Lesson Focus: Jesus Christ becomes our true King, not in the ways of past Israelite kings or even Roman Kings, but through the powerful truth of suffering love.
Catching Up The end of Jesus’ earthly ministry is drawing to a close. John’s passion narrative has begun, and the end is near. Jesus has not acted in any politically subversive way, he has not built an army, and he has not mobilized people in open revolt against the Roman Empire. However, he has acted in very subversive ways toward the powers in both the Jewish and Roman worlds. Jesus has asserted that he is, in fact, the Son of God, eternally co-existent with the Father. This, along with many other teachings which have radically changed how some have understood their standing with God, has gotten him in trouble with the religious leaders mainly because Jesus is a serious threat to disturb the political balance.
They have been seeking for some time now to put him to death, to remove him permanently from the picture. They have arrested him and taken him to the High Priest’s house conducting a trial of sorts, and because they cannot put him to death in the shameful way they would like, they are taking him to Pilate. They hope that Pilate will have Jesus put to death as a political criminal, a subversive against the government, by having him crucified.
John begins this scene in the passion narrative at the home of Pilate’s house. The events that have preceded this section have happened during the night and very early morning hours. During the night, Jesus has been to both Annas and Caiaphas’ houses for questioning and trials. It is evident that the Jewish religious leaders mean business, and they will have Jesus killed one way or another.
There is some speculation as to whether or not the Jews could put someone to death. We know they did (Stephan) in Acts, but this could have been the exception rather than the rule. Either way, they are now seeking to have Jesus put to death at the hand of the Romans.
The Jews are fed up with Jesus’ claims to spiritual and physical power of a just nature. Jesus has repeatedly challenged the religious leader’s authority to interpret the law correctly, he has challenged their “righteous” behavior, and he has claimed to be God. The question is one of authority –who has it? Who will be the true king in Israel – Jesus or someone or something else? But the nature of the power in question is in some dispute as well. The Jews are exercising political power that has become unjust. Jesus wishes they would use their political power for justice and mercy, hope and peace, but they have not.
Scene 1 – Outside Pilate’s House The scene begins with the Jewish religious leaders bringing Jesus to Pilate at the very opening of business. Because it was almost the Passover, the leaders did not want to enter Pilate’s house because Gentile houses were unclean, and they didn’t want to defile themselves. Pilate, in a gracious act, comes out to the Jewish leaders.
Pilate, doing his proper job, wants to know of what this man is guilty. The Jews fail to offer concrete or specific crimes that Jesus has committed but state instead that he is a criminal. Pilate thinks that the Jews could take care of Jesus themselves, but the Jew’s intentions come out when they state that they want Jesus dead.
Scene 2 – Inside Pilate’s House Pilate then goes into his house to see for himself what Jesus is up to. They engage in conversation about kingship and power. Pilate’s first question of Jesus is if he is King of the Jews. The Jews would have talked about Jesus in a way that made him out to be a political threat to the Roman Empire. Anyone who claimed to be the King of the Jews, who was not the current king approved of by Rome, would be a challenge to Rome’s power. This is what the Jews have told Pilate, but it seems Pilate doesn’t believe them.
Jesus’ response is a question. “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate doesn’t know what Jesus claims to be. At the same time, Pilate seems to know that Jesus isn’t who the Jews claim he is either. Pilate puts another question to Jesus, “What have you done?” He wants to know why precisely the Jews don’t like him.
Jesus responds with a statement about his Kingdom. “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.”
No, Jesus doesn’t claim to be the king of the Jews, a political messiah who will violently overthrow the Roman Empire. However, he asserts that his power is royal in nature, that he does indeed bring a Kingdom with him. But Jesus’ response clarifies that the heart of the Kingdom that Jesus leads isn’t like any other kingdom known to man. If Jesus were a king like Pilate or a king like the Jews wanted Jesus to be, then Jesus’ followers would be actively seeking to free him. This, however, was not the case.
Then Jesus states that his followers aren’t fighting to have him released because the Kingdom they belong to doesn’t find its power in human origins. Instead, the Kingdom Jesus brings is not from this world. In other words, Jesus’ Kingdom comes from God, and Jesus reigns with a Godly, non-military, self-emptying power.
