WHAT DOES “MY KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD” MEAN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
It is commonly believed that Jesus Christ’s kingdom was not a literal, physical, and visible kingdom, but rather a “spiritual kingdom,” an invisible kingdom where He would “reign in the hearts of men” (a belief called “amillennialism”). John 18:36 is perhaps the main Bible verse used to teach such a doctrine, so it behooves us to study this verse and understand what it actually teaches. “We are certainly not satisfied to have denominational tradition as our guide, so we will study and believe the Scriptures and have Jesus Christ thereby glorified!”
We focus on the following passage in John chapter 18: “ 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.”
Jesus Christ, just hours before His crucifixion, is standing before Judaean governor Pontius Pilate. What did Jesus mean when He said in verse 36, “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?” Was He saying that His kingdom was not literal, not physical, not earthly, and not Davidic? That, as some religionists claim today, it was just some “spiritual reign in the hearts of men?” As a general rule of thumb for Bible study, it is always important to not base a doctrine on one verse. Furthermore, we should never, ever, ever grab a verse that is strange, and use it to confuse verses that are clear. It is always helpful to look at the context of verses that are difficult, and to use verses that are clear, to explain verses that are unclear. That is what we will do here.
Earlier, we read that Pilate asked Jesus how His own nation, Israel, and its chief priests could deliver Him to the Roman government to be sentenced to death (John 18:35). Our Lord’s reply was simple: (sinful, unbelieving) Israel rejected Him as their Messiah-King because He was righteous. They did not want God ruling over them, as the psalmist David prophesied: “ Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?  The kings of the earth [Roman rulers] set themselves, and the rulers [of Israel] take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed [Messiah/Christ], saying,  Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:1-3; cf. Acts 4:25-28).
Psalm chapter 2 also provides details about that coming kingdom of Jesus Christ: “ Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.  I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.  Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.  Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” According to Psalm 2, the passage being fulfilled there in John chapter 18, what type of kingdom was Jesus purposing to establish on the earth when Israel rejected Him and demanded that Rome crucify Him? Was it a spiritual “reign in the hearts of men?” The Holy Spirit through David said it so expressly, so clearly, we would have to want to miss it to miss it: “I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion… Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession… Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The only kingdom that would be in Zion, the only kingdom that would involve the heathen and the uttermost parts of the earth, and the only kingdom involving Jesus Christ ruling over nations would be a literal, physical, visible kingdom. (We will learn more about kingdom of Christ destroying the Gentile kingdoms in Daniel chapter 2, later.)
The Bible says in Luke 1:31-33: “ And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.  He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:  And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” The only kingdom Jesus Christ came to set up was a kingdom that was modeled after King David’s; the Bible is quite plain about that. Now, did King David “reign in the hearts of men?” Did not David rule over a literal, physical, visible Israel in a literal, physical, visible land? That is the same kind of kingdom Jesus Christ would have established long ago, and will yet establish on planet Earth.
Interestingly, our Lord said in John 18:36, “but now is my kingdom not from hence.” His kingdom would be established on earth, just not “now,” not during His First Coming. This is important to notice—“now” is a word that is commonly overlooked in John 18:36. As He knew, He could not reign as King until after He had gone to Calvary’s cross and died for man’s sins (Luke 17:24-25). In addition, the institution of our 2,000-year-long Dispensation of Grace has further delayed Christ’s reign on earth.
Upon Jesus’s Second Coming, to conclude the seven-year Tribulation, Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit during the 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth (Revelation 20:1-3). Satan’s evil world system, and all its governments, will be demolished when Christ establishes His earthly kingdom (see Daniel 2:31-45). “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (verse 44). Again, notice, this kingdom of Jesus Christ will demolish all other kingdoms of Earth—it is a literal, physical, visible kingdom, one that will crush those that exist today!
