By Jackson Curreri
July 1, 2014
In John 18:34, we read that Jesus our Lord is standing before the Roman Prefect Pilate. Jesus has been sent to Pilate by the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Council) with the hope that he would bring the hammer of Roman justice upon Jesus - the so-called criminal from Nazareth - who was charged with claiming to be the King of the Jews. Pilate, in response to the complaints of the Jewish leaders, inquires of Jesus “are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33, NRSV). Jesus' response is not simply some sly answer meant to reveal his innocence, but rather a revelation of the true nature of the Kingdom of which this Nazarene makes the bold claim of dominion over. “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” (John 18:36, NRSV).
The significance of these words is often missed as we, in suspense of the crucifixion to come, quickly move past this short exchange. But I submit that this reply from Jesus should be used as a model of how Christian communities should behave in this world. In this exchange, Jesus describes the very essence of what the kingdom rules over. Jesus is separating himself from all earthly kings and kingdoms. We immediately understand that the Kingdom Jesus rules over is unlike any other kingdom we have yet to see on earth. Jesus offers as proof of this difference the visible fact that his followers, unlike the followers of earthly kings, are not fighting to secure his freedom. John’s readers, as first century Roman citizens and subjects, would have understood the point quite clearly: Jesus is contrasting the true peace of his Kingdom against the false peace of Rome and other kingdoms of the past.
This Roman peace, or Pax Romana, was not really peace at all but rather order, which is a false tranquility that is only held together by the threat of violence. Essentially, Rome is saying behave yourself or else! The first century reader would see that the Jesus is calling his followers to ignore the false claims of peace brought by Rome and the other rulers of the world and place trust in the ways of God. For it is only through following them that peace can truly be brought on earth.
Here, I want to make the controversial argument that this has big implications for how Christians are to engage the kingdoms of the world. If we truly want the Kingdom of God to reign on earth, the way to do it is not by getting worldly governments to become more Christian. All worldly kingdoms are sustained and kept in power by threat of violence and retribution. But the Kingdom of God is sustained by following the self-sacrificial ethic of its king. For us, this means taking and wielding government power will never bring about peace and shalom on earth. In reality, forced peace brings no peace at all. The evil and darkness of this world can only be defeated by making loving sacrifice for others just as Jesus did on the cross. So let us not seek worldly power, but let us humble ourselves in service of a world in need of the love of Christ.
Jackson grew up in Perry Hall, Maryland which is near Baltimore. He played the clarinet and guitar in high school, and is currently studying Theology at Eastern University, and might double major in Sociology. He participates in several campus ministries including a homeless ministry and concert band, and is the treasurer for the Eastern Theological society. In his free time, Jackson enjoys making music with his friends and am a member of an amateur band known as the Fridge Magnetiers and the Jackson Curator. He is very excited about this opportunity to serve the Philadelphia community.