I.) Inescapability of Kingship
Here in John 18:33f we see the idea of the Inescapability of Kingship. The Jews will not have this man Jesus rule over them as King but that does not mean the category of Kingship disappears. It is never a question of whether men will be ruled by a Sovereign or not. It is only a question of which sovereign … which King will they be ruled by.
Here in John 18-19 the choice for the Jews is either the Lord Christ or Barabbas? The people reject the king for a insurrectionist. (John 18:38f)
After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a insurrectionist.
You see what the Jews have done here is that they have said we would rather have a insurrectionist than the Lord Christ. This makes sense for in that choice they were revealing their own Jewish insurrectionist spirit that would rule over God’s sovereign rule.
Later Pilate asks the Jews again, “Shall I crucify your king?”(John 19:15) In their reply, “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). In this St. John shows that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus leads them to deny God’s kingship and embrace Roman rule. Here the Jews have decided that the Tyranny of the Roman State is to be preferred above the Kingship of the Lord Christ.
In these two choices of someone besides Christ as King (Barrabas the Insurrectionist and Caesar the Tyrant) we have the only two choices presented to us when we refuse the Kingship of Christ. If we will not bow to Christ the King we will bow to either the Tyranny of Centralized Authority (Caesar) or the Tyranny of individual anarchism (Barrabas).
In the end, Pilate, as representative of all Gentiles and the Jews, intent on Revolting against God, crucify the King but in doing so they do not get rid of the idea of Kingship. Instead they embrace Kingship… the Kingship of the Insurrectionist autonomous individual and the Kingship of the Tyrant.
These choices of Individual anarchy as King over Christ as King or the Statist Tyrant as King over Christ as King can be embodied by a couple quotes.
The anarchist autonomous individual as King is seen in a quote from one Jeremy Rifkin. Jeremy Rifkin, has been an adviser to the European Union since 2002 and has also been head of the largest global economic development team in the world.
In 1983 at a point in the maturation of the 60’s cultural revolution, he declared in “A New Word– A New World”:
“We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of preexisting cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible for nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.”
Rifkin embodies the same spirit as those Jews who would have Barabbas instead of Christ. They would have themselves as insurrectionist Kings over Christ.
On the other hand if we will not take Christ as King and if we will not have the autonomous insurrectionist individual ala Barabbas as King we will have no choice but to invest the State with Kingship. Rushdoony understood this well and this point was one of the pillars of his ministry,
If there be no God with a governing law over all things then a man-made world order must replace him. The alternative to God and His law is inevitably a humanistic law and world order. An obvious fact that scholars shy away from is this: when Darwin abolished God by reducing the universe to chance there had to be logically a substitute for God. That substitute has been socialism, statism. When there is no God to predestine and control all things, then man and the state must do so. So we have a world-wide explosion of statism with one goal in mind, to replace God with statist controls and regulations, and just as God’s predestination that works from within determines all things the modern state is determined to govern, regulate, and prescribe all things. From the womb to the tomb, from cradle to grave, we are in a religious war! Whose predestination will prevail? That of Almighty God or that of the state? Take your choice.
Justice & World Law
So there it is. If we will not have Christ’s Kingship we will not escape from being ruled. If we will not have Christ the King then we will have either the Insurrectionist and Revolutionary as King or we will have the State as King. The Bomb-thrower or the Tyrant. It is never a question of if we will be ruled by a King, it is only a question of what King we will be ruled by.
II.) The Character of Christ’s Kingship
Part of the irony of John’s presentation of the trial and crucifixion is that Pilate uses his own authority to declare Jesus’ kingship. Pilate places an inscription over the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (John 19:19). The chief priests protest, asking Pilate to clarify that this was only what Jesus claimed. But Pilate refuses their request with a solemn pronouncement, “What I have written, I have written” (19:22).
In this way, John crafts his narrative so that Jesus’ kingship becomes most visible in his crucifixion. It is as if his crucifixion is his enthronement as king, the moment at which the declaration of his kingship is made public. Although all four Gospels record the inscription over the cross (cf. Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38),
Here we might note we have the theme of the Theology of the Cross. The Great King enthroned upon a stake. Luther’s God hidden.
And yet we must keep mind also the words of the Lord Christ as King right before His ascension when He spoke with His Kingly authority saying “All authority has been given to me in Heaven and Earth.” There we see His Kingship expressed in his requirement that all the Nations should be discipled.
The Kingship of Christ is expressed both in the dark night of Crucifixion and in the glorious ascension of Christ.
Continuing with this point of the Character of Christ’s Kingship we must speak especially to John 18:36, one of those passages that is so often mishandled.
36 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.”
What many many Christians want to make this mean is that Christ has no interest in this world. We often hear this mindset when we advocate for Christ the King’s cause in the public realm. Here we are tenaciously championing the King’s Word and some clergy member will say, with a deep growling pious tone, “Brother, you shouldn’t get so exercised about these worldly matters, after all Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”
For example one Reformed Seminary Professor at a flagship Reformed Seminary recently wrote,
The church, as a visible institution, as the embassy of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, has no social agenda for the wider civil and cultural world. Dr. R. Scott Clark
You see, the point here is that the Kingship of Christ as revealed in Scripture is not to be championed by the Church. Christ is King but not so much that the Church should champion the King’s cause.
Another Reformed Seminary Professor from the same flagship Reformed Seminary likewise took on the Kingship of Christ when he said publicly,
“Although a contractual relationship denies God’s will for human dignity, I could affirm domestic partnerships as a way of protecting people’s legal and economic security.”
“The challenge there is that two Christians who hold the same beliefs about marriage as Christians may appeal to neighbor-love to support or to oppose legalization of same-sex marriage.”
