The Pulpit Commentary

John 18:33-38 (John 18:33-38)

(b) [Within the Praetorium.] Christ ' s admission that he was a King , but that his kingdom was not of this world .

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John 18:37 (John 18:37)

Pilate therefore said to him, Art thou a King then ? The precise mean-lug of this exclamation depends on the accentuation of ουκουν —whether it be οὐκοῦν £ equivalent to igitur , "therefore:" "Therefore on your own showing you are a King!" or whether οὔκουν be the form; then it would have the force of nonne igitur? expecting an affirmative response. It is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον in the New Testament, but it generally implies an inference and a question expecting agreement with the questioner. Here Pilate flashes out with haughty rebuke. He had satisfied himself that Jesus was no political rival; hut, in wonderment and scorn, he would sound a little deeper the mystery of the kingly claim. It is not a judicial inquiry, but a burst of ironical surprise: So then , after all , thou art a King , even then? wavering between positive and negative reply. Hengstenberg sees neither irony nor scorn in the obsess , but a certain amount of disturbed equanimity. Jesus answered, Thou sayest it, that I am a King. This mode of affirmation is not found in classical Greek or the LXX ., but occurs in the New Testament, and in the synoptists also it is given as the great answer of Jesus. Some have translated the ὅτι as "for" or "because," and added "well" and "rightly" to the λέγεις . Thus: Thou sayest well , for I am a King . Hengstenberg and Lampe separate this declaration from what follows, which they interpret exclusively of the prophetic office of Jesus: but the εἰς τοῦτο points backwards as well as forwards, and our Lord accepts that which he proceeds to explain as his royal functions. Westcott, however, says that Jesus neither accepts nor rejects the title of King, but simply reiterates Pilate's words, "Thou sayest that I am a King; I will proceed to explain what I mean by my royal mission." Seeing, however, that our Lord had already implicitly avowed his kingly state, it is far better to discern in the reply an acknowledgment of the inference which Pilate had scornfully drawn. This is the "good confession" to which St. Paul referred ( 1 Timothy 6:13 ). This is the assumption, before the tribunal of the whole world, that he was and would forever remain its true King. To this end have I been born . γεγέννημαι is an important admission of his true humanity, which Keim and others are unwilling to find in the Fourth Gospel. And to this end have I come into the world. These words are not tautological. In the first clause he asserts his birth as a man, in the second he refers to the state of being which preceded his incarnation (cf. here John 16:28 , note), out of which he came, and to which he is now returning. The being "born" of woman is one fact, the "coming into this world" is another which he makes antithetical to his return to the Father. ἐλήλυθα , present perfect, being used instead of ἤλθον , and implies that his "coming is permanent in its effects, and not simply a past historic fact" (Westcott). In order that I might bear witness unto the truth. This is his supreme claim. There is an absolute reality. God's way of thinking about things is the closest approximation we can make to the concept of "truth per se ." In this is comprehended all the reality of the Divine nature and character; all that the eternal God thinks concerning man and the laws which have been given him, and concerning the failure of man to realize God's idea of what he ought to have been; all the absolute fact, just as it really is, of man's peril and his prospects, the actual relations between body and spirit, between the individual and the community; all man's positive need of redemption; all the deep mystery of Christ's own Person and work. These constitute the mighty realm of things, beings, duties, and prospects, which we call truth. Jesus said he had been born and had come into the world in order to bear witness to truth. From John the Baptist's standpoint, that prophet bore witness concerning the light ( John 1:7 , John 1:8 ), and, according to the range of his vision, he too ( John 5:33 ) bore "witness to the truth" ( i . e . so far as he knew it) of the Christ. Our Lord now solemnly declares that he himself came to bear witness to THE TRUTH in all its amplitude. Hengstenberg sees in these words simply a reference here to the prophetic office of Christ; but the next clause shows that our Lord is actually defining by this claim the extent of the kingdom that is "not from hence" or from this world as its origin. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice . To "hear the voice" is to obey as a supreme authority ( John 10:8 , John 10:16 , John 10:27 ), and the phrase shows how widely the thought ranges. Every mind open to the influence of truth, every one who is set against the unrealities of mere opinion or tradition, who derives life and joy from the realm of reality, every one who therefore knows how different he might be, how much he needs, who is "of God," as the Source and Beginning and Ground of all things. Compare here the remarkable parallel to this sentiment, Jn rift. 47; and also the words of the high-priestly prayer, "All thine are mine, and mine are thine," and "Those whom thou hast given me are thine; thine they were, and thou gavest them me." The same large embrace of human souls is conspicuous here, Every one that is of the truth heareth the voice of Christ, and will accept his authority as final and supreme. The sublime witness to the truth which he had been bearing, in this manifestation of the Name of the Father, would make the voice of Jesus the imperial and august authority for all who fell how much they needed truth. The Sanhedrists said that "truth is the seal of God," and they played upon the word תם ) or "truth," by making it equivalent to the first and middle and last of all things, seeing that א מ ת , are the first, middle, and last of the letters of the alphabet

