My kingdom is not of this world
The myth of violence powerfully shapes our view of the world. We imagine that force must be met with greater force if anything is to be achieved. And of course we tell ourselves that the greater force is justified if it’s done in the name of some greater good. Most Hollywood blockbusters follow this storyline.
Take, for instance, the highest grossing film of all time. Avatar tells the story of a culture clash between greedy imperialists and a nature-loving indigenous people. Yet however different the natives might be portrayed, how do they overcome the nasty invaders? Through a loud and lengthy slug-fest. In a spectacular special-effects battle, the biggest hitters win. And so a wonderfully imaginative beginning concludes with a predictably bloody finale. And on the deepest level it’s neither the imperialists nor the natives who win. In the end, violence wins.
The trial of Jesus might look like one more clash between powers. Facing off are two contenders for the title: King of the Jews. But this encounter will subvert everything we know about power struggles.
Pilate claims to rule the Jews as the vice-regent of Rome. Christ claims to rule the Jews as the Vice-Regent of God! But this is not simply a clash of kings, it’s a clash of the kind of power by which they rule:
“Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:33-36)
Pilate rules the way every human rules – with the sword. His servants do indeed fight for him. Pilate has the monopoly of violence in his province. He decides who can wield physical force and who cannot. If you cross him, he’ll cross you – literally. He’ll line the streets with crosses if needs be. And if anyone were to usurp his rule it would be by bringing more earthly power. Force would unseat force. And yet even if that occurred, there’s one thing that would remain on the throne – force!
But Jesus hasn’t come by force to effect a slightly more benevolent reign of violence. Jesus has come to unseat violence itself. His kingdom is not of this world. The kings of this world ask their servants to fight for them. Jesus subverts this kind of kingdom in two ways. First He fights for them. Second, the way He fights is by losing. He ends the cycle of violence by taking the blows and not retaliating.
Here is the cruciform revolution that Jesus brings to the world. The Apostle Paul, reflecting on the meaning of the cross, said this:
“The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:” (1 Corinthians 1:25-28)
How does God overcome strength? With weakness! It’s absolutely counter-intuitive but two minute’s thought reveals its wisdom. Power-plays are not overcome by a show of force! They can only be unseated by the cross. The Lord of Glory undermines all earthly glory by descending beneath it. And through the cross, Christ establishes a kingdom of servants not fighters. Won by His cross, we are called not to kill but to be killed, not to over-power with force, but to over-whelm with love. The spreading of Christ’s reign ought to look completely different to the spread of any earthly kingdom. It should look like a base and despised people pointing to a weak and foolish Victim. But this is how we confound the mighty. It is the triumph of grace.