What we must recognise is that the eyes that see Jesus as deluded, the ears that refuse even the attempt to comprehend his words are those that are operating in a completely different place. We know enough to recognise Jesus’ should not have been there. We know enough to recognise that Jesus was innocent. So did Pilate, but when you function on a register that is predicated on strength, violence and oppressive political manoeuvring (“Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (19:10)) it is not just easy, it is convenient and pragmatic to reduce the words of the weak, or innocent, or seemingly insignificant to ‘facts of the ground’ and consequences that the system can absorb and spit out forgetfully.
These are the ways of power and empire and we recognise them still.
Yet Jesus stands as the representative of truth, the embodied Word (John 1v14), who speaks against these corrupt and dishonest religious and political regimes. He stands in solidarity with those who have been chewed up and spat out by the system, judging what “power” with categories that operate in a different register, because as Jesus has stated his “kingdom is from another place” (18:36) – this place however is more than at home “on Earth as it is heaven” – in fact we can only really call here “home” if that “kingdom comes” here.
This kingdom knows the hungry, the sick, the dead, the lonely, the poor, the forgotten, and stands for them, offering what the rulers of the world have neglected to extend. Jesus stands before the representative of king Caesar as the king of the kingdom of truth, having been made a pariah by the religious elite. Jesus is sentenced and crucified as the ‘king of the Jews’ – a label he has radically redefined the religious and political significance and meaning of. We may think this is the defeat of the kingdom of truth – death is never a good thing, death is the end. Yet if we did we would miss the refrain throughout John that “the Son of Man must be lifted up” (3:14) and that, in Jesus’ words, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:32).
The crucifixion is where and when the kingdom of truth becomes visible to all, lifted up like a light in the darkness, naming and revealing the nature of powers and peoples and systems. Here they are made synonymous with and inextricably connected to the death they bring and in turn recognised as nihil.
Ultimately in Jesus’ trials it is both “Caiaphas and Pilate and the systems they represent and embody that are on trial – and that lose their case. Jesus, having declared that he will be vindicated, goes to his death as to an enthronement, while the Judean leaders declare that they have no king but Caesar.” As Jesus speaks truthfully to these regimes judgment is judged and condemnation is condemned. Lies are met with truth. Oppression is met by service. Power is met with nonviolent, principled resistance.
The kingdom of truth that Jesus brings is established here in the dishonesty, despair and distortions of the world, as that which acts over and against the tyranny of power that control and make life that way. It is in this despair, in this nihil, that life is resurrected and this kingdom is experienced as inaugurated; bringing new life and creation as they cascade from the movements of the king of the kingdom of truth and his coming spirit. All this comes to those who believe and act truthfully (20:31) because truth has spoken with power against the distortions of lies and dishonesty of Caiaphas and his entourage, the violent power exhibited by the empires of Pilate and Caesar and their pragmatic capitulation to deceit has been overcome by redefined, peaceful power that speaks and acts truthfully, and, above all, life has been resurrected with the king of truth, robbing lies and violence of their most effective weapon: death – and it is here Christians live as people of the empire (or kingdom) of truth who interface the empires of deceit, proclaiming the reign of another king.