1. Introduction: Kings Across the Ages
If I were to ask you which European President is also a Prince, would you be able to answer? The President of France! Today President Macron of France is also the co-prince of the principality of Andorra (along with the Catholic Bishop of Urgell). Isn’t it funny that in the age of democracy, we are still obsessed with Kings?
There are still 44 Monarchies in the world today, with 29 Monarchs because Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is also the Monarch of fifteen other nations! The world loves a royal story, whether it’s the corruption at the heart of the Spanish crowd or the eccentricities of some maverick Princes.
Human history is littered with Monarchs who have changed the course of history and then others I think would rather the world forget them, like King Louis XIX (of France), who ascended to the French throne on the 2nd of August 1830 and stepped down again some 20 minutes later.
1.1 Kings Across the Ages for Gods People
Kings and Kingdoms have always been a part of the imagination of humankind. Some reigns are how we have defined the periods in our history and told stories of ages past. That which has been confirmed for us was also true for the people of God, Israel. From the moment Israel told Yahweh they wanted someone to rule over them, they were led by men descended from the house of David or oppressors from afar.
God’s people loved the idea of Kings yet, did not know the love of their kings; from the Reign of David and his son Solomon, it was a rapid descent down the hill into anarchy, debauchery and sin. The kings chosen by their people oppressed them and led them in idol worship and away from God. Between the two nations, some 42 kings reigned after Solomon, and only eight of them (all kings of Judah) could be described in a mostly positive light.
1.2 An Expectation Around the King
Today, when we talk about Kings and “Kingdom“, we think about the historical ages that went before us; our minds picture knights and castles and battles being fought. It is not a concept that evokes much. Yet, “Kingdom” for the people alive at the time of Jesus was an evocative concept that brought about memories of strength, resilience and freedom.
Kingdom invoked the glorious days of old when David and Solomon were on their throne, and as a nation, they were powerful and to be feared. Additionally, in remembering the days of old, they hoped for better days to come because of the prophecies concerning the Messiah: one who would come from the line of David and overthrow those who oppressed Gods people. As Ian Paul notes, “For Jews, the idea of expecting a coming king is very specific—it is the hope of a king like David, sitting on his throne and restoring his kingdom.”1
2. Context: Why Christ the King Sunday?
Christ, the King Sunday, is a quirk in the Church calendar, being a relatively late addition to the Church year. Yet, there is something significant about ending the church year with a day that reminds us about the sovereign rule of Christ over all things. A Sunday that encapsulates Pauls beautiful words in Colossians:
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him, all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-18).
This is a day for Christians to remember who we worship; and the solid foundation on which our Hope is built – Christ as King. He who is Lord over all things, sovereign over life and death, and will bring about the fulfilment of his rule and reign in his own time by the Advent of his second coming. We look to Christ as King and citizens of his Kingdom, and our passage from John 18 teaches us truths about both these realities.
3. Passage: John 18: 33-37 NIV
Then, the Jewish leaders, took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now, it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness, they did not enter the palace because they wanted to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” 30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” 31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die. 33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” 35“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” 36 Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my Kingdom is from another place.” 37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this, he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews?” 40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.The Bible
4. Are You the King of the Jews? (18:33-35)
A Stunning Accusation
Early as the dawn breaks, a restrained Jesus bound and beaten is marched before Pilot the Roman Governor, the representative of the Roman Emperor among an occupied people. Jesus is presented before the Pilot as one who has claimed to be a King: a threat to the security and prosperity of the Roman Empire. If Jesus had claimed such a position, then it was a direct challenge to the authority and reign of Emperor Cesar Augusta. There outside the walls of Pilots house, the religious authorities wait (for they do not want to become unclean by entering) and beg the Pilot to judge Jesus guilty. They clarify the outcome they hope for as they state that “they had no right to put anyone to death” (18:31).
4.1 A Striking Question
As the day brightens, Pilot returns into the comfort of his own home, beckoning Jesus to him (as the Pharisees retreat). Pilot questions: “Are you the King of the Jews?” A question recorded in all four Gospel accounts; here in Johns account, the question seems to presuppose that the charge the Sanhedrin levelled against Jesus before Pilot was presented in such a way that identifies Jesus as a challenger to the Roman power.
