in the midst of us, in the midst of believers everywhere, and it is this kingdom we serve over any kingdom on earth.
I want you to consider what it means that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, but is instead something kindled in the hearts of believers who seek His face. How does the kingdom manifest itself in your life? How can you be more kingdom minded as this week goes on?