“Jesus replied, ‘My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.’”
John 18:36 (Common English Bible)
This is a remarkable passage of scripture! Captured here is Jesus’ own denial; Jesus’ denial of sovereign territory, “My kingdom isn’t from here.” From inside the governor’s house, a center of power for a defined territory, Jesus disclaims royal territory. Certainly, Jesus’ denial is on the geographical level, his royal authority lies elsewhere. This confuses Pilate. For Pilate – and for us – sovereignty implies a specific place, such as the British Empire. That empire has clearly defined borders, though the contours have changed over history. Christ denies any claim to this kind of power or rule. Incredibly, Christ seems to be placing his credibility on the line.
Many are well familiar with Peter’s denial. On the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denies three times ever knowing the man, Jesus. Yet, that same night, Jesus is also making a denial. The difference between Peter’s denial and Jesus’ own denial is not subtle. Peter’s denial is about self-preservation; Peter fears arrest if he is honest about his relationship with Jesus. Jesus’ denial is something much deeper than self-preservation. Jesus is pointing from the physical world to the spiritual. The exchange between Pilate and Jesus becomes a struggle between political power and spiritual power. Political power exerts its influence on people’s outward behavior. Spiritual power changes people from the inside.
One Easter morning a couple spoke to me following the first service. They said they had lived only a few blocks from the church for years and had never worshipped with us before that morning. They continued by sharing that though they had not worshipped before they were always grateful that the church was here. Politely and carefully, I asked, “Why?” “Why were they grateful that the church was here?” Their answer, “Each day the church reminds us that there is something more.” They promised to return and then proceeded to walk down the street – presumably to their home. Spiritual power is about something more than the eye can see, “My kingdom isn’t from here.”
Jesus’ denial is all about lifting our eyes above political alliances, carefully defined and defended borders, and self-preservation. Jesus wants, “something more” for each of us. Political power bends a people to the will of the state. Spiritual power molds and shapes a people to the wholeness God once fashioned at creation, but lost through rebellion and estrangement from God. Jesus confrontation with our political systems, in the form of Pilate, suggests that his kingship not only challenges the political state, it judges and calls into question the ability of the state to provide the life God desires for us. It would appear in the crucifixion of Jesus that Pilate won, that the political systems of the day have the upper hand. Nevertheless, the resurrection remains only a few days away.