More specifically, the question reveals to us how Jesus threatened the Sanhedrin (the religious establishment). Jesus apparently roused the anger of the religious leaders because of his teaching; he was a theological threat “a point made clear in the Synoptics and implied throughout John’s account (e.g. 18:35; 19:7).”2 They could find nothing against him by their own laws, so they twisted who he was and what he taught to make him appearing threatening to Rome.
Jesus threatened them because if what he claimed and taught was true, it would replace them as the people’s conduit to God with the Holy Spirit. These were men not ready to give up their influence, status and power. They served not because of a love of God but because they loved what their service brought them – their own kingdoms. Hence, they were happy to compromise with their oppressors in order to protect their own power and influence.
Their problem was the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah, and the Son of God were a specifically Jewish thing, not something the Roman Governor would care about nor understand; hence, they had to formulate the problem in a way that would prick the ears of Rome and present Jesus as a rebellious threat, therefore justifying death.
The solution lay in one of the understandings of the Davidic Messiah as a coming future King; although this was not how Messiah was universally understood, it allowed them to present the claims and teaching of Jesus in language and imagery that Rome would understand.3
4.2 A Stunning Response
I am not sure I would respond under such pressure before one of the most powerful men in my context. Yet, in his response, Jesus reveals more of his authority and purpose as he presses Pilot about the source of such an inquiry: “Is that your idea…. or did others talk to you about me?” Jesus here presses Pilot to come to his own understanding of who he was, to not simply act off the words of others. Furthermore, Jesus’ response there displays the wisdom of the moment as he avoids confronting the situation: For him to answer yes would have been to have agreed to the charges and made him a rebel of Rome, and for him to answer no would have been to deny himself as the Hope of the world.
The Pilot replies contemptuously to Jesus as he retorts: “Am I am a Jew?” and points out that Jesus has been handed over to him by his own people. The confidence of Jesus at this moment is contrasted by how disinterested Pilot is in this situation. The charges have been brought before him by Jesus’ own people, and Pilot must determine if they deserve the attention of Rome. The response of Jesus is stunning given the severity of the situation, and it brings about a firm rebuke from the Pilot as he demands to know from Jesus: “What is it you have done?” It was a question that allows Jesus to define the essence of his Kingdom and the ethic of his Kingship look like as he acknowledges before Pilot that he is a King with a Kingdom but not in a way the Pilot would understand.
5. The King of Greater Kingdom (36-37)
Pilot has reminded Jesus that his own people have handed him over to their oppressor on charges of rebellion and sedition, not that Jesus would have needed such a reminder. How does Jesus respond? With Grace and truth by pointing to the otherness of his rule. The evidence of this differing Kingdom is in the reaction of its citizens, his followers. If Christ’s Kingdom was of a nature that Pilot could comprehend, then its servants would have fought to prevent the arrest of their King. Yet, they did act by the sword; they did not act at all because this Kingdom was nothing like the world could comprehend. Jesus confirms that he is a King by using the possessive “My Kingdom,” however, he confounds Pilot by defining his rule as something beyond human understanding.
5.1 A Different Type of Kingship
The RSV translation helps us to understand the specific nature of this exchange by framing the imagery slightly differently: Rather than referring to “My Kingdom”, Jesus refers to “My Kingship” as not being of this world, reminding us that Jesus is speaking to both that which he will establish – his Kingdom – and how he will rule it – his Kingship – as being beyond the comprehension of Pilot.
As we have said, if this Kingdom had been confined to this world, then his servants would have fought to stop him from being handed over to the powers of this world: because their concerns would have been worldly, and Jesus being handed over to Pilot would be a shameful defeat. Yet, they did not fight because this is the King of Kings whose rule, reign and way is beyond the confines of the material world.
It is not that the Kingdom and Rule of Christ are ethereal in nature or beyond effect in the world, but its concerns and ends are other-worldly. As FF Bruce points that, this “interchange with Pilate brings out the true character of Jesus’ Kingship and underscores its abiding relevance. The identity of the rightful King of the Jews in AD 30 may be a matter of historical interest to a few; the nature of ultimate truth must be a matter of personal concern to serious people of all times and races.”4
This King, his Kingship, and the Kingdom that he would inaugurate by his enthronement on the Cross was one concerning truth, and its example was its beginning – the Cross of Christ. We know that this Kingdom is nothing like the world because of how it was brought into the world – by the Cross.
