The Kingdoms of God and Pilate



Nikolai Ge, via Wikimedia Commons

When Jesus faced the man who was about to crucify him, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, he was asked, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world…My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). But that does not mean Jesus rules a “spiritual” kingdom. Christians often talk about the kingdom of God as if it is something “in the heart.” After all, Jesus did say, “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). But that word “within” may be one of the most atrocious mistranslations in the history of modern Bible production. The eternal Word was born a Jew, and Jews did not think the kingdom of God was “spiritual.” In the original Greek, Jesus is saying something more like, “The kingdom of God is in your midsts.” Or, as most modern translations indicate in their footnotes, “The kingdom of God is among you.”[1] The kingdom of God was among them, and continues to be among us, because Jesus is!

The kingdom of God cannot be “spiritual” because spiritual kingdoms do not matter. They make no difference. They can be privatized and exchanged for the public generalities we so quickly embrace in secular society. Messianic Jews like Jesus saw the kingdom of God in light of the tradition of the prophets, which for them was about bodies.[2] That is why Jesus did not “save souls.” Yes, he forgave sins, but mostly he healed the sick, fed the poor, and raised the dead. The crowds who came to him began to believe that he was more than just a rabbi, more than just a faith healer, but the savior of Israel because the things that Jesus did were not magic tricks or attention-getting devices. Jesus avoided “signs and wonders” because he did not care to draw attention to himself (that is why, more often than not, we see him trying to get away from the crowds). As any Jew who heard the Prophets preached in the synagogue knew, these were signs of the kingdom.

The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world because it is not the kingdom of Pilate. The kingdom that crucifies is not the kingdom of the Crucified. It is the kingdom of God! This is where the Christian church, and thus Christian politics, begin. We take our life from the empty tomb. Christian political theology begins here. It begins with the kingdom that is not of this world. The kingdom of God – that for which and because of which Jesus died – is the eschatological imperative at the core of our faith. It is the reason for the church’s existence and the hope that has sustained her throughout her history. So if we want to know how to be the church in the modern public, we need to know what the kingdom is.

[1] “Within,” in that verse, is ™ntὸs, which means something more like “in the midsts of” or “among.” This rendering is confirmed by the plural form of “you” in that verse (ὑμῶν). The closest thing we have to a plural “you” in English is slang like “yous” or “y’all.” Thus Jesus is not speaking about a reality which is within the “heart” of each and every individual. Rather, “The kingdom of God is among y’all.”
[2] “Messianic” in this context refers to Jews who awaited the coming of the Messiah, which was not a universally held belief among first century Jewish sects.

2 thoughts on “The Kingdoms of God and Pilate”

  1. i would like you to define the word ‘politics’ as you use it here.
    i am at a strange sort of place right now, where i consider myself a hesitant anarchist, but find myself more ‘political’ than ever. but it is most definitely not the politics of this world, nor is it done the way the world does politics.

    1. Great question. I would briefly define it as the Greeks used the term. It means more than statecraft but the way of life of an entire people- culture, commerce, governance, and religion. So, yes, I do use the term broadly. But I think narrowness is part of our problem when it comes to how we think and thus relate to the political.


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