My Kingdom Is Not Of This World

Last Ord 34B

John 18: 33 37


Having completed our meditations on the Holy Gospel according to St Mark, we close the Church year with a final meditation on the true kingship of this world.

Our notes are only a brief sketch to help readers in their meditation on the wonderful teaching our reading contains; observing the Lord Jesus in his last hours still teaching powerfully by word and example. We offer two sources of information

Ryle on John 18: 33 37

Commentary by Mary Betz


It is the early morning after Jesus had been arrested. Some Jewish authorities were assembled outside Pilate's palace, to lay charges against him.

Pilate comes out and asks:

"What charges are you bringing against this man?"

The response is interesting:

"If he were not a criminal, we would not be standing here with him for you to put on trial!"

Who could fail to notice the devious avoidance strategy; there were no true legal charges that would stand up in any Court of law.

Pilate is quick to discern an opportunity to push on and get the criminal hearings over and done with, and replies:

"Well, in that case take him away and deal with him yourselves."

The leaders are equally quick:

"But we cannot execute a person."

They are, of course, perfectly correct. They were ready for this situation and they have Pilate in a corner.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 33

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"

So Pilate needs a moment to reflect on how to deal with a not-so-common situation for him where Jews are turning over another Jew to him demanding execution. We note that throughout the whole of chapter 18, Pilate moves backwards and forwards:

inside he faces the challenge of Jesus;
outside he faces the challenge of falsehood.

Little does he realise that it is he who is on trial.

Pilate has Jesus summoned and, somewhat perplexed as to what exactly to interrogate him about, asks him:

"Are you the king of the Jews?"

Clearly, he had been in consultation with someone before the opening of court since the official charge lacked any essential ingredients of a crime against the State. The scholars tell us that in the Greek, the word "you" is emphatic. Therefore Pilate's question could have had a scornful tone to it, rendering "No" the only reasonable answer.

Our Lord, in the tradition of an experienced Rabbi, and therefore debater, does not answer directly, but with another question.

Verse 34

"Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?"

Our Lord's response was well understood by Pilate to mean something like:

"Do you have any reason of your own to believe what I have taught; or is your question in reference to the leader's claim?"

Here, for a brief moment, Jesus is speaking in an intimate way to the heart of Pilate, demonstrating that he never misses a chance of doing that with anyone. In fact, he is actually honouring Pilate. If there is to be any hope at all of encouraging Pilate to talk about his own thoughts, this is the moment, and Jesus gives him the opportunity.

Verse 35

"Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?"

As we see, Pilate does not take the opportunity Jesus graciously placed before him. His best effort is:

"What! Do you think I am a Jew? Heaven forbid!"

His words reflect his usual practice of denigrating the Jews. Thus he disclaims any real knowledge of Jesus, other than the scant information in the charges. He attempts to clear himself of any real involvement with the comment:

"I am not the one who is charging you! It's your own leaders! So what have you done?"

Verse 36

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."

Again Jesus does not answer directly and does not outline what he has done. Instead he perseveres with his attempt to reach into Pilate's heart and mind to help him discover himself and be himself instead of a pathetic puppet. And so Jesus hints at the origin and nature of his kingdom at a level on which Pilate could enter into meaningful dialogue. As this episode further unfolds, our Lord is demonstrating what his kingdom is really like.

This is a very special moment in the whole of the Gospel according to St John. It is one of those glimpses of the Lord which show us his very warm feelings towards people in dire need. At this very moment, when he is on trial before the representative of the Roman Emperor, we observe Jesus struggling with all his might, not to free himself, but to free Pilate, and empower him to act as a man of authority. He talks of his kingdom being one of choice and not force! He is using all his strength to get Pilate to act as a laudable Governor, whom everyone could look up to and respect.

Inside the Palace, Pilate is giving many signals that he has a conscience which is troubling him and wants to be heard.

Outside the Palace, Pilate is weak because he will not allow his inner convictions to rule his behaviour.

Pilate is fumbling his way and betrays all sense of manly dignity. The best he seems able to do, is to dither, and come back to his earlier question to Jesus.

Verse 37

"You are a king, then!" said Pilate.
Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

Pilate's exclamation is more correctly translated as a question:

"So, you are a King then, aren't you?"

Although some translations have our Lord come right out with a "Yes", it is well translated here as a "reluctant affirmative" (see UBS notes). A fair way of presenting our Lord's answer would be:

"Well, yes, I am a King, but remember these are your words and not mine".

Jesus then chooses the moment he has been waiting for, and presents Pilate with a compact but beautiful cameo of his three-year teaching throughout Israel:

"For I was born to manifest to men, to give witness, to testify, to all that is true. Everyone who is open to truth and who upholds truth listens to me understands what I teach and obeys."

In his brief statement Jesus builds in a link with and a reference to the real symbol of his kingship: the Good Shepherd:

"My sheep hear my voice".

In this brief encounter inside the Palace, it is not Jesus who is prisoner, but Pilate. Jesus is exercising his gentle kingship and calling forth in Pilate the courage of his convictions. Pilate has the power to squash rebellion anywhere, but he is powerless to cope with his own weakness. We know that his response to the above words of Jesus was a brush-off with the mindless question he doesn't wish to consider at all:

"Oh, what is truth?"


Our Lord has been tried for treason in the highest court next to appearing before the Emperor himself. Pilate utters that he can find no fault in the man whatsoever. He therefore orders Jesus to be scourged close to the point of death, hoping the sight of him would be enough for his enemies. When the Jewish authorities saw him beaten and scourged, the sight goaded them on and they called for his crucifixion, which, after a struggle with Pilate, they finally obtained, and Jesus was executed.

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