Many Christians today are familiar with the phrase, “Not of this world.” It was spoken by Jesus when He was being interrogated by Pontius Pilate just before Jesus was crucified. Unfortunately, many Christians know this phrase from a popular clothing line, but do not understand the theological significance of these words. Because of the this, it is important that we understand the significance of what does it mean to be not of this world as a Christian.
What is the context of the phrase, Not of this world?
After Jesus was betrayed, He was brought before the governmental authorities, religious leaders, and the people for trial. At one point, He was being questioned by Pontius Pilate when the following exchange occurred:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. (John 18:33-37)
In this exchange, Pilate asked Jesus if He was the King of the Jews. It is clear from the text that Pilate was approaching his line of questioning with the idea that Jesus considered Himself a king in earthly terms. This is clear when Pilate asked Jesus, “Am I a Jew?” Pilate was trying to see if Jesus would claim that He was a king over Pilate, which would have been treason as Pilate was a government official over Judea under the Emperor Tiberius.
However, Jesus did not take the bait. When Pilate asked Jesus why the people and the chief priests delivered Him to Pilate, Jesus instead described His kingdom. John 18:26 describes His kingdom as being “not of this world.” He added that if His kingdom was of this world, His servants would have fought to prevent Him from being delivered to the Jews. Jesus continued by describing that he was born to become a king, but at that time, He was there to bear witness to the truth.
What is the theological significance to what Jesus said?
Theologically, Jesus was describing the fact that He was not born on earth to be an earthly king. He was born on earth so that He could testify of the truth, die for the sins of humanity, and provide a way for people to be born again into His family and eternal kingdom. This is an important point in that Jesus knew that as a human man, He was not a king, but that in due time, He would literally rule as the King of kings and Lord of lords. We see a reference to this as follows:
I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16)
We see from this passage that in His time, Jesus Christ shall appear and show Himself and His kingdom to the world. However, while He stood before Pilate, it was not the time.
What significance should this have to Christians?
As children of God by faith in Christ, we also become children of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9; Galatians 3:26). As children of Abraham, we become heirs of the promises God made to Abraham because we have the seed of Abraham (Christ) in us (Galatians 3:13-16; Galatians 3:22-29).
As heirs, we have an inheritance waiting for us, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit and kept by God (Ephesians 1:13-15; 1 Peter 1:3-5). That inheritance is the kingdom of God and we receive it when we pass from this mortal life (Matthew 25:34; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57; James 2:5). Likewise, those who have not trusted Christ are not heirs to the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
For Christians, this also means that we are no longer citizens of this world, we are citizens of Christ’s kingdom. As such, we are called to serve as ambassadors of Christ to those in this world (Matthew 6:10; 1 Corinthians 5). As ambassadors, we are called to minister and suffer for sharing the message and doing work for the kingdom of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:1-10). In doing so, we must work hard and fight the good fight without becoming entangled in the affairs of this world, which is destined to pass away (2 Timothy 2:1-16).
Many Christians today are familiar with the phrase, “Not of this world.”. In John 18:26 Jesus described His kingdom as being “not of this world” when He was being interrogated by Pontius Pilate just before Jesus was crucified. In context, Jesus was describing His kingdom to come, of which, born again believers are citizens and heirs. Therefore, as citizens and heirs by faith in Christ, we are called to devote our lives to working for Christ’s kingdom, which is not of this world.
Read this related article: Being Intentional in Our Christian Walk
Resources – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, King James Version