Jesus answered [Pilate], “My kingdom does not belong to this world. 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.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. 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.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:36-38)
What did Pilate think as this so-called King stood before him? How could this Galilean, bound and beaten, claim to be a king? Indeed, how could a king be so helpless and derided, with no bodyguards to safeguard his person? The absurdity of it all must have been risible to the procurator, had not the Jews asked for Jesus’ death. Something more serious should be lurking beneath the surface. Perplexed, Pilate asks for explanation. “I am not a Jew, am I? …What have you done?” Between Pilate’s reluctance to judge Jesus one one hand, and the Sahnedrin’s incredulity on the other, there is a shared intuition that Jesus cannot be a king. Isaiah’s prophecy about the Lord’s suffering servant reverberates here in the praetorium’s gilded halls.
Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; he had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. (Isaiah 53:1-3)
So substantially different is the Kingdom of God from the kingdoms of political power that even its King escapes the short-sighted gaze of worldly people. This Kingdom is defined neither by a territorial expanse nor is it protected by armies; its monarch dines not with princes but with prostitutes and tax collector; he wears not a crown of gold but a crown of thorns; he is raised not on a royal throne but on a criminal’s cross; he is born not in a palace but in a manger.
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in within you.” (Luke 17:21)
To say that the Kingdom is within (έντóς) certainly means that the Kingdom is not primarily found in those brilliant external trappings which adorn the bodies of monarchs. Rather, the Kingdom points to an ontological reality, and is by its nature primarily interior. One who has recognized the Kingdom can see beyond the fine robes and gilded crowns of earthly kings, knowing that the things of this earth will pass away at the end of time. He can look back to the original state of man, who first lived in concord with the Almighty and his creation. The dissonance of sin destroyed this primordial harmony to the extent that as a result, our first parents saw fit to veil the splendor of our humanity with the trappings of fig leaves.
In succeeding generations, the tendency of humans to wrap themselves in silk and gold is a reflection of the effects emanating from man’s first sin. Precious metals became idols while man lost sight of the true imago Dei stamped onto their souls. The Jews clamored for a worldly king in the image of their powerful neighbors, and God acquiesced, if only to show them that the mortal monarchs of even his chosen people could crumble just like those of pagan nations. The true Kingdom of God is not the Kingdom of David as much as it is not the Kingdom of Pharaoh; rather, it goes beyond the vicissitudes of fleeting mortal desires and points toward what is eternally good, true, and beautiful.
This Kingdom reveals the inanity of our self-made trappings and illuminates that beauty which inheres in our nature. It does not belong to this world, for it sees real salvific value in pain and suffering. It rejects a fixation on luxurious vanity and instead drives us to look toward the promise of eternal life. It urges us to transform our vision, so that we recognize in the rejected, the poor, the downtrodden, and the sick the same face of God that shines in ourselves. Neither Pilate nor the Sanhedrin could see it in the face marred by blood and dirt; the Kingdom challenges us to make this recognition. The preaching of the Kingdom is therefore just as much a prophecy of the Passion as a foretelling of eschatological salvation. It involves a radical transformation of the way we perceive all things. Just as we are meant to see the face of God in the marginalized and vanquished, so much more should we feel God’s presence even in the midst of suffering and death.
Yet, by virtue of the freedom granted to men, not all will enter the eternal Kingdom, for some will not choose to follow Christ. On this point, the Savior is utterly clear. In Matthew 13, the parables of the sower (v. 3-9), the weeds and wheat (v. 24-30), and the fish (v. 47-50) all teach about the judgment which will separate the saved from the damned. But though separation has not yet occurred, the Kingdom is already at hand, says the Lord, for the Kingdom is within man.
The Kingdom is here and now, latent in some hearts, alive in others. For now it encompasses the good and bad fish, the wheat and the weeds, the seed on good ground, and the seed on bad ground– all these are in the Kingdom. To say “Thy Kingdom come” is to ask the Father for its final consummation, to separate the weeds from the wheat at the end of time. At the same time, this petition recognizes that the final consummation comes through the Cross of Christ, and thus it implies a ready acceptance of suffering and death. By participating in the passion of him who was stripped and hung on Calvary, we repudiate the shame of Adam and Eve who tried to hide their humanity from God’s sight. We refuse subjugation by worldly trappings and let shine the image of God which enlivens human flesh. Though the bad fish surround us and are taken with us to the shore, we should be confident that if we let the light of God shine, he will call us among the elect at the final consummation of the Kingdom.
Part V posted!