To us it makes perfect sense that Jesus’s kingdom would be “not of this world” (John 18:36). That’s how we’ve always understood and encountered the kingdom of God. Not so for Pilate and all the Jewish leaders gathered at Jesus’s midnight interrogation.
Jesus was crucified under a sign that mockingly read “King of the Jews.” To many present on that day, that sign was an indictment of Jesus’s failed earthly political revolution. Based upon their best understanding of Old Testament prophecy and the teachings that had been handed down to them, the Jews were expecting a political military revolutionary who would overthrow the oppressive Roman governance of Israel. They were hoping for a new King David, a heroic, military, warrior king.
It’s easier for us now to think of Jesus’s kingdom in spiritual and future terms, but on the day of His arrest, we can see even by Peter’s behavior that many were expecting to take up arms to bring the kingdom of God to earth. This of course was not Jesus’s way. It was such an unexpected moment when Jesus announced that His kingdom was not of this world.
What does this mean for us? It means that we, as kingdom people, are experiencing portions of the kingdom now, but that we also await its future and full arrival. Jesus’s death and resurrection inaugurated the kingdom of God. Because of this we now live “in the world, but not of it.” It’s an odd ache, a disquieting tension that I’m willing to wager most of us have felt from time to time. We are “not of this world” people, living, working, and dwelling on this earth.
C. S. Lewis described this sort of longing best in his book Till We Have Faces:
“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from…my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.”
That longing we possess is a sign that we are in the midst of a massive redemptive mystery. We stand in a moment between the resurrection of the Lord and His much anticipated final return. This moment is full of hardship, but also characterized by an immense sense of hope. To be “not of this world” means that you’re going to feel like a square peg in a round hole some days. Other times, it may just feel like an unquenchable wanderlust, or itchy feet.
Travel is a wonderful thing, but our hunger for the right place—the most beautiful place, the place where we feel home and whole—is ever elusive. That’s because our King and His kingdom are not of this world’s making. This can be hard to wrap our heads and hearts around, but we know it will be satisfying in an eternal and everlasting way when the kingdom of God is fully realized. From then on, it will be all we ever know. But for now, because the coming kingdom is real, we ache. May the longing be sweet.