I’d like to begin with a question. I’m going to give you a list of things from church history, and I want you to try and think about what these things have in common: the Amish, the Crusades and other “holy wars,” Monks and Nuns, state-sponsored persecution of Baptists, Fundamentalism, Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons?
Each of these events or groups is either motivated by or the result of some wrong view of the kingdom of God. Some of these things over-emphasize the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom, and thereby have a faulty view of this physical age. Others, reinterpret Christ’s kingdom without reference to the Old Testament’s foundation. Others, forget that Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and thereby put their hopes in the kingdoms of this age.
In our study of John 18 we see Jesus’s trial before Pilate. We will see that Christ speaks about his kingdom as a spiritual kingdom, in contrasted to the worldly kingdoms of this age. We’ll most of the sermon thinking about what it means for Christ’s kingdom to be spiritual, what it means for our lives, for our marriages, for our children, for our fears and anxiety, what it means for our ethics in the world, and what it means for our souls.
So let’s begin by reading John 18. I’ll begin reading in 18:28, and read through verse 36.
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
In the preceding verses you can the sinful hearts of the Jewish leaders. They have violated their own legal code and arrested a man at night without charge, condemned and sentenced him on the same day, condemned him to death, and struck him. We saw the hatred in their hearts, and malice they had for Christ and all that he represented, and we saw too how that hatred spilled over even into their dealings with Pilate, the roman Governor of the area. But most of all, we saw the hypocrisy of the religious leaders: they wanted to appear righteous and holy, all the while blaspheming God and his law in their hearts. Tonight, we will spend our time looking at the reign of our great king, who having his kingship questioned by Pilate, reveals that his “kingdom is not of this world.”
Now, as I highlighted in my introduction, there are many errors that we might wander into if we get the nature of Christ’s kingdom wrong, so before I get into the essence of Christ’s kingdom I want to first explain 2 things that Christ is not saying, I want to explain what Christ does not mean when He says that his kingdom is not of this world.
First, when Christ says that his kingdom is not of this world he does not mean that this physical world is unimportant. We’ve seen this error pop up in various groups throughout church history that emphasize the spiritual aspects of the kingdom, and therefore conclude that what we do in this life, “what we do with our physical bodies is irrelevant, because Christ’s kingdom is spiritual. I’m a spiritual child of God in his spiritual kingdom, so I can use my physical body just like the world, and indulge in fornication, adultery, homosexuality, or drunkenness.” You see, they rationalize this behavior by saying that the soul is spiritual and a part of the spiritual kingdom, but the body is worldly, fleshly, physical, so we can use it however we please without effecting the spiritual.
Well this understanding of the kingdom is blatantly wrong. God has great concern for this physical world, including physical human flesh. God’s love for the world was the very reason why he came down and took on physical flesh in the first place. The bible clearly links our physical bodies as an integral part of our embodied existence in this life. When we sin using our physical bodies, it significantly impacts our spiritual condition as well. Read 1 Corinthians 6 sometime to see how Paul highlights the spiritual impact of using our bodies for sin. We must not fall into the error of thinking that this physical world, including our physical bodies, are unimportant.
Second, when Christ says that his kingdom is not of this world he does not mean that his disciples are to withdraw from this physical world. That’s the error that is committed by some Amish, some fundamentalists, and some Monks. They believe that Christ’s kingdom is spiritual, so we must pull back, hide among ourselves, and just wait for Christ to return, lest they be stained by the world and it’s lusts. But Christ is not encouraging retreat from the world. Not only did he come from a spiritual realm into this physical world, he then sends his disciples into that world. In the previous chapter Jesus prays to the father saying, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” In Matthew 28 He commissions his disciples to go into all the nations proclaiming his message, making disciples, baptizing them and training them.
So, Christ saying that his kingdom is not of this world does not mean that this physical world is unimportant, and it does not mean that we are now to withdraw from the world. But what does Christ mean that his kingdom is not of this world?