Jesus was saying that his Kingship was nothing like the sacred or secular Kingships that Pilot had in mind; it was nothing something that Roman law or thought could comprehend. They were men who put people to the Cross, yet, Jesus was one who by the Cross brought about his Kingdom. Jesus was not here to lead a merry hand of rebels to overthrow an occupying force.5 As Bruce notes, “the fact that he was taken so easily showed that he was a different sort of kingship.”6 Jesus was here for a greater purpose than to lead a rebellion and to a greater end – to lead all people (who turn to him in faith) to a knowledge of truth and Salvation.
Pilot hears Jesus, yet, only hears his confession of Kingship, not the nature of his Kingdom. Thus the cry: “You are a king, then!” to which Jesus again makes the same point and dismissal: “that’s what you say!” It is a demand for Pilot to stop thinking with such limitation and see who is before him, he who was born to reveal the truth of God and that all who are on the side of God will see Jesus as Truth and listen to him. This Kingdom and its King is something far beyond the eyes of the world. “In short, it comes not from Jerusalem or Rome, but heaven, from the very presence of God, and therefore belongs to God. Divine origin implies divine ownership. “Not from this world” implies no allegiance to this world, but allegiance only to God. Jesus’ Kingship is not merely “spiritual” but eschatological, rather like the Holy City in Revelation, always coming down “out of heaven from God” (Rev 3:12; 21:2, 10). It is nothing less than Jesus’ all-encompassing “authority over all flesh” (17:2; also Mt 28:18), and in the end, it will supersede all human authority.43″7
5.2 A Kingdom of Truth
This is a Kingdom of Truth. The ‘truth’ is something that demands a response from all who encounter it, and while “Pilate, in the end, will pronounce it politically harmless (see v. 38b)”8 It is more dangerous than he or any of us can imagine if we chose to ignore it.9 Jesus finished with a challenge that “anyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”(37), and Pilot having little concern for ultimate truth, ends the integration with a dismissing rhetorical question: “What is truth?” (38).
The citizens of the Kingdom of God will be those who love truth and Pilot as one whose only concern is the flesh has no time for this profound, liberating, and beautiful truth. Yet, we cannot be as tort with the Kingship of Christ on this Christ the King Sunday, as Pilot dismissed by stating what is truth, we must ask with the same question: “What is truth?”
6. Conclusion: This is true: Jesus is King (38)
This Christ the King Sunday, the answer for us is clear: He (Jesus) is truth. Thus, today we are confronted with the knowledge of truth and must consider what we are willing to do with it? If “the kingship of Jesus consists in His witness to the truth, and the allegiance He claims is that of obedience to the truth,” then his Messiahship cannot be confined to Jewish particularism. Instead, it has permanent and universal validity and confers genuine liberation on those who acknowledge it (cf. John 8:31 f.). Jesus’ words might be lost on Pilate, but John hopes and believes that many of his readers will take them to heart and come to know him who is not only “a witness to the truth” but the truth in person—the truth that makes men and women free.10 Thus, the ultimate question for each of us today? How have we responded to this truth about Jesus, his Kingship, and his Kingdom? This Christ the King Sunday, can we declare him as such?
6.1 The Pharisees claimed to know Truth yet Could Not Recognise It
There is a Great Irony about this encounter just outside our focus, as Jesus is brought before Pilot by the religious establishment of his day, those who claimed to be steeped in the truth of God. Men who knew the word of God loved it and shaped their lives by it. Men’s whose identity was in the law and teaching of God, hence they knew not to enter the house of Gentile during the Passover feast; otherwise, they would mark themselves unclean. They were mean of truth, who lived out the truth and let everyone know, yet, when the Truth of God – the Messiah – was before them rather than recognise Him, they threatened him and schemed to get rid of him. The Pharisees claimed to know the truth of God, hence their fear of being made unclean in the presence of a gentile. By their own knowledge, identity and claims, they should have expected and sought to recognise the Messiah of God, yet, when Truth Incarnate stood before them rather than bow, they schemed to dismiss and destroy. Why? Because these men loved God because of the benefit it gave to their lives in terms of power, prestige and positions. They used the truth of God for the glories of the world, and when the truth of God confronted their idols by his lifestyle and teaching, they destroyed him.
