“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18.36). These famous words have so often been perverted and wrested out of their real sense that their true meaning has been almost buried under a heap of false interpretation. Let us make sure that we know what they mean. Our Lord’s main object was to inform Pilate’s mind concerning the true nature of His kingdom and to correct any false impression he might have received from the Jews. He tells them that He did not come to set up a kingdom which would interfere with the Roman government. He did not aim at establishing a temporal power to be supported by armies and maintained by taxes. The only dominion He exercised was over men’s hearts and the only weapons that His subjects employed were spiritual weapons. A kingdom which required neither money nor servants for its support was one of which the Roman emperors need not be afraid. In the highest sense, it was a kingdom “not of this world.”
But our Lord did not intend to teach that the kings of this world have nothing to do with religion and ought to ignore God altogether in the government of their subjects. No such idea, we may be sure, was in His mind. He knew perfectly well that it was written, “by Me kings reign” (Proverbs 8.15) and that kings are as much required to use their influence for God as the meanest of their subjects. He knew that the prosperity of kingdoms is wholly dependent on the blessing of God and that kings are as much bound to encourage righteousness and godliness as to punish unrighteousness and immorality. To suppose that He meant to teach Pilate that, in His judgment, an infidel might be as good a king as a Christian and a man like Gallio as good a ruler as David or Solomon is simply absurd.
Let us carefully hold fast the true meaning of our Lord’s words in these latter days. Let us never be ashamed to maintain that no government can expect to prosper which refuses to recognize religion, which deals with its subjects as if they had no souls, and cares not whether they serve God or Baal or no god at all. Such a government will find, sooner or later, that its line of policy is suicidal and damaging to its best interests. No doubt the kings of this world cannot make men Christians by laws and statutes. But they can encourage and support Christianity, and they will do so, if they are wise. The kingdom where there is the most industry, temperance, truthfulness, and honesty will always be the most prosperous of kingdoms. The king who wants to see these things abound among his subjects should do all that lies in his power to help Christianity and to discourage irreligion. – J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)