The main thing that I want to reflect upon tonight is the spirituality, or heavenly nature of Christ’s kingdom. The spirituality, or heavenly nature of Christ’s kingdom. And we will examine the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom in various ways. We’ll look at the entrance into the kingdom, the spiritual kingship of Christ, and the spiritual warfare of his kingdom.
When Christ says that his kingdom is “not of this world” he is using language that is significant within John’s gospel. As we have seen throughout this gospel, John uses many examples of dichotomy, he puts things into pairs of contrasting elements to highlight spiritual realities. John talks about light and darkness, freedom and slavery, sight and blindness, being from above and being from below below, righteousness and evil. So, when Christ says his kingdom is not of this world, he means instead that his reign and rule is a heavenly, a spiritual kingdom, a reign of light and righteousness, not a kingdom whose essence is in line with the fleshly, blind, evil patterns of kingdoms in this world.
Let’s look at a few aspects that highlight the spiritual reign of Christ’s kingdom. We can see the spiritual, or heavenly, nature of the kingdom by the means of entrance. The kingdoms of this world are visible, they are external. Kingdoms require you to pass through a gate, a portal. You have to pass some test, some standard. When we came back into the country from Ecuador into the US, we had to answer questions, and I even had to undergo a baggage inspection, to make sure that I was fit to enter the land.
But Christ’s kingdom is different. To get into his kingdom you don’t take a test, answer questions, or pass inspections. You can’t bribe your way in, you don’t get in because you’re related to somebody that is already a citizen. You can’t get a marriage visa into the kingdom of heaven, and you can’t be smuggled in. To get into Christ’s kingdom you must be born again. Jesus teaches this to Nicodemus in John 3, when he says, “Truly Truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”
The spirituality of Christ’s kingdom is demonstrated by the spirituality of entrance into it. You can’t muscle your way into the kingdom. You can’t buckle down and work hard, to earn enough holy points, you can’t give away enough money, serve enough meals to the poor, read enough bible verses, pray enough prayers to earn your way into the spiritual kingdom. It takes new birth. It takes the Holy Spirit working in the heart. It takes regeneration, where a new heart is planted within you, a heart of faith, a heart of dependence and obedience. And, just as you contributed nothing to your physical birth, you are also dependent upon another for your spiritual birth.
But the good news is that God has provided a way for you to be born of the Spirit. John 1 says that “The true light [that is Jesus], which gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The Jews did not receive Christ, they did not hear the truth, they instead loved the darkness instead of the light, and they failed to enter into the kingdom of God by being born again. But Christ has offered a way. It says that to all who did receive him, to all who did believe that he was the Son sent by the father, to all who did love the darkness more than the light, he gave the right to become children of God. That’s how we enter into the kingdom, by receiving Christ, by trusting him, by believing what he has said in his word, by believing that he is the faithful son sent by the father.
Do you believe that? Have you entered into the kingdom of God by being born again by the Spirit? Have you turned from your sins and trusted in the king of our spiritual kingdom? Or are you still in darkness, in blindness, rejecting Christ as the Jews did? The offer remains open to you. We see the spiritual essence of Christ’s kingdom by the spiritual nature of entrance into it.
Next, let’s consider the Spiritual, or Heavenly nature of our king. The Spiritual or heavenly nature of our king. We will see the spiritual nature of our king in three different categories: his person, his manner, and his reign.
If we get the person of our king wrong, if we don’t understand the qualities of who he is, then we miss everything.
Some people believe that Jesus was just a man. He was a teacher, a provocative teacher, perhaps a political agitator. He was a philosopher, even a great one, worthy of a place in the pantheon of philosophers beside Plato and Socrates. But they cannot accept that he was God incarnate. They think that is ridiculous, superstition, a myth thought up by the early church leaders to manipulate the ignorant masses.
