I have been a lifelong resident of planet earth. So says my birth certificate, my passport, and my driver’s license. As far as I know, I have been on earth since I arrived by way of birth. There may have been unsupported occasions I dreamed or imagined I was elsewhere. But I suppose those other places were truly nothing more than lavish recreations of my own or someone’s else imagination.
When Jesus says his kingdom is not of this world, somehow we are still locked into such images of earthly magnificence, splendor, and power that we believe describe his kingdom. And all the while, Jesus is telling us, “Um, no. Not even close.” So in order to truly grasp the kind of kingship that Jesus speaks of when Pilate snarkily tells him, “People tell me you are some kind of king,” we have to set aside every notion of earthly magnificence, splendor, and power that we typically associate with royalty.
Assorted dictionaries together define a “king” as a male ruler and the ultimate authority over a major territory or independent state and its people, who inherits the title and position by right of birth, and holds it for life. Although this definition satisfies what a typical earthly king likely is, it is still woefully inadequate for our consideration of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.
The image of a ruler decked in the trappings of earthly magnificence, splendor, and power presumes, for instance, that the territory and people over which this ruler presides acknowledges and accepts that reality, and yields to this ruler their steadfast loyalty and fidelity. This ruler is able to decisively impose his will, and command firm obedience without opposition whatsoever. And all subjects of this ruler freely and gladly yield total ownership of their lives, property, and destiny. They are expected to defend and protect their ruler from harm, and supply his every need. In turn the ruler willingly guarantees their safety, care, and prosperity. The ruler is also accorded wealth, honor, and privilege that may never be withdrawn, and with them, many symbols and expressions of wealth, honor, and privilege, like the best of everything imaginable and in great abundance for his personal use, or to bestow upon whosoever he chooses.
Easily, we tend to focus on the perks the king must enjoy given his preeminent position of privilege. But Jesus makes no mention of perks, no palaces, jewels, designer clothing, cars, private jets, yachts, servants, armies, golf courses. “If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” His attendants would be fighting to defend and protect him IF his kingdom were of this world. Since it isn’t, then they wouldn’t either. Instead, he tells Pilate, “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.”
A major distinguishing quality of Jesus’ kingship is that unlike any other king, Jesus says he came to testify to the truth. No earthly ruler ever makes such a claim, but instead shows by their words and actions that they want primarily to preserve and extend their authority over their territory and people by any means possible for as long as they can, with the intent to pass that authority on to their heirs. They are ever in dread of their adversaries who mean to depose them, and take their position of privilege that they believe is theirs by right, along with all its perks.
But it seems Jesus is not at all concerned about fending off his adversaries. He came to testify to the truth. By saying this, Jesus proclaims first the existence of truth, truth that is independent and above the world or any of us, truth whose testimony and proclamation is his primary responsibility. In our current climate of uncertain truth and outright untruth, it seems many truths are no longer self-evident. Some conclusive truths that our senses can perceive include color, dimension, and duration. Although different people may perceive the same things differently, our conventions of color, dimension, and duration can lay to rest most doubts. There may be a million shades of every color, but at some point we can agree what red or blue or yellow are. Dimensions of length, height, width, and depth, can also be agreed upon. And atomic clocks are accurate to the nanosecond for placing a specific moment in time. But other truths may be more open to interpretation like the meaning of words, whether taken literally or figuratively, given the situational or historical context, the intent of the speaker, even the medium of communication. You would think in this day and age we would be better at conveying ideas. Then someone invents emojis, and we’re back to square one.
The truth clearly is God’s reality, because God is unchanging, and independent of the world or any of us. Some truths we know Jesus did convey clearly; like the greatest commandment—that we are to love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves; that despite what the Law of Moses requires, we are still to surpass it—you have heard it said, “Love your neighbor, and hate your enemies,” but I tell you “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you;” that he expects a great deal of us—“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect;” that healing and reconciliation are essential for those who wish to be his disciples—“Unless you forgive your brother from the heart, my Father in heaven will not forgive you.” Now perhaps some other things are not nearly as clear. But Jesus did promise to send us the Advocate, the Spirit of truth who will lead us into all truth.Then some of those who claim to teach God’s truth squander their credibility by behaving most selfishly and despicably. The few drag down the many, and we’re back to square one.
Although we proclaim Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the complete truth of it will probably always be beyond our grasp. Our king is crowned with thorns, humiliated, bleeding, broken, fastened with nails to a cross by his hands and feet, abandoned by his friends, seemingly forsaken by God himself. He shines the light of truth upon the darkness of evil and sin. He invites us to follow in his footsteps, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger. He sends us to proclaim Good News to the nations,to baptize and teach,to live as he lived, with joy, and mercy, and peace, extending healing and forgiveness, searching for the lost, and embracing our cross. He reminds us that he will return to take us to himself, and that in his Father’s house there is room for all.
Jesus tells us his kingdom and its ways are nowhere near like anything in this world. Not even close. If we want to be part of his kingdom, neither can we be of this world. We need to learn and embrace the ways of his kingship and his kingdom. Or we will find ourselves nowhere near him, his kingship, nor his kingdom.
Rolo B Castillo © 2018
John 18: 33ff
John 18: 36
John 18: 37
Luke 10: 27
Matthew 5: 43-44
Matthew 5: 48
Matthew 18: 35
John 15: 26
John 8: 12
Matthew 16: 24
Matthew 25: 35-40
Matthew 16: 15
Matthew 28: 19-20
John 14: 2