“Jesus’ kingdom… makes its way with a quite different weapon… telling the truth.”
God’s kingdom is marked by its insistence on speaking honestly, not just to one another but toward systems. It insists that the poor, marginalised and oppressed (while recognising they may have wronged others) have been wronged by systems. It names and exposes corruption to the rulers and to the people.
This is implicit in John 18-19. Here we have the religious and political systems of Rome and Jerusalem carrying out a great (the greatest?) miscarriage of justice. A mock trial takes place with the religious leaders (18:19-24), lies and manipulation transpire, sending Jesus on to the executioners for further judgment (v23-24).
Here the kingdom of truth comes against the most powerful kingdom on the earth – Rome.
As the Jewish leaders, wanting a crucifixion, pester Pilate to get rid of this Messiah-king – whom Pilate sees is quite clearly of no threat to him. A decision must be made. Will Pilate precipitate and collude with the injustice so clearly in front of him (v28-31)?
Pilate enquires further with Jesus about what is going on and no doubt, we could think, he finds a man deluded. Jesus has the audacity to claim that the reason he “came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (v37)
Pilate cynically retorts the famous question “What is truth?” (v38) and having gauged that Jesus is of no threat to him seamlessly, and without conscience, perpetuates the lies and injustice power and posturing so easily carry out – “it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’? They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (v39-40)
What frames Pilates interrogation is the question of kingship – “Are you the king of the Jews?” (v33) – are you one who identifies with a label that would challenge Caesars rule? This the Judeans knew as they state “anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (19:12), this having just pressed the reality of Jesus’ claim closer to Pilate by identifying the title king of the Jews with the title ‘Son of God’ – a title shared (and for Roman, exclusively) Caesars’.
Does this Jesus, who doesn’t come as the usual revolutionary king, identify with this label? He appears to in a most peculiar way – “My kingdom is not of this world.” (v36) Which is enough for Pilate to proceed within his categories of violent power and military and political threats – “You are a king, then!” (v37) – and so Jesus’ death march begins.