Pilate then asks again, “So you are a king?” Jesus’ response is excellent and isn’t captured rightly in most English translations. It should read something like this, “You said it, not me…” or “If you say so…” But right after that statement, Jesus begins to state that this kingship is the whole reason why he has come into the world, the entire reason he was born. The Kingdom Jesus brings to the truth. Everyone who follows Jesus, who belongs to his Kingdom, listens to his voice and begins to live in the truthfulness of God’s Kingdom.
Pilate, clueless about what Jesus has been saying, responds with the question wanting to know what truth is.
Pilate, who can’t find any reason why this man should be put to death as a political enemy of Rome, tells the crowd gathered that he wants to release Jesus. But the crowd doesn’t want anything to do with Jesus; the Romans can keep him.
So What…? When we stop asking Jesus Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” we become convinced that we know the truth without Christ the King. When we become confident that we know the truth without Christ, we end up pledging our allegiance to almost anything other than Jesus.
If we’re honest with ourselves and with one another, we think we know what truth is a lot of times. I certainly think this way. We think we know what it means to live and act Christ likely in our world. We’ve read the bible, the gospels, and maybe we have even memorized large chunks of it. We know what it says, perhaps, but do we know what it means?
It starts innocently enough. The bible is a challenging book. It says many things about how to live that we just don’t want to hear, which challenges us to live in the Kingdom of God.
And so we read those tricky bits, like the Sermon on the Mount, and we spin it so that the truth is on our side so that the truth doesn’t challenge us. We do that, and soon enough, we are unable or unwilling to recognize the truth when it is standing right in front of us.
Then, when we are confronted with the Christ the King’s truth, we put it on trial and beg for the release of a bandit and pledge our allegiance to the powers that be:
“We have no king but money!”
“We have no king but success!”
“We have no king but comfort or entertainment!”
“We have no king but sex!”
“We have no king but America!”
When we quit seeking face-to-face encounters with Christ the King to ask Jesus what truth is, we get the very opposite of the truth.
Instead of love, we get hate.
Instead of justice, we get injustice.
Instead of Godly community and relationships, we get unrighteousness.
Instead of grace and forgiveness, we get vengeance.
When we, as a community, decide that we know what truth is apart from Christ the King, we become divisive, we struggle for power. We seek our glory. We become known by the world around us as petty and hateful instead of as loving and compassionate.
And when we are confronted with Christ’s truth, we stand up and shout loud against it, even though we think we are defending the truth.
But if we turn and seek the face of Christ to seek to know him in spirit and truth, when we seek, with humble, teachable, and genuinely open hearts to Christ the King’s truth, we will be granted wisdom and discernment. We will allow ourselves to be led by and instructed in the ways of the Kingdom, and we will begin to learn how to live as citizens of God’s particular Kingdom….
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Christ the King’s Kingdom is a very particular Kingdom with a particular understanding of truth. As we turn now towards Advent, may we relentlessly seek the face of Christ, our King so that we might know his truth and walk in his path.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
What kind of answer do you think Pilate expected from Jesus when he asked if Jesus was the King of the Jews?
Why might Jesus have answered the way that he did?
Why would confessing to be the King of the Jews be dangerous for Jesus to do?
Pilate asks Jesus what he has done to have the Jews request that he be killed. Jesus responds by telling of what his followers have not done. Reread verse 36 and compare and contrast Jesus’ disciples with other revolutionaries. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
What does Jesus mean when he says that his Kingdom is not from here? What do you think Pilate thought he meant?
In verse 37, Pilate thinks that Jesus has just confessed to being a king. Jesus’ response is, “You say that I am king.” Why would Jesus respond this way?
Jesus then turns the conversation toward truth, “For I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” What does Jesus mean by “truth.” What do you think Pilate thought Jesus meant by truth?
The story ends with Pilate asking, “What is truth?” Why would the author of John end the story this way? What are we left to think about with such an abrupt ending?
Throughout the gospels, the tension between who’s truth is correct leads to this moment in the story. Jesus brings the truth about the Kingdom of God, and it clashes with Israel’s understanding of what God’s Kingdom should look like. The Jewish religious leaders had a hard time accepting Jesus’ truth. What about us? How often do we truly follow in the truth of the Kingdom of God? In what ways do we follow our own truth rather than Jesus’ truth?