John 18:33-37


All four Gospel record Pilate's question to Jesus: "You, are you the King of the Jews?" But the Synoptics have the answer: "As you say," is the equivalent to the answer at John 18:37. Therefore it is clear that verses 34-37 in John supplement the Synoptics. This altercation is found only in John. Furthermore, Luke 23:2 makes plain why Pilate asked this question. Pilate had refused to sentence Jesus without a definite charge against Him. The threefold charge (Luke 23:2) is, in reality, only one: Jesus is a dangerous law-breaker. A total falsehood. They wanted an earthly King, a temporal Messiah. When they were disappointed they accused Him of being a rebellious, earthly king. Note that they say:  "a king" not " the king." Pilate picks this up and asks:  "You, are you the King of the Jews?" After this interview Pilate taunts the Jews with this title of Jesus. See Mark 15:9,12 and John 18:39. And he uses this title as the superscription on the cross. The Jews resented this. By the way, Pilate knew why the Jews hated Jesus. See Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10. They could not abide His favor with repentant publicans and sinners.

John 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?" 

Beck: "Palace." NEB: "His headquarters." This verse and 38 indicate that Pilate spoke to Jesus privately. Pilate asks this question because the Jews had made the accusation: "He says that He Himself is Christ, a king." 

John 18:34  "Is that your own idea, " Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?" 

NASB: "Are you saying this on your own initiative or did others tell you" Beck: "Did you think of that yourself, or did others tell you about Me?" If Jesus had said "yes" He would have agreed with the false notions of the Jews. Had He denied, He would have denied His very purpose for coming into the world. He is asking Pilate to meditate on his own motive in asking the question.

John 18:35  "Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?" 

Note in this section that neither Jesus nor Pilate give a direct answer to a question until verse 37 where Jesus directly answer Pilate's question. The translations are interesting: NEB: "What! am I a Jew?" NASB: "I am not a Jew, am I?" Pilate is disturbed by Jesus' question. He does not answer directly but his answer implies that he did not think of the question in verse 33 on his own but rather it was based on what the Jews said. And then his question in verse 35 clearly indicates that he does not want to be associated with the Jews. Jesus evades the question in verse 33 so that he can get at Pilate's motive in order to preach the Gospel to him. Pilate evades the question in verse 34 because he is not interested in Jesus as a person and to dissociate himself from the Jews on their charge against Jesus. Luke 23:2. He puts the blame on  "your people and the chief priests." Incidentally, the plural form indicates Annas and Caiaphas.

The question shows that Pilate does not believe the charges made in Luke 23:2, for Pilate knows they had delivered Him because of envy, Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10, and so he is desperately trying to find a charge from Jesus Himself.

John 18:36 Jesus said,  "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." 

Jesus does not answer Pilate's question directly but is now beginning to answer the question put to Him by Pilate in verse 33. His answer is composed of two sentences. The first is a simple statement informing Pilate what His Kingdom is NOT. RSV, Lenski and Hendriksen translate  "Kingship" rather than "Kingdom." That is correct. By saying "my Kingship" He is admitting that He is a King. He is not speaking of people (Kingdom) but the character of His own Kingship.  "Of this world" lays stress on HIS Kingship. "From" denotes both source and kind. It is not derived from this world and it is not of an earthly kind. It is absolutely unique.

The second sentence is a contrary to fact condition. It is an example which proves that His Kingship is not derived from the world nor is it worldly in character. He could, of course, have used many other examples but Pilate, as a governor, would understand this one immediately. Note the fact that  "the servants" are His. He is not denying that He  has servants. He is denying that they defend Him as earthly servants defend their king. Jesus' weapons and Kingship differ greatly from those of earthly kings. "If it were" is final, it denotes negative purpose. "The Jews" indicates who the real enemies are. By the way, this contrary to fact condition plainly implies Jesus' innocence. The last sentence in verse 36 restates and emphasizes the first sentence in verse 36. NASB: "As it is," meaning: "The true situation is that." 

John 18:37  "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." 

Jesus has just admitted His Kingship. That is indicated in Pilate's question. We attempt a translation: "So, then, after all, you are a KING?" Note the emphatic "You"  in Jesus' answer. NASB: "You say correctly that I am a king." NEB is not recommended: "'King' is your word." In verse 36 He admitted that He had a Kingship and then proceeded to say what His Kingship was NOT. In 37b He tells Pilate what His Kingship IS.

Note "for this" is used twice. This does not denote two purposes but rather two aspects of the same purpose. The first, indicated by a passive perfect, denotes His incarnation which will never end. He points to His human nature. The second, indicated by a perfect active, tells us that He, true God, came willingly into the world. Both terms are key in the Gospel of John. He came from heaven and became a man to testify to the Truth, the Gospel. See 1:17. The Gospel is His means, not force of arms.

"Everyone" is an open invitation to all, Jews, Gentiles and Pilate on this occasion. Jesus is inviting Pilate to listen to Him. The phrase is not adjectival: "Everyone who is truthful" but rather denotes source: "Everyone who is born of the Truth" or "Everyone who is converted by the Truth." The writer does not recommend NEB, NIV [above], or even Beck: "Who live in the truth." These translations make the phrase adjectival, not adverbial. KJV and NASB are better: "Everyone who is of the Truth," but one must still interpret this translation. Look at John 1:12-13. Jesus is yearning for Pilate's conversion but Pilate resists. To be begotten of the Truth goes hand in hand with listening to Jesus' voice. In 38a Pilate clearly indicates that he was not begotten of the Truth and therefore did not listen to Jesus' voice. To Pilate truth was a relative thing. When a man say: "What is Truth?" he shows that to him nothing is truth. Everything is relative which is not truth at all. And the accusations of the Jews (Luke 23:2) are nothing but lies. Compare John 8:44-47, an interesting commentary on the Jews who condemned Jesus.

Augsburg Confession, Art. XXVIII, Tappert p. 83: Therefore, the two authorities, the spiritual and the temporal, are not to be mingled or confused, for the spiritual power has its commission to preach the Gospel and administer the sacrament. Hence it should not invade the function of the other, should not set up and dispose kings, should not annul temporal laws or undermine obedience to government, should not make or prescribe to the temporal power laws concerning worldly matters. Christ Himself said 'My kingship is not of this world' and again, 'Who made me a judge or divider over you?' (Luke 12:14). Paul also wrote in Philippians 3:20 'Our commonwealth is in heaven,' and in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 'The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God.'
Apology , Art. XXIV. Par 50-51 (German only): Nothing keeps people with the church as does good preaching.
Bengel: Apply yourself entirely to the text; apply your entire study to yourself.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 84-85

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