The Art of Making Distinctions – Two Kingdoms

Lent 2 Midweek
John 18:33-38
March 15, 2017
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

“Two Kingdoms”

In the name of + Jesus.

Related to the distinctions of Law-Gospel and Justification-Sanctification is the distinction of two Kingdoms. Law-Gospel recognizes a distinction in God’s Word; Justification-Sanctification recognizes a distinction in God’s work. The Two Kingdoms distinction recognizes God’s reign in Christ in two separate realms. The Kingdom of the Left is the term Lutherans have traditionally used to denote the civil or political government; the Kingdom of the Right denotes the spiritual government of the Church. Both are kingdoms of God, but He rules them in entirely different ways.


The Kingdom of the Left is the civil or political kingdom. Although there are as many governments as there are nations, all earthly government is Kingdom of the Left. Sometimes these governments are actually ruled by kings; more often than not in these days governments are run by the rule of law, and individuals are elected to office and hold the authority of the government for only a limited time. But it’s called a kingdom not because it’s run by earthly kings, but because Christ is king of this kingdom. He is the King of kings.

This kingdom is run by law and punishment. The laws of government are based on natural law, something that is evident to all people. An example is the Declaration of Independence, which states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is no need for divine revelation in order to form a government.

Further evidence of the natural law that establishes government is the fact that laws are fairly consistent from nation to nation. Every government has some law regarding taking another life; every one of them in some way offers the protection of marriage. Every one of them has some recourse for a person whose goods are stolen. There may be some local differences to the nuances of these laws, but in broad strokes, every government is concerned for the same basic needs of the body. However, the laws of civil government are often imperfect, as anyone who knows the full revelation of God’s Law, and is also a citizen under a government, is keenly aware of.

In order to enforce its laws, the government has the power of the sword. That is to say that it keeps order by the threat of punishment. Despite all of the psychological research that says positive reinforcement helps to create and maintain good behavior, it’s not the government’s job to give you a cookie whenever you’ve done wrong. Police don’t carry gift cards to Target to give out to people who are well-behaved; they carry a gun to deter those who break the law.

It is necessary to submit to the earthly government because of our sinful nature. If there were no sin, there would be no need for threats or coercion. The civil government, while not perfect, serves as a broad curb to gross outbreaks of sin. This is what is normally referred to as the first use of the Law, but more on that in a couple of weeks. Governments do not distinguish between Christians and non-Christians. I learned this lesson in high school when I and some friends were hanging out, and I put a CD of a Christian band in my friend’s amped up stereo with some 12-in subwoofers in the trunk. I had this strange notion that because it was Christian music, we could be a nuisance. Until the owners of the ice cream shop threatened to call the police if we didn’t turn it down. That’s civil government.

Jesus submitted to the civil government, too. Not because He was sinful, but because He bore the sins of the world. The government would be upon His shoulder, Isaiah prophesied. Pilate was the representative of the civil government as he questioned Jesus. But Jesus reminds him that he would have no authority over him, except that it had been given him from above. This is one of those rich saying of Jesus that referred in one sense to the fact that Pilate was the representative of Caesar, but that even Caesar’s authority came from God above.

So Pilate is wielding the authority of the Kingdom of the Left when he questions Jesus. Then Pilate went into the praetorium again and called Jesus and said, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you speak that of yourself, or did another tell you concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and the chief priests gave You to me. What did You do?” (vv 33-35). The thing is, Jesus is sinless, which means that He’s also broken no civil law. And after saying this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no charge against Him” (v 38).


Yet Jesus submits to the civil authority. But in His submission, He is also establishing another kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, the Kingdom of the Right. This is what Lutherans have traditionally called the spiritual kingdom of Christ in His Church. And that’s the kingdom that He claims as He stands before Pilate. Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom was of this world, My servants would be fighting for Me, so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now My kingdom is not from here.” Then Pilate said to Him, “So then, are You a king?” Jesus answered, “You are saying that I am a king. For this reason I am born, and for this reason I am come into the world: to bear witness to the truth. All who are of the truth listen to My voice” (vv 36-37).

This kingdom is not defined by boarders or a common ethnic heritage. It’s not defined by a particular form of government such as a monarchy or a democracy or a constitutional republic. This kingdom is defined by its King—wherever Jesus is present, reigning over His people, there is the Kingdom of the Right.

This kingdom doesn’t function like earthly kingdoms. If it was like the world, the angels would come down from above and their victory would be utterly decisive. And we would be on the wrong side of that conflict. But this is an other-worldly kingdom that doesn’t operate on laws or punishment. Instead, it is ruled by grace. It runs on sacrificial love and forgiveness. That is the truth that the King bears witness to in front of the governor. Instead of fighting back, He willingly accepts the accusations, even though He’s not guilty of one of them. He doesn’t come to abolish the earthly government, but He does distinguish them. Give to Caesar what is Caesar, and to God what is God’s.

The King Jesus rules by bearing the government on His shoulder. Quite literally. He carries His own cross, the punishment for laws He didn’t break. And then He’s hung up on it. Crowned with thorns and labeled “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” From His wooden throne, He gives His life for His citizens.

You are a citizen of whatever government you are born in. Likewise, you become a citizen of this kingdom by a birth, but it’s a new birth from above. By water and the Spirit, the King incorporates you into His kingdom and puts you under His reign. You become a beneficiary of His death and His satisfaction of the Law. You are a citizen of two kingdoms. In the world, you live in the Kingdom of the Left and submit to its laws, so long as those laws don’t force you to disobey God. But you are also a citizen of another country, the Kingdom of the Right, the spiritual rule of Christ. This Kingdom will endure when all others pass away.

The Kingdom of Jesus Is in this World, but Not of This World

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard