SCRIPTURE: John 18:33-37
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CHAPTERS 18-19: THE CONTEXT
We can really understand verses 33-37 only if we look at them in the context of chapters 18-19 which include:
• The betrayal and arrest of Jesus (18:1-11)
• Jesus before the high priest (18:12-14, 19-24)
• Peter's denial (18:15-18, 25-27)
• Jesus before the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65; Luke 22:66-71)
• Jesus before Pilate (18:28-32)
• Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (19:15, 19)
VERSES 33-35: ARE YOU THE KING OF THE JEWS?
33Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, called Jesus, and said to him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34Jesus answered him, "Do you say this by yourself, or did others tell you about me?"35Pilate answered, "I'm not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered you to me. What have you done?"
"Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium" (v. 33a). The Jewish men who took Jesus to Pilate "didn't enter into the Praetorium, that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover. Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, 'What accusation do you bring against this man?'" (18:28-29). Now Pilate re-enters his headquarters and summons Jesus to be brought to him for questioning.
"Are you the King of the Jews?" (v. 33b). Pilate has only one legitimate concern, and that is whether Jesus poses a threat to Rome. If Jesus is assuming the role of king, that is a treason –– punishable by death. Pilate, however, senses that Jesus is not the pretender to the throne that he is accused of being.
The irony is that Jesus is, indeed, a king, but one who poses no threat to Rome. Readers of this Gospel, privy to the rest of the story, know this. We want to interrupt and say, "Yes, he is a king, but not as the Jewish leaders are portraying him!"
"Do you say this by yourself, or did others tell you about me?" (v. 34). Jesus' question makes it clear that he understands the behind-the-scenes politics –– that others have enlisted Pilate to do their dirty work. Jesus' question also reverses their roles –– Jesus becomes the interrogator.
"Pilate answered, 'I'm not a Jew, am I?'" (v. 35a). Pilate has little respect for the Jewish people, so his question has a scornful tone.
"Your own nation and the chief priests delivered (paredokan – from paradidomi) you to me. What have you done?" (v. 35b). Pilate confirms that others have, indeed, initiated this action. He understands that there is more here than meets the eye.
The Greek word paradidomi is used frequently in this Gospel to speak of Jesus being betrayed (6:64, 71; 12:4; 13:2, 11, 21; 18:2, 5; 21:20) or handed over to his enemies (18:30, 36) or handed over to be crucified (19:16).
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VERSES 36-37: MY KINGDOM IS NOT FROM THIS WORLD
36Jesus answered, "My Kingdom (Greek: basileia) is not of this world (Greek: kosmou –– from kosmos). If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn't be delivered (Greek: paradotho – from paradidomi) to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here." 37Pilate therefore said to him, "Are you a king then?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."
"My Kingdom (basileia) is not of this world" (kosmos) (v. 36a). While God created the kosmos, the kosmos is "locked in persistent rebellion against its creator (1:10, 11)" (Carson, 594). Jesus seeks, not a kosmos kingdom, but a Godly kingdom.
But this "does not mean that Jesus' kingdom is totally other-worldly. It will, in fact, be world changing.
"If my Kingdom were of this world, (kosmou –– from kosmos) then my servants would fight, that I wouldn't be delivered (paradotho – from paradidomi) to the Jews" (v. 36b). Jesus could have fomented a revolution. Many people are unhappy with the Roman occupation. Pilate has three thousand soldiers under his command, but only a few hundred are in Jerusalem at this time. If Jesus had wanted to make trouble, he could have done that.
"But now my Kingdom is not from here" (v. 36c). Jesus' kingdom does not have its origins in the kosmos, but in God. His kingdom does not derive its authority from the kosmos, but from God. Jesus is no kosmos-king!
Like Jesus, the church today has much moral authority but little kosmos authority. The church is always tempted to seek kosmos authority –– to ally itself with kosmos power. When it has done that, it has usually lost moral authority.
"Are a king then?" (v. 37). Pilate's question probes the possibility that Jesus might be a political threat –– invites Jesus to reassure him one more time that he is not.
Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth" (v. 37a). In the Gospel of John, Jesus has much more to say to Pilate than in the Synoptics, where he answers only, "So you say" (Matthew 27:11-14; Mark 15:2-5; Luke 23:2-5). In verse 37, Jesus says, "You say that I am a king" (much the same as his response in the Synoptics) but then he goes on to spell out the meaning of his kingship.
"Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (v. 37b). This restates the theme from chapter 10 of the shepherd and the sheep who listen to the shepherd's voice (10:4-5, 16). The sheep will not listen to a stranger, because strangers are not trustworthy. They listen for the shepherd's voice, because the shepherd has words of truth and life. Those who listen to Jesus' voice are his disciples.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, "The Gospel of John," Vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1955)
Borchet, Gerald L., New American Commentary: John 12-21, Vol. 25B (Nashville: Broadman Press, 2002)
Brown, Raymond, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970)
Bruce, F. F., The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983).
Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R. and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV––Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993)
Carson, D. A., The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991).
Craddock, Fred R.; Hayes, John H.; Holladay, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993)
Gossip, Arthur John and Howard, Wilbert F., The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)
Johnston, Scott Black, in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001)
Lincoln, Andrew T., Black's New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to John (London: Continuum, 2005)
Moloney, Francis J., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of John (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1998)
Morris, Leon, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995).
O'Day, Gail R., The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Sloyan, Gerald, "John," Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988)
Smith, D. Moody, Jr., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: John (Nashville: Abingdon, 1999)
Williamson, Lamar, Jr., Preaching the Gospel of John (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004)
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