33 Pilate walked back inside the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and asked him: “Are you the king of the Jews?” 34 Jesus replied: “Is this (what) you say or did other people say this to you about me?” 35 Pilate replied: “I am not a Jew am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me. What did you do?” 36 Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom was of this world, those who serve (under my authority) would be (passionately) struggling (with all their might) so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now – mykingdom is not from here.” 37 Pilate then asked him: “So you are a king?” Jesus replied: “You say that I am a king. I have been born for this (mission) and for this (mission) I have come into the world: that I might bear witness to the truth. Everyone who (abides in) the truth hears (and obeys) my voice.” 38 Pilate asked him: “What is truth?”
In this dialogue between the Jesus and Pilate, the author of John’s gospel reveals the impotence of all worldly power and points the reader towards the one and only source of life.
The original audience of this gospel would have been well aware of the power differential at work in this scene. Jesus stands alone and condemned before Pilate, who is the representative of the greatest political power in the world. He has been utterly rejected by his own people, who claim to be the people of the one, true God. Jesus has no allies; he has been marginalized politically, culturally, and socially.
As followers of Jesus in late first or early second century, the gospel’s audience would have been searching for a source of strength to sustain them through a period of brutal persecution. They needed wisdom to inform their encounter with a world that wanted them dead – just like Jesus. In this text, the author of John’s gospel clearly dismisses violent resistance as a viable option for the persecuted community. Jesus’ insistence in the text on the other-worldly character of his kingdom, one that cannot be bound to ethnic or national categories, makes the argument for political revolution irrelevant.
However, the text does not simply leave the reader without an option for moving forward. Jesus does not deny his kingdom. The readers of this gospel would know that Jesus is in fact the King. However, as the gospel has emphasized throughout, Jesus’ kingdom is first and foremost a spiritual reality. However, this does not imply that Jesus and those who serve under his authority have no earthly power or commitment to life together in their world. Rather, by its emphatic announcement of Jesus’ mission to bear witness to the truth, the text points its readers towards the only source of real power in the world. The power of nations that is imposed on others is not real power because it leads to death. Real power is found in knowing Jesus and being transformed by his life, which is his truth, from within. Followers of Jesus do not violently lash out against the powers that oppress them; they listen for the voice of Jesus and obey him with all their heart. When they do this, they will find life – even abundant life – in Christ.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you… For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.