Dr. Mike Horton — Reformed Theologian
Professor at Westminster West — California
You see, this is just a jettisoning of the idea of the Kingship of Christ in the public square.
Contrast these quotes with the words of another Reformed Seminary Professor of another Generation,
“And if Christ is really King, exercising original and immediate jurisdiction over the State as really as he does over the Church, it follows necessarily that the general denial or neglect of his rightful lordship, any prevalent refusal to obey that Bible which is the open lawbook of his kingdom, must be followed by political and social as well as by moral and religious ruin. If professing Christians are unfaithful to the authority of their Lord in their capacity as citizens of the State, they cannot expect to be blessed by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost in their capacity as members of the Church.”
~A.A. Hodge, from “Popular Lectures on Theological Themes”
John 18:36 does not teach that the Lord Christ abdicated His authority in the public square. What is being taught in this phrase was captured by the Scholar B. F. Wescott,
B. F. Wescott speaking of John 18:36 could comment,
“Yet He did claim a sovereignty, a sovereignty of which the spring and the source was not of earth but of heaven. My Kingdom is not of thisworld (means it) does not derive its origin or its support from earthly sources.”
The Gospel According To John — pg. 260
Dr. Greg Bahnsen echoing Wescott’s work wrote,
“‘My kingdom is not of [ek: out from] this world,’” is a statement about the source — not the nature — of His reign, as the epexegetical ending of the verse makes obvious: ‘My kingdom is not from here [enteuthen].’ The teaching is not that Christ’s kingdom is wholly otherworldly, but rather that it originates with God Himself (not any power or authority found in creation.”
Dr. Greg Bahnsen
God & Politics — pg. 27
John 18:36 is often put forth as a defeater passage for the comprehensive Kingship of the Lord Jesus over this world. Bahnsen clearly shows here, quite in agreement with the Greek scholar B. F. Westcott, that God’s Kingdom, as it manifests itself in this world, is energized by a source outside this world. This is important to emphasize because many people read John 18:36 as proof that the Kingdom of Jesus does not and should not express itself in this world. Often this verse is appealed to in order to prove that God’s Kingdom is only “spiritual” and as such Christians shouldn’t be concerned about what are perceived as “non-spiritual” realms. Support for such thinking, if there is any, must come from passages other than John 18:36.
What we get from some contemporary Calvinists, is the quote of Christ telling Pilate that ‘His Kingdom is not of this World,’ as if that is to end all conversation on the Lordship of Christ over all cultural endeavors. What is forgotten is the way that John often uses the word ‘World.’ John often uses the word ‘World’ with a sinister significance to communicate a disordered reality in grip of the Devil set in opposition to God. If that is the way that the word ‘world’ is being used in John 18:36 then we can understand why Jesus would say that His Kingdom ‘was not of this world.’ The Kingdom of Jesus will topple the Kingdoms of this disordered world changing them to be the Kingdoms of His ordered world, but it won’t be done by the disordered methodology of this World and so Jesus can say, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” Hopefully, we can see that such a statement doesn’t mean that Christ’s Kingdom has no effect in this world or that Christ’s Kingdom can’t overcome the world.
John 18:36 is often appealed to in order to prove that the Kingdom of God is a private individual spiritual personal reality that does not impinge on public square practice(s) of peoples or nations corporately considered. Those who appeal to John 18:36 in this way are prone thus to insist that God’s Word doesn’t speak to the public square practice(s) of peoples or nations since such an appeal (according to this thinking) would be an attempt to wrongly make God’s Kingdom of this world.
The problem with this though is it that it is a misreading of the passage. When Jesus say’s “My Kingdom is not of this world,” his use of the word “world” here is not spatial. Jesus is not saying that His Kingdom does not impact planet earth. What Jesus is saying is that His Kingdom does not find its source of authority from the world as it lies in Adam.
Jesus brings a Kingdom to this world that is in antithetical opposition to the Kingdom of Satan that presently characterizes this world in this present wicked age. The Kingdom that Jesus brings has its source of authority in His Father’s Word. As a result of Christ bringing His Kingdom with His advent there are two Kingdoms that are vying for supremacy on planet earth. Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of the “age to come” that characterizes Christ’s present Kingdom will be victorious in this present spatial world that is characterized by “this present wicked age,” precisely because, in principle, Christ’s Kingdom is already victorious in this present spatial world.
What this means of course for many many Christians is the necessity to jettison the Humanist thinking that insists that we must have separation of Christianity and State. If we separate Christianity and State … if we separate the State, from the Kingship of Christ, the result will be that the State itself will take up the mantle of Christ’s Kingship and as we saw earlier we will then be ruled as by a Tyrant.
Our Lord as King has crown rights over us by virtue of two facts.
1.) Creation — “All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” John 1:3.
Col. 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
2.) Redemption — You are not your own, you were bought with a price
I Cor. 6:20 — you are not your own For you have been bought with a price:
I Cor. 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.
Christ is our great King both by way of Creation and by way of Redemption. As such He, as King, as a double claim on us and this claim means we are the people who are eager to champion the great law of the King in our obedience and in our proclamation. We belong to the King and we move in terms of His legislative grace word.
You see of course that this is the problem of Arminianism and many other non-Reformed understandings of Christianity. Their denial of Christ’s Kingship is hard-baked into their theology. In Arminianism you have man trying to form joint regency with Christ as King. Man must have a King’s sovereign choice over his salvation. Man is King over his salvation. Well, if man is going to be sovereign King in the matter of his own regeneration then we should not be surprised when such non Reformed Christians reserve to themselves Kingly rights over every command of God’s law. When you assert your right to be King in order to choose God then there is no area that you will not claim.
Put succinctly and as pithily as I know how we must say that men who believe that they choose Christ as King very shortly come to believe that they can choose their own Kingly law.