“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’ ” (v. 36).
Pontius Pilate, in line with Roman custom, gave the Jews significant leeway regarding their religious practices. Like other Roman governors who ruled over Judea before and after him, Pilate allowed the Jewish authorities to deal with most religious matters and generally intervened only when the Jews posed a threat to the Roman Empire and its control of the Holy Land. Thus, he would not have cared much—if at all—about the Jewish leaders’ charge of blasphemy (Matt. 26:57–68). He would have seen it as an intra-Jewish religious debate that could be safely ignored.
An accusation of political sedition, however, was a far different matter, and that was the charge against Jesus that the Jewish authorities made before Pilate. Luke 23:1–2 tells us explicitly that the Jewish leaders falsely accused Jesus of teaching people to disobey Caesar and of claiming to be a king. Today’s passage does not record the charge explicitly, but Pilate’s question about Jesus’ kingship demonstrates that the Jewish authorities accused our Savior of being a political threat to Rome (John 18:33).
Jesus’ response implies that He perceived that the Jews were attempting to manipulate Pilate for their own ends. In asking whether Pilate made the charge on his own or if he was unduly influenced by the Jewish leaders (v. 34), Jesus was calling Pilate’s attention to the plainly unjust nature of the accusations. But Pilate had apparently seen the Jewish authorities’ ploy for what it was, for his question “Am I a Jew?” (v. 35) effectively implies that he had no real concern about the charge. Since it was his job to put down anyone who was truly claiming to be a king, Pilate could have no real concern about the Jewish leaders’ charges only if he knew them to be false.
Pilate’s second response to Jesus confirms his suspicion of the accusations against our Lord. He asked Jesus what He had done (v. 35). In other words, what had really motivated the Jews to bring their charges? Jesus did not answer that question but kept the topic political. He declared that He had a kingdom, though not one of this world because it is not established by military might. His disciples would not be fighting in order to usher in His kingdom (v. 36). Jesus’ kingdom is otherworldly in its origin. It comes from heaven, is established supernaturally, and grows without fanfare (Mark 4:30–32). In Jesus’ kingdom, the authorities do not lord their control over others; rather, they serve God’s people (Luke 22:24–27).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary John that Jesus “did not say that His dominion and authority did not include this world or that His realm was a transcendent spiritual Neverland.” The kingdom of Jesus does not advance by worldly means, but Jesus still reigns over the kingdoms of this world. Our duty is to preach the gospel and to call all people to acknowledge and worship their true king—Christ Jesus.