“So What?” We might be thinking; we are nothing like that – we know who Jesus is and believe that he is God, add to that we live good lives! I would not miss Church on Sunday for my own funeral, and if I had to miss Church, I would make sure to watch the Online service! I know my Bible inside out, and I belong to this organisation or that organisation; I give my tithe, I go to the prayer meeting, and I live a good life. We could sum it up by saying: “I lived a life shaped by the truth!” The challenge from the lunacy of the Pharisees in the presence of Jesus is to realise that there is a difference between a good life and a fruitful life.
They live as moral, upstanding and good men, yet, their hearts were far from the ends they thought they served because they really served themselves. Today, let us make sure that we are not people who trust in our religion over Jesus. That we actually live in response to who Jesus is and what he claims over us, a people who in the power of the Holy Spirit live in response to Grace received. A Grace that frees us yet demands from us freeing-obedience to the cause of Christ and His Kingdom. Let us not be modern Pharisees trusting in our own religion, goodness or Church attendance. Let us make sure we see the truth and, on the side of truth, listen to him.
6.2 He Thought This Truth Did not Concern Him
The Pharisees Did not recognise the truth that was in front of them, yet, almost worst than that, Pilot thought that he could dismiss it because it concerned only a niche context. Yet, that which Jesus claims if true cannot be limited to a narrow scope or dismissed as inconsequential because of location, tribe or reality. The Claim of Jesus, if true, demand something of everyone, in every situation across all of the time. Simply put, today, we cannot do as Pilot did and philosophies: “What is truth?” Because Jesus stands before us and declares with absolute “I am truth! And I Lay Claim to You.” Thus, we must respond! This truth claim is not simply about an abstract and ethereal idea, a belief to be held. It is a claim that demands because it is incarnated. To see Jesus as Truth is to recognise him as Lord and accept the claim that such a title demands of our life – obedience: we are those who listen to his voice. Today we must decide: Will we listen to him or dismiss him?
6.3 What About Us: Hearing the Voice of Jesus
Imagine you are sitting in a coffee shop with a friend, and you have been talking about their new leadership role in work, then out of nowhere they look you in the eye and say: “I was born for this, you know….” You would think they are full of themselves, a bit overconfident, or just stuck up.
“I was born for this” is not something that many of us would say about ourselves; it is something we might hear said about someone significant in terms of sports or leadership: That sense that someone has found the purpose they were made for, but if they said it to us it might make us want to avoid them, or ignore the self-claims of grandeur. Yet, what if they are correct in their claim because before their birth, they knew what they were to be born for? Then it might be dangerous to ignore the claim of someone who knows what they were made. Jesus retorted to Pilots dismissal that “the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” Jesus came to testify to the truth of God, and it was that very testimony that brought him to this point before Pilot. He was fulfilling his purpose, declaring the truth of who God was and what God was going to do. The question is, as individuals, how have we responded to it? Jesus makes the further point to highlight that there is only really one response as he shares with Pilot “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” or as JB Philips puts it “, Every man who loves truth recognises my voice.” There are two sides on which we can be when the end comes, the one that loves truth and recognises the voice of the King of Kings and the one that loves self and ignores the voice of truth. Each side will bear the fruit of its choice: those who love truth will be led by the voice through the dark valley into the green pastures of every lasting life; those who love themselves will listen as their voice leads them into the wilderness of death and decay. King Jesus speaks to us today, calling us to him and to live for him in the power of the Holy Spirit today as we wait for him and look to his second coming. The question is: Are we listening to his voice? And, the beautiful thing is if we are, and we are living for him, then we are not alone and live in the wonder of something beyond ourselves – we live in and out the Kingdom of God.
6.4 What it Means to live out of Truth: In the Kingdom
Today we have focused on what it means to know Christ as King and declare him as such in our lives. Yet, it would be foolish of us to simply stop there and not think about what Jesus is King of! And what we join when we accept his rule and authority over our lives – the Kingdom of Heaven. That Kingdom which is not of this world, that Kingdom which Pilot could not comprehend, that is the Kingdom that becomes our home, belonging and citizenship today. While the Kingdom is other-worldly in its origin, it is not ethereal in its impact, and it has an effect on the world today as we wait for its fulfilment. Russell Moore puts it succinctly when as he writes, “The Kingdom concept is a mystery older than the creation itself—a mystery that points to God’s cosmic purpose, to sum up, the entire cosmos under the rule of one human King, Jesus of Nazareth (Eph. 1:10).11 With the Kingdom of God comes a purpose, and this is the beautiful thing of the call of Christ on each of our lives, that we are saved by no effort of our own (Grace) for a purpose beyond our individual selves – the cosmic purpose of bringing Glory to God.
