Bible Study November 12 for Worship November 25Posted: November 8, 2012
Bible Study November 12 for Worship November 25
John 18: 33 Pilate entered the praetorium again and called Jesus, and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?”
35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me; what have you done?”
36 Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”
37 Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again, and told them, “I find no crime in him.
39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?”
40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!”
Our scripture is designated as the assigned passage for the Sunday before the beginning of Advent. In the Church Calendar this Sunday is the end of Kingdomtide, and so a strange passage from the gospel of John focusing on the Kingship of Jesus is used as a bridge between Kingdomtide and Advent.
Probably none of Jesus’ followers were present at the interrogation of Jesus by the Roman Governor Pilate. They had all gone into hiding. This conversation between Jesus and Pilate was almost certainly the creation of the imagination of the author of John. The conversation reflects the confrontation between the Roman Empire and the followers of Jesus in the late First Century and Early Second Century, when the church emerged on the Empire’s radar screen. Up until the end of the First Century the church was considered a Jewish sect, and enjoyed the toleration the Empire extended to Judaism. As more and more gentiles were recruited into the life of the church, the Romans became aware of this strange sect as a threat to the Empire.
Now there may be some link to actual history in this passage. According to the early church tradition the governor had decreed that the charge against Jesus should be nailed to his cross, and the charge read: “the King of the Jews.” This little nugget of information may have some historical accuracy. The Roman Governor would delight in needling the Temple authorities and proving that Roman had the power to execute Jewish Kings.
We should also take note of John’s use of the word truth. The word truth is used twenty-four times in the gospels, and twenty- one of those occurrences are in the Gospel of John. Truth as a disembodied intellectualized ideal was primarily a product of Greek philosophy and culture. By the time of the First Century skepticism had led philosophical speculation into a cynical dead end. According to skepticism Truth cannot be established with any degree of certainly because all knowledge is subject to doubt. Even information derived from our physical senses is subject to doubt, because the senses can be fooled as in the case of illusions. Even the existence of reality can be doubted. After all who can prove that the world is really a dream? When Jesus said, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Pilate was naturally skeptical and retorted with the cynic’s question: “What is truth?” As if to say, “What are you talking about anyway, we all know there is no truth, only naked power.”
Again the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Empire was on display, when in verse 38 Pilate admitted that he found no crime in Jesus, but he went ahead and ordered his execution anyway. The Empire stood convicted of executing Jesus, just as the Empire was guilty of persecuting and executing the followers of Jesus. And I want to give the author of John some real credit for faith. When John was written, the Empire was still persecuting the church. The author could not look ahead and know that ultimately the church would convert the Empire. (He also didn’t know that the Empire would coop the church.) Therefore this conversation between Jesus and Pilate that played out in the imagination of the author of John was a real testament of faith. Faith that ultimately the way of Jesus would prevail over the power of the Empire.
Now let’s pay special attention to verse 36: Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.”
Verse 36 is misinterpreted to mean that the Kingdom of Jesus is off in heaven, it is an otherworldly Kingdom that has nothing to do with this earth. The Lutheran doctrine of the two Kingdoms can be traced to this verse. But let’s examine the verse more carefully. Jesus is not claiming that his teaching is only meant to get people into heaven, rather he is saying that his teaching of non-violence means that his followers will not physically or violently contest with Rome’s power. But the spiritual struggle to try to redeem the Empire from its murderous pursuit of power, wealth and oppression will be non-violently pursued by the followers of Jesus. And that is why the truly great spiritual movements of the 20th century focused on confronting oppression and violence with love. Mahatma Gandhi freed India. Martin Luther King set in motion a movement to end racism in America. (We still have a ways to go.) And Nelson Mandela brought down the forces of apartheid in South Africa. Suffering non-violent love is a costly kind of love. It cost Jesus his life. The way of Jesus has cost many martyrs their lives, but in a world that is possessed by the insanity of violent oppression, suffering non-violent love is the only sane way to live. And that is the message of the gospel as we close out the season of Kingdomtide.
LET’S ASK SOME QUESTIONS OF THE TEXT
1. Where does this interview between Jesus and Pilate occur?
2. What is Pilate’s question to Jesus?
3. How did Jesus answer Pilate’s question?
4. Where did Jesus seem to locate his Kingship?
5. In verse 36 what was Jesus saying about the nature of his followers?
6. Based on Jesus’ response what conclusion does Pilate draw?
7. According to Jesus, who hears his voice?
8. How did Pilate respond?
9. Who did the author of John end up trying to blame for the crucifixion of Jesus?
LET’S ALLOW THE TEXT TO ASK QUESTIONS OF US
1. King is a concept that is relatively alien to people living in a modern democracy. How would you reinterpret “king” to make this passage more understandable for unchurched folks in America?
2. Rome of the dominant Empire in the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus. What “Empires” or regimes of oppression have we known in our modern era?
3. Pilate is the representative of the Empire in this passage. How would you contrast Jesus and Pilate?
4. What do you think Jesus was saying when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world. . .?”
5. Do you think Jesus was teaching non-violence?
6. What do you think Jesus means when he says, “Everyone is of the truth hears my voice?”
7. How would you answer the question: “What is truth?”
8. Why do you think Pilate kept referring to Jesus as “the King of the Jews?”
9. In what ways might following Jesus lead us into suffering for love?
The week of November 19 – November 25: Thanksgiving Sunday – John 18:33-37 – A Wise Reign – II Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18), Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1:4b-8.