During Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor asked the Lord, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33). Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36, ESV).
As Roman governor in Judea, Pilate’s primary responsibility was to maintain peace and order. The Jewish high council wanted to put Jesus to death, so they sent Him to Pilate because he alone held the power to pronounce a death sentence (John 19:10). The high priest Caiaphas had to convince Pilate that Jesus was a troublemaker and a threat to Roman stability. He accused Christ of claiming to be a king—a charge that would insinuate Jesus in the crime of recruiting rebel forces to launch a revolution against Roman authority (Luke 23:2–5). Caiaphas hoped that, to avoid a rebellion, Pilate would determine to put Jesus to death.
When Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He was, in essence, telling Pilate that He needed no earthly defense because His kingdom wasn’t from the world. Christ admitted He was head of an empire, but not one that Rome needed to fear as a political rival. If His kingdom were of this world, His servants would have been fighting to defend Him. But Jesus had restrained His disciples from preventing His arrest (John 18:10–11).
Pilate realized that Jesus had no interest in stirring up a rebellion. He posed no threat to Rome. Directly following this conversation, Pilate told the Jewish leaders, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 18:38).
“My kingdom” refers to a spiritual kingdom of truth where Jesus reigns as Lord over the lives of His people. Jesus told Pilate, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true” (John 18:37). Jesus did not come to earth to rule over a mortal empire. He came to bear witness to the truth of who He is—the Messiah, Savior of the world. Everyone who loves and recognizes this truth is a citizen of Christ’s kingdom.
The Jewish high council wanted Pilate to condemn Jesus under the pretense that He was raising a rebellion against Rome and proclaiming Himself “king of the Jews.” But that scenario was inaccurate, and Jesus cleared up the distortion, saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The Lord hit on the word truth as if to say, “The real truth is this, Pilate: they want me dead because they are horrified by the truth of my claim—that I am ‘I Am,’ the promised Jewish Messiah.”
Jesus offers the truth of intimate fellowship with the only true God. He was born into this world for this purpose: “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (John 17:3, NLT). His kingdom presents the opportunity to know the truth that sets us free from sin and death (Romans 8:2; John 8:32). Only those who are born again can see Christ’s kingdom (John 3:3). And only those who are born of water and spirit can enter His kingdom (John 3:5).
Once, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). To His disciples, the Lord explained that the world and the “prince of this world” held no power over Him (John 14:22–30). The world hates Christ and His followers, “for they are not of the world” (John 17:14, 16).
The statement, “My kingdom is not of this world,” relates to the origin and nature of Christ’s kingdom, not the location. The authority and power of Christ’s kingdom are drawn from a source outside of this world—from God, our heavenly Father. Christ’s headship is not of human origin but divine.
Christ’s kingdom is unlike any on this earth: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Other kingdoms are rooted in the realm of this world, but Christ’s is unique. His kingship is spiritual. It comes down to us from heaven and gives life to the world (John 6:33).
While not of this world, the Lord’s kingdom is most certainly in this world, exercising authority over this world and impacting this world. Jesus Christ and all of His disciples take orders from above, not from below. We are to set our minds “on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). When it comes to obeying the law, the apostle Peter said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29, NLT).
As believers in Jesus, we are subjects of Christ’s kingdom. This world is not our home (Hebrews 13:14; Philippians 3:20; 1 John 2:15–17). We are citizens of heaven, and we owe our highest allegiance to our ultimate authority—King Jesus. Just as He declared, we, too, can say, “My kingdom is not of this world.”