God calls us to himself and into his Kingdom not just as a matter of identity but belonging and purpose. Think about it, to be a citizen of a nation is not a matter of individual identity; it is a belonging to something beyond ourselves for a purpose beyond ourselves. No nation can have only one citizen, and that is the beautiful thing of the Kingdom of God; we are saved by Grace and brought together by faith – The call of the disciple of Christ, and the outworking of our heavenly citizenship is not wrought alone but in unison with the Body of Christ across as time and space as we were awaiting the Advent of our King where he will fulfil that which he began, that which every generation continued, and that which we live out today – the call of the Kingdom! That means that when we declare Christ as King over outlives and in the power of the Holy Spirit live out our Discipleship, we are living out and in the Kingdom of God with all other believers as we await the Kingdom to come. Russell Moore notes that “Kingdom has arrived “already” in the person of Jesus and awaits a “not yet” consummation in the millennial Kingdom and in the eternal state.”12Thus, the Kingdom of God is both something that affects the world now and something that is still to come. The cosmic rule of Christ is today being outworked through his disciples (in unison), as they live together and serve together to bring Glory to God and advance the cause of the Kingdom, and will be fulfilled when he comes again.
Today, the Kingdom of God has an effect because God is at work in his people, and through his people, it is not that the Kingdom becomes something quantifiable or definable, but it is felt because those whom God saves he uses to his end and his purpose. To know this truth of Christ is to live out the truth of Christ in the Holy Spirit’s power: To live out the truth of Christ is not an isolated act of a faithful individual but the collective act of the Body of Chris the Church that is confident in his rule as it awaits the fulfilment of his rule. Thus, for we who are disciples of Christ as we live and out the truth of Jesus, we live in and out the Kingdom of God today.
That means where God has placed us, and he will use to show Christ as King and to build His Kingdom, whether shopping, working or with family and friends, God will use us and empower us by his Holy Spirit for his Glory. Yet, more wonderfully still this cause and ends are not something that we are called to alone, because God brings us together by his blood into a new people who serve one another in love to live out the ethic of the King and his Kingdom; and in that serve to build the very Kingdom they belong to because in our Spirit-empowered loving and living people see the Glory of Jesus and the wonder of life with God. As Moore summarises, “The “already” and the “not yet” aspects of the Kingdom find their content in the identity and mission of Jesus as Messiah.”13
Are We Citizens of the Kingdom?
Today, we are left with no middle ground in how we see Jesus: we either see him as he claimed to be – Truth Incarnate, the Cosmic King of the Universe who will bring about Salvation for all people by his blood; or we dismiss him as a madman from a time long ago. This identity of truth that he placed on himself and its ethical outworking for all who respond to it is not some abstract and ethereal idea; it is something that demands our attention and all. Thus, today we must ponder of ourselves do we see Jesus as Truth and recognise the outworking it must-have on our lives if it is so? For all of us to recognise Jesus as Lord and accept the claim that such a title demands of our life are to live a life of obedience in response to what Jesus has done. It is to be transformed by the King and live out the ethic of the Kingdom, so today, let us ponder are we are those who listen to his voice and live out his way in the power of the Spirit? Today we must finally decide: Will we listen to him and live as Citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom, or will we dismiss him and live out the folly of our own Kingdom.
2 John 18:33 (John (PNTC))
3 John 18:33 (John (PNTC))
4 Bruce, F.F.. The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition . Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition.
5 So Jesus explained that the Kingship which he claimed was nothing like the forms of Kingship—whether sacral or secular—which were current in the world; it was not the sort of Kingship of which Roman law took cognisance.
Bruce, F.F.. The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition . Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition. Location ID 8690
6 Bruce, F.F.. The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition . Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition.
7 — The Gospel of John by J. Ramsey Michaels
10 Bruce, F.F.. The Gospel of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition . Kingsley Books. Kindle Edition.
11 Moore, Russell. The Kingdom of Christ (p. 11). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
12 Moore, Russell. The Kingdom of Christ (p. 32). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
13 Moore, Russell. The Kingdom of Christ (p. 56). Crossway. Kindle Edition.