Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "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." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?" After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him.
Pilate, the official who is questioning Jesus in today's text, is the Roman governor over Judea. He is present in Jerusalem on this particular date – during the Jewish passover – to ensure that order is maintained. The crowded city, full of people celebrating their liberation from Egyptian slavery many centuries before, probably seemed like a powderkeg ready to explode. Militant revolutionaries, if they surfaced during this time in particular, were likely to be put down very swiftly and brutally.
Yet, during this scene, Jesus successfully convinces Pilate that he poses no military threat.
The key words – "my kingdom is not from this world" – can be easily misinterpreted. They are not meant to say that the kingdom is not "in" the world – as if it existed only in another place or time. Rather, they are meant to convey that it is not the sort-of kingdom that will advance itself by means of violent revolution or warfare. That is why Jesus offers support for his statement by referring to the fact that his followers were not fighting to keep him from being handed over.
Jesus' remark highlights an event that occurred earlier in the evening, when one of his followers drew a sword and struck a servant of one of the religious leaders. Jesus commanded him to put away the sword, so that he could fulfill the purpose that God had given him in his trial and crucifixion (18:10-11).
Jesus was not to become King by force or revolution, but by yielding himself over to the cross, and thus becoming a living image of the magnitude of God's love.
For Reflection: Can it still be said that some/all of us are victims of the forceful ways of kingdoms "from" this world? How so? What role might we play in advancing a different sort-of kingdom – the kind that is not "from" this world?