2013) Where is the Kingdom of God? (part two of three)

'Ecce Homo' (Behold the Man), Antonio Ciseri

Behold the Man (Jesus before Pilate), 1862, by Swiss-Italian painter Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891)


John 18:33-38a —  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

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

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

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.”

“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.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.


     (…continued)  In these verses Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate, the Roman appointed governor and the most powerful man in Israel.  Jesus would also appear before King Herod, the Jewish quisling who the Romans allowed to have some power, but who was loved by neither Romans nor Jews.  A few verses after our text, the crowd would call for Pilate to release Barabbas, the revolutionary, instead of Jesus.  And a few verses earlier, the religious leaders were trying to work with Pilate to get rid of Jesus, who they saw as a threat to their religious establishment, and, who they want Pilate to see as a threat to peace in the nation.  The whole political spectrum is present in this one chapter.  And Pilate, efficient leader that he was, got right to the heart of the issue and asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews,” because no such political ambitions would be allowed.  And Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world, but is from another place.”

     On one level, this was obvious to anyone who knew Jesus.  Jesus never gave any indication of any interest at all in political power.  He never tried to exploit the popularity he enjoyed with the people, in order to turn it into any kind of political revolution.  In fact, John chapter 6, the story of the feeding of the five thousand, ends with these words: “After the people saw what Jesus did, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the one we have been waiting for;’ and Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew, again, to a mountain, by himself.”  Jesus was here for a much more important reason, and he had absolutely no political ambitions.

     On the other hand, on another level, people might well have wondered what kind of kingdom Jesus was here to establish.  After all, in the Gospel of Mark, at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the very first words we hear from him, Jesus said this: “The time has come.  The kingdom of God is at hand.”  And then Jesus talks non-stop about this kingdom throughout all four Gospels.  Fifty-four times that phrase appears in one form or another– “The kingdom of God is near you, it is in your midst, the kingdom of God is in your heart, proclaim the kingdom of God, receive the kingdom of God, be ready for the kingdom of God,” and so forth.  Along with all that, in many of his parables, Jesus begins by saying ‘the kingdom of God is like…”

     After all of that, you can expect that there might be some confusion about this ‘kingdom of God.’  People were no doubt asking What is this kingdom and where is it?   A short and easy answer might be, ‘well, the kingdom of God is heaven, and that comes after you die, so that settles that—any more questions?’  And that is certainly true.  Heaven is the complete and eternal fulfillment of the kingdom of God.  But when you read all of those references, it becomes clear that Jesus is not only talking about some distant future, but also about the here and now.  Jesus wanted people to live as members of the Kingdom of God not only in heaven, but right now.

     Luke 17:20-21 says:   “Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There it is! For behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.‘”

     “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” Jesus said.  And if anyone asked where, he could point to his own disciples and say, “Right here, folks, right here—look, here is Matthew the former tax-collector, and Simon the former Zealot, and now they are changed men, and they are friends.  And there is Mary Magdalene, and you know what she used to do—and now she is a different person.  And Zacchaeus, remember how he used to cheat everybody?  Well, he paid it all back to everyone, and then some.  And you know how you have always heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate you enemy?  Well, I want you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Not only that, said Jesus, but I want you to “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.”  Jesus was gathering around himself a group of people who were beginning to live like that, and so when people said ‘Where is this kingdom of God you are always talking about?’ he could point to the lives that were being changed and say, ‘Right here in the midst of you!’  And when he taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Kingdom come,” he meant not only heaven in the future, but a better world and life for us right now if we would just do what he said.  Jesus really wants us to follow him in obedience; and not just say, “Oh well, I am forgiven,” and leave it at that.  (continued…)