But Christ was no mere man, no mere philosopher or political agitator. He says in verse 37, “For this reason I came into this world.” He Came, he chose to, he decided to enter this physical realm. How many of you decided to be born? None of us. But Jesus decided to come. Jesus has spoken of his pre-existence several times in this gospel. He is the incarnate word of God who was with God and was God from the very beginning. He said of himself, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” He prayed to the father asking to receive back the glory that he had when he was with the father before the world existed.
Furthermore, what mere man has the power to make the waves stop and the wind still, to make the lame to walk and the blind to see? No man. That’s because Jesus is no mere man, he is also God, the eternal one, the creator, the omniscient one. He’s the faithful Son of the Father possessing the fullness of the divine nature within his person. We must see that Christ is a spiritual king over a spiritual kingdom, not like the kings of this age.
We also see the spirituality of our king by the manner of his kingship. We see his spiritual, or heavenly reign through the manner of kingship.
The Kings of this world love their station. They love to be served and love the places of honor.
They like lavish palaces, opulent parties, and ornate possessions. They posture themselves as the elite, the trend setters, the suave and sophisticated. They like to be the center of attention, and demand to be treated as such.
Furthermore, worldly rulers like to show off their power. They love to parade their troops for all the world to see their military power. They love to march their armies victoriously back from battle like Napoleon leading his armies through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or like Kim Jong Un parading his army and missiles around North Korea. Kings of this world get their way by muscle and manipulation, by control and cunning, by domination and deception.
But our king is not like these kings. He didn’t love his station nor cling to his privilege. He wasn’t concerned with political aspirations like the kings of this world. In fact, he gave up his royal station in order to come down. Think about it, the divine royal son left his opulent throne over creation in order to come down and be born in a cattle stall. He left his heavenly seat in order to be seated in a feeding trough. He did not demand to be served and pampered; no, he came to serve, to seek and to save, he picked up the towel and the wash basin and washed the dirty feet of his disciples! What condescension! What Glory! What kind of king is this? He’s our spiritual king of Glory.
Furthermore, our king wasn’t concerned with military aspirations like the kings of this world. He didn’t come to show off his military might like the worldly kings try to do. He didn’t come into town parading grand armies; no, he just strode into down not on a magnificent stallion, but on a lowly donkey. He didn’t march his troops around to showcase his might, in fact he just told Peter to put his sword away. He didn’t call down legions of angels to come to his defense; he walked alone to his death. Our king is a different kind of king, a spiritual, heavenly king of a spiritual and heavenly kingdom, and we see his spiritual kingship through the manner of his reign.
We see his spiritual kingship also through the scope of his rule. The people of this world look at our king and they laugh. What king of king is he? How can he be a king, he has no kingdom? His subjects are scattered across the globe, they have no territory, they have no borders, no security, no ruler, no government, no armies, nothing to unify them or protect them, not place of refuge. And we have to agree with them in a sense. Our king had no land, he had no territory, indeed, Jesus said in Matthew 8:20 that, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” When the crowds left Jesus they went home to their beds, but Jesus had no such place. He had no cities in his kingdom, no counties in his rule, no states and provinces in his empire, no borders to defend and expand like the kingdoms of this world.
But that does not mean that his kingdom is not without scope. That does not mean that he does not reign over a people and over a territory. Christ says that “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Everyone who is born of the truth knows the truth and knows that Jesus is the truth. Every true sheep of God knows the voice of his shepherd and will listen to him. Everyone who has been born of the spirit knows when the spiritual king is speaking. Our king does have a rule and a reign and that is in the hearts of his people.
He is our spiritual king, over a spiritual people, and that spiritual people doesn’t look like the subjects of this world. We don’t all have the same skin color, we don’t all speak the same language, and we don’t all share the same culture. But we share the same spirit, we submit to the same spiritual king, and we are all citizens of the same spiritual kingdom.
We see Christ’s spiritual kingship through the person of our king, the manner of his kingship, and the scope of his rule.
Thus far we have seen the spiritual essence of the kingdom by looking at the way we enter into it, and by looking at the spirituality of our king. Now let’s look at the spiritual warfare of the kingdom. The Spiritual Warfare of the kingdom. This warfare has two components: Who we battle, and how we battle.
