Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him,
‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ (John 18:33)

It is just the sort of question you might expect Jesus to duck. So often, he seems to have responded to questions with replies that were elusive. But this time, Jesus is pretty clear. Twice, in responding to Pilate, Jesus refers to “my kingdom” (John 18:36).

Jesus does duck the narrow ethnically directed focus of Pilate’s question. But he clearly lays claim to a kingdom. And, if Jesus has a kingdom, he is a king.

In the ancient world, a king was the embodiment of power and prestige. The king was the one who commanded mighty armies, controlled great wealth, and had the ability to impose his will on peoples’ lives.

Pontius Pilate was the 5th Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea. He may not have been the king, but in Judaea, Pilate wielded the authority of Caesar. He could order the Roman legions into deadly action. He could arrest, imprison, and execute at will. Pilate held the power of life and death over the Jewish people who were his subjects. Pilate’s kingdom was the kind of kingdom we usually think of when we picture a royal ruler.

Jesus’ kingdom was not like Pilate’s kingdom.

Twice Jesus points out that the kingdom in which he is king is dramatically different from the kingdom of PIlate:

‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’ (John 18:36)

The Greek word translated into English as “from” is ek. It means either “from” or “of”. In this case both translations work and each carries an important implication.

The kingdom of Jesus is not “from this world.” We do not build Jesus’ kingdom. We do not get to create the kingdom of Jesus. Our great plans and strategies will not bring the kingdom of Jesus into being. It does not come “from here”.

At the same time, the kingdom of Jesus is not “of this world.” Jesus’ kingdom is of a completely different quality than the kingdom of Pilate. The foundational DNA of Jesus’ kingdom is radically distinct from Pilate’s kingdom. The two kingdom’s operate according to entirely different principles.

So, what is Jesus’ kingdom like?

Just as the kingdom of the Roman Empire was embodied in the person of Pilate, so, the kingdom of Jesus was embodied in the person of Jesus. To discern the nature of Jesus’ kingdom, we need to look at the person of Jesus.

There is one place in the Gospels where Jesus described himself. In Matthew 11:29, he is reported to have said,

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

The kingdom of Jesus is “gentle and humble“.

In the eyes of the world’s kingdom, the kingdom of Jesus may look poor and unappealing.

It does not push, demand, coerce, or manipulate. It lacks the hard edges and the force that make the kingdoms of this world so compelling. Jesus’ kingdom does not come with the trappings of power. It does not have the glitter and the dazzle that make the world’s kingdom so clear. Jesus’ kingdom does not shout. It comes quietly. It is subtle and soft.

That is the problem with Jesus’ kingdom. It does not announce itself with grand fanfare. It is seldom immediately obvious or highly visible.

This is why, in response to PIlate’s question,

Are you the King of the Jews?

Jesus replied,

Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me? (John 18:34)

If I am going to discern the kingdom of Jesus in the midst of all the kingdoms of this world, I must answer for myself the deep question of what I truly value. What kingdom do I really want? If I want Jesus’ kingdom, I am going to need to open to that quality of humble gentleness that is the essential nature of Jesus’ kingdom. No one can be forced to be gentle.

Sadly, I often look at gentleness and humility and see only weakness and failure.The kingdom of Pilate has a hard time valuing the kingdom of Jesus.

But, the strong one’s are not the ones who get their way. I am not strong simply because I have the power to impose my will upon you.  I am strong when I accept the realities of life as they are and refuse to respond with the values and attitudes of the world.

Jesus outlined the nature of his kingdom in Matthew chapter five when he instructed his followers saying,

Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. (Matthew 5:39-41)

True strength does not need to retaliate. It does not need to fight back or get even. Like Jesus before Pilate, true strength does not even demand justice or fight for fairness –

If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.’ (John 18:36)

I may be the biggest. I may be the loudest. I may be the one who, by shear dogged perseverance can get his way most of the time. But, none of these skills makes me strong. They are all signs of weakness.

True strength is the ability to bend. It is flexible, open and supple. It begins by accepting the realities of life as they are and responds from that place of open awareness with love and honesty. True strength responds to whatever circumstances may come with the gentle humility that is the spirit of Jesus.

The miracle of Jesus’ kingdom is that, when I respond with the spirit of Jesus to whatever may come into my life, a little outpost of his kingdom is established right here in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. That is real power.

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