As I read today, I couldn’t seem to escape how often the word “world” was used. Upon further investigation, I find out, yes, John really loves using this word. He uses the Greek word “kosmos” 57 times in this gospel! That’s the most it’s used in any NT book, with second place being a tie between 1 Corinthians and (you guessed it) 1 John, with 17 uses! Pretty amazing when you consider 1 Corinthians is three times as long as 1 John. He loves saying it, repeating it, emphasizing it.
When I think of “the world” I am prone to imagine “the secular world”, or Gentiles, all nations, plants and animals, media, pop culture or Hellenization (back then). However, when I read, starting in chapter 15, I see Jesus saying “the world”, but using it and it’s pronoun they, to describe things the religious leaders were doing or would do (ie. rejecting, persecuting, throwing out of the synagogue). It suddenly felt very personal. They were the powers of the disciple’s world. These were the people who could really shake up their lives and cast them out, but these were not secular groups.
I found that the word “kosmos” most literally means “order”. It was starting to feel more like a reference to existing power structures, the way things are, and not a nod to plants, animals or Greeks.
As this theme manages to float through the following chapters, 18:35-36 started to pack a different punch:
“Pilate answered, ‘I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief of priests delivered You to me; what have You done?’ 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.'”
What’s that? He switches up the wordage at the end, there, and doesn’t say kosmos! Now He’s referencing just how outside the boarders of Israel His jurisdiction goes.
He’s might also be saying, “Don’t be confused, this power structure is not my power structure.” Maybe I could even go on speculating that He’s making a dig at the whole thing by saying, “If my servants were from this power structure, they would be out there fighting, but they’re not, because they’re not from this structure either.”
The kingdom of Jesus doesn’t need to practice violence to assert dominance.
In fact, Jesus is about to ascend to the right hand of the Father by absorbing violence and not fighting back. He’s about to receive the name above all names through humility–the highest kind–laying down His own life.
This totally changes the way I think about being “in and not of” the world. I might live within these power structures, but I don’t govern myself by their rules. I don’t have to fight or struggle in the way it does.
The disciples found themselves in a world of laws, rituals, looking WAAY DOWN on others, and people who could shut the doors of the temple in their face. They would very soon lose good standing with this world. By way of contrast, Jesus first revealed Himself as Messiah to a Samaritan woman who already had that world shutting the doors of the temple in her face. And what did Jesus say to her? The Father is looking for people like her.
Jesus said a lot of things that went straight over everyone in this world’s head. They couldn’t trap Him in their games, because He was on a whole other level. While we still, from 2000 years away, have a hard time perceiving all Jesus said and meant, we can start to piece together the otherness–the holiness–of this new kingdom.
Thank God it’s the One without end.