The kingdoms of this world are usually clearly defined. They have borders. They have friends and they have enemies. They know who they have alliances with and with whom they have conflicts. The can spot their enemies easily. They know who they are fighting. The line between US an THEM is clear.
But the spiritual warfare of Christ’s spiritual kingdom is different. Our enemies aren’t the same. We don’t have a race, a nation, or a culture that we war against. We don’t have a people group that is our sworn enemy. We don’t have other countries that are our nemeses.
No, the New testament explains to us that our enemies are not of the flesh, but are spiritual. Paul says in Galatians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We don’t see people from other nations as enemies that need to be killed. We don’t even see people from other religions as our real enemies; they are merely blinded by the god of this world, the ruler of their kingdom. Satan, our real enemy, has blinded them to the truth of the gospel. That’s how a terrorist like Paul could be saved and made into a powerful apostle. That’s how a sinners like you and me, once enemies of God’s kingdom, could be saved and made into citizens of God’s kingdom.
This is crucial for us because it keeps us from hating our enemies. How can we possibly love our enemies as Christ commands us? We can love them because we see that by the truth of the gospel they can become our brothers and sisters, they can become fellow citizens of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to hate the Muslim radical, or the Mormon, or the unitarian, or the Jew, or the Buddhist because we see that they are made in God’s image, worthy of dignity, and are just blinded by our true enemy, the ruler of this age. Th spirituality of Christ’s kingdom helps us see that our real foes are not flesh and blood, but are spiritual.
Furthermore, the means of our spiritual warfare is unlike the world’s warfare. This is why Christians don’t strap themselves with bombs and blow up mosques, because we don’t battle against flesh and blood, using worldly methods of violence. We can’t put a gun to people’s heads and make them a Christian; we can’t tackle someone into the kingdom of God. We’ve already discussed how the entrance into the spiritual kingdom requires a spiritual birth.
That’s why and how we battle for our spiritual kingdom: with spiritual warfare. We battle using spiritual weapons of prayer, love, sacrifice, truth, peace, and patience. We battle by putting on the whole armor of God, outlined in Ephesians 6. We battle using the fruit of the Spirit, in Galatians 5. We battle knowing that our real enemy is not the person we see in front of us or one the news. The real enemy, the ruler whose empire has vowed a perpetual battle against our spiritual kingdom and our spiritual king, is Satan, the ruler of this age. Our Spiritual kingdom is seen in the spiritual warfare that we wage.
We’ve seen tonight that the spiritual, or heavenly essence of the kingdom of Christ is demonstrated by the spiritual work needed to enter it, the spirituality of our king, and the spirituality of our warfare.
As I wrap up, let me offer a few concluding thoughts to try and make very practical this doctrine of the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom.
First, in light of the spiritual nature of the kingdom, consider the security of our kingdom. If our kingdom were earthly, like the kingdoms of this age, then we would always be anxious, worried that our kingdom was threatened and that our leader might be toppled. We’d be like the people who have politics as their God, who are obsessed with every little bit of news about our nation. But God’s children need not be so. We can confidently be assured of our kingdom’s perpetuity and security. No ruler can invade our kingdom; indeed, Christ tells us that the gates of hell itself will not prevail against the invasion of our kingdom. No fleshly king can threaten us. What’s the worst that he can do? Kill us, and send us joyfully to our Spiritual king? No worldly threat can take from us the security of our kingdom. Meditate on that security. Calvin says, “If we are cruelly treated by wicked men, still our salvation is secured by the kingdom of Christ, which is not subject to the [whims] of men… Though there are innumerable storms by which the world is continually agitated, the kingdom of Christ, in which we ought to seek tranquility, is separated from the world.” The spirituality of Christ’s kingdom is a great joy for us, because it is eternally secure, along with our entrance into it. Don’t be anxious in this life, but trust in the sovereignty of our king, and the security of HIS kingdom.