Jesus Christ came to earth and left 2,000 years ago as Israel’s rejected King: He never did rule Israel, for Israel declared in John 19:15: “We have no king but Caesar!” So, how can Luke 1:33 say Jesus Christ will rule Israel “for ever?” Dispensational Bible study relieves us of confusion and consternation. Luke 1:33 is to be taken literally, but it is to be believed dispensationally. Israel’s prophetic (kingdom) program, the program to which Luke 1:33 belongs, is currently suspended. God is not restoring the earth’s governments today. Instead, He is forming the Church the Body of Christ, a heavenly people whom He will use to restore the heavenly governments in the ages to come (see Colossians 1:16-20). While our Dispensation of Grace is operating, Israel’s kingdom program is delayed. Once our dispensation ends (at the rapture), then God will resume Israel’s program and Christ will return at His Second Coming to fulfill Luke 1:33 (establishing His literal, physical, visible earthly kingdom). You can read about that in Romans 11:25-36.
So, returning to Jesus Christ saying, “my kingdom is not of this world,” we now analyze this phrase. What did Jesus mean here? His kingdom is a literal, physical, visible kingdom, so how is it “not of this world?” We will study the Scriptures for the answer.
Again, John 18:36 is often misconstrued to deny a literal, physical, visible reign of Christ on earth. Because Jesus Christ is not literally, physically, and visibly ruling on earth today, it is assumed that the kingdom spoken of in the Old Testament and Four Gospels was an invisible, spiritual kingdom. This belief is without merit. The apostles inquired in Acts 1:6: “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” What type of kingdom did Israel have? A literal, physical, visible kingdom! The apostles are asking if Christ at that time would “restore again” Israel to her glorious kingdom days, especially those of Kings David and Solomon. They were obviously speaking of a literal, physical, visible kingdom.
Jesus never corrected them, or told them they were wrong in asking such a question. He merely told them in Acts 1:7-8: “ And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Jesus just told them that it was not for them to know the time-schedule of that literal, physical, visible kingdom. He did not deny its existence; He did not chide them for not paying attention to His preaching during the last 40 days. The only kingdom Jesus spoke of in Acts 1:1-5 during those 40 days was a literal, physical, visible kingdom (which was why the apostles asked in verse 6 when it would be established).
In the book of the Revelation, which is still unfulfilled, we read of voices in heaven saying: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15). (Here is when Luke 1:33 will be fulfilled.) What kingdoms exist in the world? Invisible, spiritual kingdoms? No, they are literal, physical, visible kingdoms, and, at His Second Coming, Jesus Christ will reign over them all. “And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). The Bible says Jesus Christ will have preeminence in all the governments of heaven and earth. That means that the same earthly government first entrusted to Adam (Genesis 1:26-28) but lost to sin and Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4) is what Jesus Christ will reign over one day.
When Jesus Christ admitted that His kingdom was “not of this world,” He was not implying that it was spiritual and/or invisible. Actually, He meant that His kingdom is separate and distinct from the system upon which the world’s governments of Pilate’s time (and even those of today) are built. It will be a kingdom that God Himself, not some mortal man, will establish and administrate, a glorious monarchy in which God’s will shall always be accomplished on earth.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Within these two realms, God also created governments: “For by him [the Lord Jesus Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him” (Colossians 1:16).
God also made creatures to occupy those offices of government: He formed the angels to rule in heaven for His glory, and mankind to rule on the earth for His glory. One of God’s chief angelic-like creatures, a cherub named Lucifer, rebelled against God by wanting to rule for his glory: Lucifer proclaimed, “I will be like the most High” (Isaiah 14:14b). This title “most High” means “possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14:19,22). Essentially, Lucifer (Satan) purposed to usurp all of God’s authority, in heaven and in earth. Satan was able to recruit a portion of God’s angels to follow him in his rebellion in heaven (Ezekiel 28:18; Matthew 25:41).
When God placed man on the earth, man was to rule earth for God’s glory (Genesis 1:26,28). Unfortunately, man (Adam) willingly chose to relinquish his God-given authority to Satan, by sinfully following Satan in his rebellion against God (Romans 5:12). Today, the governments of heaven (Ephesians 6:12) and earth (2 Corinthians 4:4) are in rebellion. Earth’s governments are corrupt because Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). In fact, Satan tempted Christ with a proposal: if Christ would worship him, Satan would give Him the world’s governments (Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:5-7).
