The Gospel of John: a commentary & meditation 
Jesus answered Pilate, "My kingship is not of this world"

Scripture: John 18:28-40

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Ca'iaphas to the praetorium. It was early. They themselves did not enter the praetorium, so that they  might not be defiled, but might eat the passover. 29 So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" 30 They answered him, "If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over." 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 any man to death." 32 This was to fulfil the word which Jesus had spoken to show by what death he was to die. 33 Pilate entered the praetorium 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 handed you over to me; what have you done?" 36 Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over  to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." 37 Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the  world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." 38 Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, "I find no crime in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?" 40 They cried out again, "Not this man, but Barab'bas!" Now Barab'bas was a robber.

Meditation: On what basis was Jesus charged with a crime deserving death?  The religious leaders charged Jesus with blasphemy because he called himself the Son of God. But since they did not have the legal power to put him to death, they brought him to the Roman authorities to have him tried and executed.  The charge they brought before Pilate, however, was political rather than religious.  Luke tells us that three false accusations were leveled against Jesus (Luke 23:1-2):  First, that Jesus agitated sedition.   Second, they said that he encouraged people to not pay taxes to Caesar.  And third, he assumed the title king. In so many words they falsely accused him of rebellion and insurrection.  John goes further than the other gospel writers to affirm Jesus' claim to kingship.

Pilate knew he was being used by the Jewish authorities and he knew that Jesus was innocent of their charges. He tried to evade responsibility by urging the Jewish authorities to take Jesus back "and judge him by your own law" (18:31). He nonetheless played into their hands and questioned Jesus about the charge. Jesus did not deny that he is King. He knew he would die precisely because he was God's anointed King and Messiah. He explainend to Pilate, however, that his kingship was "not of this world". He did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual one that would claim the submission of men's and women's hearts and minds to his word. This kind of kingdom made no sense to Pilate since he knew nothing of God and his ways.  Pilate even questioned what was "truth".  Jesus had promised his disciples that if they continued in his word, they would know the truth and the truth would make them free (John 8:31-32).  How can we know for certain that Jesus is who he claims to be -- the Son of God and Savior of the world? The true meaning of Jesus' kingship is only revealed when he is raised high on the cross. Early in his ministry Jesus explained to Nicodemus: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Through the gift of faith God enables us to understand and to accept as true that it was he will to redeem us by sending his Son as our Savior who would give his life as a ransom for the many (Matt. 20:28).

Since Pilate could not persuade the Jewish authorities to take Jesus back and try him by their own law, he hoped to get Jesus released nonetheless. The Romans had a custom of releasing a prisoner on the major Jewish feast.  Surely the crowds would recognize that Jesus was innocent of the trumped up charges brought against him. Why did they want Barabbas released rather than Jesus?  This was not likely the same crowd, who a week earlier, had hailed Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as their Messianic King (John 11:12-15).  Barabbas was a bandit known for violence.  Jerusalem was filled with insurrectionists.  That's why there were so many Roman forces in Jerusalem at this time of high tension and religious fervor. He was probably part of a nationalist's group known for murder and assassination. This crowd was very likely supporters of Barabbas who came on this occasion because they believed that Pilate would offer his release at the feast. What irony that a murderer would be preferred to the Innocent One who came to free us from bondage to sin and death.

"Lord Jesus, you suffered injustice and abuse for our sake.  By your cross you have redeemed the world and won for us pardon and reconciliation.  Give me courage to always choose what is right and to avoid what is evil."

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(c) 1999,2001 Don Schwager