Second, beware of the forgetting about the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom. The danger of forgetting about the spirituality of Christ’s kingdom and over emphasizing the kingdom of this present world. We can be tempted to read the papers and watch the news and listen to the radio and put our hopes in the kings of this world. If we could just get this person elected, this person in office, this person in power, this party in the majority, this law passed, this policy in place, then, then! We would finally have prosperity, you’d finally have peace.
Christ speaks to us instead and proclaims: “what does it profit for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” What would it profit the Jews to rid themselves of Roman occupation but lose their very souls? What does it profit us to gain the white house or the supreme court but lose our very souls?
Concern yourselves with the gospel, with sin and righteousness, with eternal matters. Keep the concerns of this world in their proper perspective, in an eternal perspective, lest you become consumed with the cares of this world: with worry and anxiety about the political climate, with anger and rage when your candidates aren’t in power, with depression when you see the kingdoms of this world acting downright worldly.
Instead, remember Christ has told us that there will not be peace in this age. Christ himself told us that there will be wars and rumors of wars until he returns. But remember that he will return.
Third and finally, joyfully anticipate the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. Joyfully anticipate the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. There will be wars and rumors of wars during this age, but it will not always be so. Christ has told us about the future of his coming kingdom.
His spiritual kingdom will one day be fully revealed in this world. His kingdom will be a kingdom where the ruler of this age, that great deceiver, will be finally bound and cast into the lake of fire. There will be no more wars, no more contention, the elimination of all turf battles and the vain boasting of princes. There will be no more exploitation, no more manipulation, no more political posturing.
No. This spiritual kingdom will be fully revealed as a physical kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth, a kingdom of eternal peace, a kingdom of eternal communion with our great king, and a kingdom of joy and satisfaction for all of his subjects. A kingdom of no more pain, no more war, no more faulty rulers, and no more sin. This is the anticipated coming kingdom, a vision of which will help us to endure the worldly kingdoms of this age.
Have you entered into his kingdom? Have you heard the message of his kingdom? Have you heard his evaluation of you, that you are a sinner, lost in darkness, enslaved to and blinded by the ruler of this world? Have you heard of his call for you to repent of your sins and believe, to enter into his spiritual kingdom, to come under his glorious reign, to be forgiven of your sins, and given new life in the holy spirit? That offer stands for you tonight.
And if you have come to him already, if you are believing, then be encouraged that our great heavenly king will one day return in glory, that his hidden kingdom will finally be revealed, and that we will reign with him for all of eternity, after he justly judges the kingdoms of this world.
I want to close with a final passage of scripture that describes for us the coming kingdom. Turn with me in your bibles to Isaiah 60. Isaiah chapter 60. In this chapter we read a prophecy about what Christ’s future kingdom will be, and the joy that we will experience in it, when the kingdoms of this age are subdued, and God is forever united with his people.
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.
Who are these that fly like a cloud,
and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel,
because he has made you beautiful.
Foreigners shall build up your walls,
and their kings shall minister to you;
for in my wrath I struck you,
but in my favor I have had mercy on you.
Your gates shall be open continually;
day and night they shall not be shut,
that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations,
with their kings led in procession.
For the nation and kingdom
that will not serve you shall perish;
those nations shall be utterly laid waste.
The glory of Lebanon shall come to you,
the cypress, the plane, and the pine,
to beautify the place of my sanctuary,
and I will make the place of my feet glorious.
The sons of those who afflicted you
shall come bending low to you,
and all who despised you
shall bow down at your feet;
they shall call you the City of the Lord,
the Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
a joy from age to age.
You shall suck the milk of nations;
you shall nurse at the breast of kings;
and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.
Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
and instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
instead of stones, iron.
I will make your overseers peace
and your taskmasters righteousness.
Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
and your gates Praise.
The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
in its time I will hasten it.
This is our coming kingdom, the now spiritually inaugurated, but one days forever consummated kingdom, in which we will forever be united with our great king.