The word of Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world,” has often been perverted in the interests of a theory which would sunder the state from the dominion of Christ. Rightly understood, the passage sub- serves the very opposite purpose. The kingdom that sprang directly from heaven must have absolute authority over all the earth, and it will not submit to be put into obscurity or into a corner.
This may come as a shock, but we are explicitly instructed in the Lord’s Prayer to pray for all nations to become Christian. This includes not only the individuals that collectively form the nations, but also the political entities themselves. If an individual can be brought under the rule of Christ, so can the collection of individuals we call a nation and its ruling body. All are expected to honor Christ, recognize Him as Lord and do what He says. Point this out, and one will almost always get the response: “Christ said His kingdom is not of this world.” It goes without saying, John 18:36 is one of the most misconstrued passages of God-speak. The passage is commonly misinterpreted to make political activities of the nations of no interest to Christ. His interest—it is implied—is only with bigger and better things in a future world. As for the here and now, because of Christ’s political disinterest, society is basically doomed to tyranny and darkness.
Nothing could be further from the Truth.
Christ is called King of kings, Lord of lords, and Ruler of the nations. Who then are the kings He is King of? Who are lords of which He is Lord? Who are the nations over which he is said to be Ruler. The answer is all of them. All authority has been given to Christ, on earth and in heaven. Why then, would we ever think He has no political interests?
John 18:36 reads as follows:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
John 18:36 NASB
To properly grasp what Christ is saying in this passage, it’s important we keep Daniel 2:34,35 in mind. As E.W. Hengstenberg commented, “The best comment on the words of Christ is furnished by the original passages of Daniel, on which it rests. The four universal kingdoms of Daniel are followed by a fifth of absolutely heavenly origin, the Messianic kingdom, which, on account of that origin, was all-comprehensive and eternal. It is all the more obvious that we must have recourse to that passage, inasmuch as Jesus ever has it in His eyes when speaking of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.”
Speaking to the king in reference to the great statue he saw in his dream, Daniel said, “You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
Daniel 2:34-35 NASB
Notice “the stone that struck the statue” was “cut out without hands.” Thus we see what Christ meant when He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Notice also, that “the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth,” signifying the progressive growth of Christ’s kingdom on earth—not some future world.
Christ’s kingdom is most definitely in the world, but it is not of the world, a phrase which simply points to His kingdom’s heavenly origin. It in no way was intended to imply political disinterest. The Daniel passages are key to a proper understanding of what Christ meant. As Hengstenberg pointedly observed: “There is perhaps no passage of the Old Testament to which the Lord so frequently alludes as this.” Consider this the next time you read the Great Commision of Matthew 28. To mock the erroneous quote of John Leland, the notion of a non-Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever.
*E. W. HENGSTENBERG, Commentary of the Gospel of St. John, 1865