Summary: Jesus stands before Pilate. Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, but he is still King of kings and Lord of lords.
John 18:28-40 "Where's the Kingdom?"
It has often been said that Jesus, "Lived so that he could die." Such comments stress the crucifixion, but down play Jesus' life. I think it might be more accurate to say that Jesus died because he lived. In other words, Jesus bringing in the Kingdom of God was threatening to the worldly kingdoms of Rome and institution of the temple. They could not tolerate a rival kingdom and because of this they attempted to destroy this alternate kingdom by executing Jesus.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we live in the tension between these rival kingdoms that is displayed in today's gospel text.
Jesus is transferred from the the residence of Caiaphas the high priest to the Antonia Fortress and the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. Jesus faces another earthly kingdom that cannot tolerate a rival kingdom.
As the kingdoms face each other, their stark contrasts can be seen.
-- Pilate uses power and authority for selfish ends with no concern for the building of community, and certainly not a community guided by love and truth.
-- Pilate hoards power and lords it over people even to the point of destroying them, on a cross or otherwise.
-- Jesus empowers others and uses his authority to wash the feet of those he leads. He spends his life on them, every last ounce of it; he gives his life to bring life.
-- Pilate's rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm;
-- Jesus' rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror (John 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-26).
-- Pilate's followers imitate him by using violence to conquer and divide people by race, ethnicity, and nations.
-- Jesus' followers put away the sword in order to invite and unify people, as Jesus does when he says "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (12:32).
-- Pilate's authority originates from the will of Caesar and is always tenuous.
-- Jesus' authority originates from doing the will of God, and is eternal.
Pilate wavers: he knows what is right…but he also knows what is easy, what is politically expedient, and he’s torn between the two. Ultimately, he takes the easy road, caving into political pressure and denying the truth that he sees right in front of him.
Though Pilate's kingdom is admittedly powerful, the writer of the gospel highlights its weaknesses and proclaims that Jesus is king.
BEHOLD THE KING
In this confrontation of kingdoms, the powerful Pilate is portrayed as troubled, unable or unwilling to do what he wants to do, and forced to act in order to please the Jewish leaders and populace. He goes back and forth between his headquarters and the courtyard where the Jewish authorities have gathered.
In verse 37, Pilate identifies Jesus as King. Rome recognizes who Jesus is even thought the Jewish religious authorities do not. Later he has the sign, "King of the Jews," placed on the cross.
The Roman soldiers ironically crowd Jesus king--in chapter 19--and clothe him in a robe of purple--the color of royalty. Jesus is robed in purple when he hangs on the cross. Jesus dies a king.
While Pilate and the Roman soldiers are proclaiming Jesus King (unbeknownst to them), the Jewish authorities state that their only king--and only God--is Caesar.
The power of the Jewish authorities lasted until 70 ce, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Roman Armies. Roman rule continued until the fifth century and it is no longer. Jesus continues to reign.
THE KINGDOM TODAY
Jesus clearly states that his kingdom is not of this world; it is not political, violent, or revolutionary. Jesus’ kingdom rests on making God known in the world, bearing witness to the truth, and gathering those who listen to the truth to his kingdom (cf. John 18:36-37). As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to reject the characteristics of worldly kingdoms to live in his kingdom, and to follow the truth.
Pilate asks his famous question, "What is truth?' Jesus answers in silence. The silence that has always most haunted me is the silence of Jesus before Pilate (John 18:38). Jesus answers him with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence. In case there should be any question as to what that silence meant, on another occasion Jesus put it into words for his disciple Thomas. "I," he said, "I am the truth" (14:6).
Jesus did not say that religion was the truth, or that his own teachings were the truth, or that what people taught about him was the truth, or that the Bible was the truth, or the church, or any system of ethics or theological doctrine. There are individual truths in all of them, we hope and believe, but individual truths were not what Pilate was after, or what you and I are after either, unless I miss my guess. Truths about this or that are a dime a dozen, including religious truths. THE truth is what Pilate is after: the truth about who we are and who God is if there is a God, the truth about life, the truth about death, the truth about truth itself. That is the truth we are all of us after.