In John 18:36, when Christ claimed His kingdom was “not of this world,” He meant that His kingdom would not originate from the evil world system underlying today’s governments. His reign would restore earth’s governments to God (Colossians 1:20).
“Iniquity”—a selfish, rebellious, anti-God attitude—existed first in Lucifer/Satan (Ezekiel 28:15), who is now “the god [ruler] of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Hence, the world’s governments abound with injustice and iniquity (“not equal;” that is, “not fair”). “[T]he mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7), whose context describes the seven-year Tribulation, when the Antichrist will epitomize this world’s blasphemous political system by claiming to be and exalting himself as God (Daniel 8:25; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4), just as Lucifer did in Isaiah 14:14.
Daniel 2:31-45 is King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and God’s interpretation as spoken through the prophet Daniel. Essentially, Nebuchadnezzar saw a giant image, symbolizing major Gentile world empires (most of which were future from his time). Nebuchadnezzar then saw a “stone cut out without hands” demolish this image, which stone “became a mountain [kingdom], and filled the whole earth” (verses 34-35).
This stone is “cut out without hands,” meaning it is not of human origin: it is “not of this world” (this is what Jesus meant in John 18:36). This stone is Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:6-8) at His Second Coming to set up His glorious kingdom on earth, a kingdom established by “the God of heaven” (Daniel 2:44), one not founded by “the god of this world,” Satan, nor influenced by his autonomous spirit.
Try as we might, political reform is impossible in this world. Though politicians can and are replaced, the underlying corrupt political system (described earlier) remains the same. Political reformation is only possible if the existing satanically inspired world system is replaced with God’s, and none of us mortal humans can achieve this. In God’s own time (Christ’s Second Coming), He will abolish Satan’s evil world system that has dominated earth for 6,000 years, and replace it with His righteous world system.
Indeed, Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world,” and how we cannot wait for it to come!!
We find the following written in a popular, modern-day Bible study aid book: “What was the kingdom that Jesus came to found? Not a political kingdom, but God’s reign in the hearts of people that will control and transform their lives.” Beloved, I will be completely honest with you—the above quote is heretical and actually quite stupid. No one who honestly read the Bible from cover to cover could ever arrive at such a dumb conclusion. Amillennialism is a false doctrine. Surely, we do not need people outside Christendom attacking the Bible; people within the professing church are doing quite well in sabotaging, corrupting, and “disproving” the Bible.
We read in John 18:36: “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.” Did David ever rule “in the hearts of men?” If he did not, and it would be senseless to say that he did, then Jesus Christ reigning from David’s throne could only indicate that Jesus Christ will one day sit on a literal, physical, visible throne in Jerusalem, Israel—that is the only type of throne David ever had!
One day, Jesus Christ would reign as King over all Israel, yea over all the Earth, but He knew it was not going to be at His First Coming. He knew He would have to die for man’s sins first, He knew He would be rejected of Israel first, and so on. He also knew there were be a 2,000-year-long window of time between His sufferings at Calvary and His reigning as King, our Dispensation of Grace. Since Jesus Christ is not reigning on a throne in Jerusalem today, people assume that that kingdom He and the prophets spoke of was not a literal, physical, visible kingdom. What ignorance! Such nonsense is the result of a failure to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), a negligence to understand and believe the Bible dispensationally. Of course, Jesus Christ is not reigning today on Earth; that prophetic program is suspended for a time. God is doing something else today beside reclaiming Earth, beside redeeming Israel, beside restoring David’s throne, and so on. He is forming the Church the Body of Christ, of believing Jews and Gentiles who will simply trust His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His death, burial, and resurrection as the fully-satisfying payment for their sins. He is forming a heavenly people by His grace, everything He can do for them through the finished crosswork of Christ! May we read and study Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon, for they describe what God is doing today; they alone contain our doctrine, duty, walk, and destiny. The Bible is ever so liberating, ever so clear, ever so enjoyable, when we simply use it God’s way!
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