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John 18:37 (John 18:37)

"The King of the Jews."

It is the peculiarity of some people that a plain "Yes" and "No" can hardly ever be got out of them. After all, however, it is only an irritating peculiarity, not a dangerous one. The real danger is when people say "Yes" and "No" too easily, too thoughtlessly. Here is the question of Pilate to Jesus," Art thou the King of the Jews?" What at first sight could look simpler and easier to answer? Yet it was not simple and easy. Thus we have to consider—

I. JESUS IN HIS TREATMENT OF PILATE 'S QUESTION . TO Pilate the question was simple enough. He meant, of course, a king in the ordinary acceptation of the term. If Jesus had said "No" to this question, the answer would have been right enough, but it would only have led on to other questions, without any real result to the interests of truth. Jesus evidently did not wish to talk much at this season. The time for teaching was past; the time for submission and suffering had now fully come. Still, whatever Jesus had to say must be significant, and mere "Yes" or "No" to ignorant human questionings would have told nothing. Hence, without saying he was a king, Jesus talks about his kingdom and its principles of defense, which, of course, were equally its principles of attack.

II. Thus we see Jesus answering the question by showing THE ELEMENTS OF HIS POWER AND THE METHOD OF HIS PROGRESS .

1. The elements of his power . He looks a lonely man before the representatives of the greatest power in the then world. Whatever could be done by force of numbers and discipline, Rome could do. But quantity of a lower kind can do nothing against quality of a higher kind. Jesus is not concerned to maintain the integrity of a fleshly body, though even that he could have done if needful. It was the integrity of the inner life Jesus had to maintain against temptation. Jesus had his own personal battle to fight and victory to win, before he could lead men in their greatest battle and most decisive victory. The risen Savior is the Man Christ Jesus made fully manifest in his abiding sinlessness. If Pilate will only wait a little while, and open his mind to the truth, he will see by deeds that Jesus is a King. Not what a man says, but what he does, proves his claim.

2. The method of his progress . Jesus wants us to get above the ideas of mere conflict and victory and overcoming of opposition. What he desires is the free, joyous, and entire submission of the individual, because of the truth which is made clear to him in Jesus. Jesus is the only one who can distinguish reality from appearance, truth from falsehood, and the abiding from the perishing. Jesus, as he says, came into the world. The world was ever in his thoughts, for the world's good. He no more belonged to the land he happened to live in than the sun belongs to that particular part of the earth where he happens to be shining. The sun belongs to the whole world, and so does Jesus. The sun belongs to every age, and so does Jesus. He came into the world to bear witness to the truth, and wherever there is a soul wrapped in delusion and falsehood, mistaking realities for dreams, and dreams for realities, Jesus is there to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.—Y.

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