Monday, January 16, 2012

Christ's Kingdom is not of this World, but Christ does Rule this World

(Above: a depiction of Pontious Pilate)
It is because earthly kingdoms must submit
to God's kingdom that Pilate sinned in his
treatment of Jesus. On the other hand,
if God's kingdom has nothing to do with
this world, then earthly kingdoms would
have no moral responsibility before God,
and therefore Pilate would not have sinned.
by Steve C. Halbrook

Excerpt from God is Just: A Defense of the Old Testament Civil Laws, with an additional argument

[Note: The phrase "kingdom of God" can have different meanings, depending on the context. For a thorough treatment of the doctrine of God's kingdom, see The Kingdom of God by Brian Schwertley]

There are those who believe that Christ’s statement “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36b) means that Christ’s kingdom is narrowly confined to such things as heaven, the individual, and/or the church; as such Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with kingdoms in this world.  But this view has several problems.

First, there is no reason to insist “of this world” means “nothing to do with the world.”  Christ’s disciples are in the world but “are not of the world” (Jn. 15:19b).  Thus “of the world” in John 15 does not exclude Christ’s disciples from being involved with the world.  Neither does it mean they are not to work, by God’s grace, to transform the world—and in fact, the Great Commission requires that Christ’s disciples attempt to do this very thing (Matt. 28:18-20). 

Second, while Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, it is over it: The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19) (emphasis mine). Christ thus is King over the world (1 Tim. 6:15; cf. Eph. 1:20-22).  

The same Christ who told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36b) also told Pilate “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above” (Jn. 19:11b). The kingdom of men is subordinate to the kingdom of God

The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17). 

The Great Commission acknowledges that Christ’s kingdom is over the world: And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matt. 28:18).  

The Lord's Prayer teaches us to
desire that all men on earth--which
includes civil rulers--acknowledge
and submit to God's kingdom.
It is because earthly kingdoms are subordinate to, and thereby must submit to, God’s kingdom, that Pilate sinned in his treatment of Jesus. As Jesus tells Pilate in John 19:11c, “Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” There was a sin greater than Pilate’s, but Pilate sinned nonetheless. On the other hand, if God’s kingdom has nothing to do with this world, then earthly kingdoms would have no moral responsibility before God, and therefore Pilate would not have sinned.

Third, “of this world” has to do with a source of power.  “Christ’s kingdom does not derive its origin from the world”[1]—so Christ’s kingdom is not of the world in the sense that it is not from the world.  In fact the very verse that says “My kingdom is not of this world” goes on to say that very thing—“my kingdom is not from the world” (Jn. 18:36d).  “[O]n the contrary, His kingdom has been given to Him by His Father (Dan. 7:14),”[2] and therefore, God has everything to do with civil government.

Fourth, John 18:36 also reads, “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.”  Some interpret this as meaning rulers can not use the sword to enforce God’s civil laws.  But we must reject this from the outset, since rulers are required to use the sword to punish evildoers in accordance with God’s requirements (Rom. 13:4). 

It is true that Christ’s servants “do not ‘fight’ in order to establish His kingdom, or indeed to spread His kingdom on the earth.”[3]  Christ’s kingdom advances “by the Holy Spirit regenerating sinners as the gospel is proclaimed: ‘“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” says the Lord of hosts’ (Zech. 4:6).”[4]  “This however, does not mean that the state is not to protect the kingdom of Christ from attack, because civil magistrates are to ensure that God’s people can live ‘a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence’ (1 Tim. 2:2).”[5]

Let us note the reason Jesus gives for saying that His servants would fight if His kingdom was 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” (emphasis mine). There is nothing about this reason that opposes enforcement of biblical civil law, since enforcement of biblical civil law and preventing Jesus from being delivered over to the Jews are two different concepts entirely. In other words, the use of the sword by Jesus’ servants to prevent Jesus from being delivered to his enemies and the use the sword by the state to enforce God’s justice are not the same.

Perhaps the reason Christ connects an earthly kingdom with His servants fighting to prevent Him from being delivered to the Jews is that if He was a mere earthly king, and his enemies destroyed him, his kingdom would cease to exist. The only recourse would be for his servants to fight, to protect both their king and his kingdom. But Christ is no mere earthly king; as God, He rules over all. His deliverance to the Jews was part of God’s sovereign plan, and thus Christ’s enemies could do no harm to His kingdom. Thus, there was no need for Christ’s servants to fight to prevent Him from being delivered to the Jews.

We must add that had Christ’s disciples prevented His crucifixion with an armed revolt, there would have been no basis for the church-aspect of the kingdom to advance at all, since such kingdom advancement depends on Christ’s saving work.  

Fifth, those who consistently press the idea that Christians should never have anything to do with the sword must be pacifists in every conceivable situation.  This would absurdly mean there is no moral basis for Christians to be involved with civil government, just warfare, self-defense, and defending others. 

Sixth, and finally, let us not forget the Lord's Prayer, which mentions “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:9b-10). Christians are thus to desire to see all men on earth—which includes civil rulers—acknowledge and submit to the Kingdom of God. Thus to hold that Christ’s kingdom has nothing to do with kingdoms in this world is to deny the Lord's Prayer itself.

part of the "anti-theonomy objections" series

     [1] Daniel F. N. Ritchie, A Conquered Kingdom: Biblical Civil Government (Saintfield, Northern Ireland: Reformed Worldview Books, 2008), 92.
     [2] Ibid.
     [3] Ibid., 93.
     [4] Ibid.
     [5] Ibid. On the phrase “my servants would have been fighting,” John Calvin writes: “He [Jesus] proves that he did not aim at an earthly kingdom, because no one moves, no one takes arms in his support; for if a private individual lay claim to royal authority, he must gain power by means of seditious men. Nothing of this kind is seen in Christ; and, therefore, it follows that he is not an earthly king
     “But here a question arises, Is it not lawful to defend the kingdom of Christ by arms? For when Kings and Princes are commanded to kiss the Son of God, (Psalm ii. 10-12,) not only are they enjoined to submit to his authority in their private capacity, but also to employ all the power that they possess, in defending the Church and maintaining godliness.  I answer, first, they who draw this conclusion, that the doctrine of the Gospel and the pure worship of God ought not to be defended by arms, are unskilful and ignorant reasoners; for Christ argues only from the facts of the case in hand, how frivolous were the calumnies which the Jews had brought against him.  Secondly, though godly kings defend the kingdom of Christ by the sword, still it is done in a different manner from that in which worldly kingdoms are wont to be defended; for the kingdom of Christ, being spiritual, must be founded on the doctrine and power of the Spirit. In the same manner, too, its edification is promoted; for neither the laws and edicts of men, nor the punishments inflicted by them, enter into the consciences.  Yet this does not hinder princes from accidentally defending the kingdom of Christ; partly, by appointing external discipline, and partly, by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men. It results, however, from the depravity of the world, that the kingdom of Christ is strengthened more by the blood of the martyrs than by the aid of arms.” John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John: Volume Second, William Pringle, trans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 210, 211.

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