A Tale of Two Kingdoms
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)
Some of my fondest college memories are from the basement of Maxcy College. Maxcy was the freshmen dorm where I lived my first year of college at the University of South Carolina, and in one of the rooms in the basement was a pool table. Many evenings were spent shooting pool with classmates and fellow residents, arguing over politics, current events, or society in general. Most of us were majoring in history or political science, so we all had pretty entrenched opinions about the way things were, and the way things should be. There were Republicans and Democrats; Christians, Jews, and Atheists; students from just down the highway, as well as from across the country. More than once we talked, discussed, and argued (civilly), until dawn’s early light broke through the windows looking in from the street above.
I mention this to show that I am not by nature apolitical. My fascination with history and politics dates from the time I first began reading independently. If they still had the old cards where you signed your name to check out a book, you could go to my elementary school library and find my name on all of the biographies of the founding fathers and early American statesmen. I even read a book on the history of the House of Representatives one time … for fun!
Despite my fascination with history and my strong political opinions, I have become less and less expressive of my views. Gone are the days of civil, convivial conversation around a game of pool. Discussion for the sake of learning from others’ perspectives seems to be a thing of the past. Now everyone talks, but no one listens. In today’s America, rhetoric is driven by fear and political agendas. Perhaps the saddest part is, too often we Christians are in the middle of it all.
If you think back to earlier in the Gospel of John, you’ll remember that Jesus’s followers wanted to fight. As they came to arrest Jesus, we read that “Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant's name was Malchus)” (John 18:10). The arrest of Jesus, at least from the perspective of Jesus’s apostles and disciples, would mean the end of all that for which they had worked. How could Jesus be the Messiah if Jesus was in prison, or even worse dead? Had they really left their homes and their families behind just to see their dream die in a Jerusalem garden? And so Simon Peter drew his sword to protect not only Jesus, but his vision of how the world should be. How often do we lambast someone on Facebook or social media because they express an opinion different than ours? We might claim that we are standing up for what is right or defending Christianity, but I suspect our motivation is really closer to that of Simon Peter. We draw our rhetorical swords not so much to defend Jesus, but to defend our view of how the world should be.
In those moments I plead with you to allow these words of Jesus to echo in your mind: “My kingdom is not of this world.” I understand how great the temptation is to wade into the online battles over society, politics, and current events, but if there is a victory to be won in those battles, it is a pyrrhic victory at best. It’s a victory that costs us so much in relational capital that we are left unable to pursue the agenda that Jesus really cares about.
In an age where fear is so pervasive, wouldn’t it be great if Jesus’s people were seen to be the calmest? What if we lived into Jesus’s promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). God’s future is not contingent on whether we win an argument, or cast our ballot for one candidate or the other. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, regardless of what happens to the kingdoms of this world.
Because Peter sheathed his sword, he lived to see how wrong he was about the future. The death of Jesus was also the death of Peter’s view of how the world should be, and with Christ’s resurrection was born Peter’s ability to see the future as God envisioned it. A great transformation takes place when our views and opinions are brought into submission to the will of God. It’s a transformation so radical that the same man who once drew his sword to defend his hope for an earthly kingdom, could years later write the following words:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Pet 1:3-5)
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Thankfully, our inheritance isn’t either.