Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’ ‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’ Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest… But now my kingdom is from another place.’ ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.
A kingdom and an empire. Two men. Two ways of operating. The meeting of Jesus and Pilate as set down in all the gospels must be one of the most dramatic encounters ever recorded. Jesus, the battered victim, knows what is happening and why. Pilate, the powerful Roman governor of a conquered people, is uneasy, aware of depths and intrigues he cannot grasp, intimidated by the Jewish leaders and the threat to his position if things get out of hand. And they have a brief intense discussion about whether Jesus is a king, and the meaning of truth.
What does Jesus mean when he says that his kingdom is ‘not of this world’ and that therefore his servants would not fight to stop his arrest? Is he talking about his disciples, who have fled in fear, leaving him to the soldiers, except for Peter’s one swashbuckling swipe with a sword? Or is he, obedient to the Father’s will, saying that no angelic host would come to rescue him? And that was one of Satan’s temptations back when his ministry was just beginning – to bring angels down in a spectacular rescue.
Does Jesus have a certain sympathy for Pilate’s unenviable position? As Jesus tells him later in John’s account, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above’. Pilate has been pushed into a corner by religious leaders who believe they are serving the one true God by refusing to enter Pilate’s palace and defile themselves before the Passover, but are using every trick in the book to force Pilate to execute an innocent man.
It is Peter, who briefly tried to fight, and then denied his Lord three times, who writes to Christian slaves, ‘Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps… When they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.’ (1 Peter 2:21-23) Christians today may well be called to live out the life of the Kingdom like that.