At a high level, Theonomy is about the validity of God’s Law and its application to every area of life – none are excluded. A passage that sounds counter to that notion is John 18:36 which reads as follows:
33 Therefore Pilate entered the Praetorium again, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “You are the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about Me?” 35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me; what have You done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this purpose I have been born, and for this I have come into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” 38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”John 18:33-38 (NASB 2020)
Some have wrongly interpreted Jesus’ mention of His kingdom not being of this world to mean that it’s only spiritual – a pietist’s dream! Is Jesus saying His kingdom has nothing to do with this life? Whatever it means though, it can’t mean that. How can we be sure? Look at The Great Commission:
18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB 2020)
So, the same Jesus that is saying in John 18 that His Kingdom has nothing to do with this life turns around in Matthew 28 and says we are to disciple the nations? Clearly, the interpretation of John 18 is faulty. So, what is Jesus saying in John 18?
In Jesus’ discourse with Pilate, Pilate is trying to figure out what should be done with Him. Clearly, Jesus’ proclamation that He is a King automatically makes Him an enemy of the Roman state. Jesus doesn’t shy away from the kingship question but nuances it by saying it’s not of this world. If it were of this world, “My servants would be fighting”. By qualifying His kingship, Pilate doesn’t see Him as a threat to the State – which was actually an incorrect conclusion since Christianity brought down the Roman empire.
A lengthy quote from the NICNT touches on many of these points and more:
36 Jesus knows this, and responds accordingly: “My kingship is not from this world. If my kingship were from this world, my officers would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingship is not from here” (v. 36). He tacitly acknowledges that he is a king, just as Nathanael and the crowds in Jerusalem confessed him to be, but he is careful to explain what kind of king he is not, leaving the reader to infer the kind of king he is. In contrast to 3:3 and 5, it is not a question of a “kingdom,” a realm that human beings can “see” (3:3) and “enter” (3:5), but rather “kingship,” something belonging to Jesus alone, his royal authority as Son of God (see 1:49, “Son of God” and “King of Israel”).
It is important here to avoid a common misunderstanding. That Jesus’ kingship is not “from this world” does not mean that it is merely “spiritual” in the sense of being inward or subjective. It is not simply Christ reigning in the hearts of individuals. The phrase does not so much define the nature of Jesus’ kingship as locate its origin. It is not “from” this present world, just as Jesus himself is not “from this world” (8:23b). Rather, he is “from above” (8:23a), or “from heaven” (3:13; 6:33, 41, 50, 51, 58), and he now wants the reader to know that the same is true of his “kingship.” He says it twice: “My kingship is not from this world,” and “But now my kingship is not from here.” In the same way that “not from this world” implies “from heaven,” or “from above,” the notice that Jesus’ kingship is not “from here” implies that it is “from above” (3:31). In short, it comes not from Jerusalem or Rome, but from heaven, from the very presence of God, and therefore belongs to God. Divine origin implies divine ownership. “Not from this world” implies no allegiance to this world, but allegiance only to God. Jesus’ kingship is not merely “spiritual” but eschatological, rather like the Holy City in Revelation, always coming down “out of heaven from God” (Rev 3:12; 21:2, 10). It is nothing less than Jesus’ all-encompassing “authority over all flesh” (17:2; also Mt 28:18), and in the end it will supersede all human authority. Pilate in the end will pronounce it politically harmless (see v. 38b), but it is more dangerous than he imagines.
The Gospel of John by R. Ramsey Michaels in the NICNT Series
The two assertions that Jesus’ kingship, or royal authority, is not “from this world” (or “from here”) frame a contrary-to-fact condition. The second one, “But now my kingdom is not from here,” brings matters back to reality, but the conditional clause itself addresses the question, “What if Jesus’ kingship were from this world? What difference would it make?” The difference, he says, is that “my officers would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews.” To begin with, he would have “officers” under him, like the “officers” of the chief priests who came to arrest him (18:3, 12, 18, 22; also 7:32, 45), not just “disciples.” These “officers” would fight back, and he would not have been taken. Admittedly, the logic is not airtight. First, one of Jesus’ disciples, evidently fancying himself an “officer,” had in fact drawn a sword and cut off Malchus’s ear (v. 10). Second, even a king whose kingship was “not from this world” might (according to a different tradition) have called on “twelve legions of angels” for reinforcements (see Mt 26:53). But the first was irrelevant because Jesus renounced Peter’s misguided attempt to help (v. 11), and was in fact arrested despite the token resistance. The second scenario—even if known to the writer of John’s Gospel—would have made no sense at all to a Roman governor. The contrary-to-fact condition is ambiguous as far as tense is concerned. It could be translated either “my officers would fight so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (as we have done), or “my officers would have fought so that I would not be handed over to the Jews” (italics added). We might have expected “so that I would not be handed over to you,” for Pilate has just said, “Your nation and the chief priests handed you over to me” (v. 35). The present tense, “my officers would fight,” is marginally more appropriate because the reference to being “handed over to the Jews” anticipates not the present moment but rather the end of the whole sequence of events when, as we will learn, Pilate finally “handed him over to them [that is, to “the Jews”] to be crucified” (19:16, italics added). Already here, Jesus drops a hint that he will die at the hands of “the Jews” after all.
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