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Daniel 7.9-10,13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37

Bible notes

Notes on the lectionary readings

Adult & All Age

Bible notes

Daniel 7.9-10,13-14, Psalm 93, Revelation 1.4b-8, John 18.33-37

Old Testament: Daniel 7.9-10,13-14

In his foundational vision, Daniel ‘sees’ the heavenly throne room, the invisible centre of divine rule over the cosmos. Heaven and earth are not two realms separated by death, but two sides of a single reality.

In Daniel’s vision, the heavenly court is in session, judging oppressive earthly rulers. A human figure is carried into God’s presence on the clouds, and given God’s authority over all earthly powers. Who is he? Later (7.25-27), we see that he represents ‘the holy ones of the Most High’, those who are faithful to God in the face of oppression. His presence in heaven guarantees their vindication. Despite their weakness before earthly powers, their loyalty will bring God’s reward.

Daniel’s vision is designed to console and encourage his audience. But its meaning is not exhausted by its original message. Jesus used this vision of the human figure in heaven to express his own faith that this ‘Son of Man’ (i.e. Jesus himself) will be vindicated for his faithfulness, and so liberate those who stay loyal to him (Mark 10.42-45). This is a kingship that human rulers may at best aspire to, but cannot achieve.

 

New Testament: Revelation 1.4b-8

‘John’ is a church leader in Asia Minor in the last quarter of the first century. His letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2.1–3.22) suggest that their loyalty to Jesus is buckling under the combined weight of imperial rule and a culture of intimidation, assimilation and compromise that makes for easier governance. Like Daniel, John is a visionary. His account of his vision of the risen Christ in 1.13-15 draws on Daniel 7, to repeat the point that despite appearances to the contrary, Israel’s God, and not an ephemeral imperial ruler, is truly Lord.                 

‘Grace’ and ‘peace’ are familiar Christian greetings in the New Testament epistles. But here they carry political weight. The emperor believed that the imperial peace was his gift, the fruit of military supremacy. According to John, the most trustworthy expression of peace on earth flows from its most unlikely source. Jesus Christ, crucified on the authority of Caesar’s representative, is God’s faithful witness. As the firstborn of the dead, his victory reaches into the realm that no earthly ruler can ever enter. However dispirited they may feel, however weak in the world’s eyes, they inherit Israel’s ancient role as a priestly community of God’s new order of holiness, and a kingdom through whom the reign of the crucified and coming one is extended.

 

Gospel: John 18.33-37

On the verge of execution, Jesus appears before the representative of the imperial power colonising the ancestral lands of his people.

Jesus’ conversation with Pilate raises the question of the ultimate source of authority. Does it lie on earth – Rome or Jerusalem – or in heaven? They may use the same words, but their meanings are worlds apart. Jesus is presented to Pilate as ‘the king of the Jews’, pretender to David’s throne. But he presents himself as one who exercises a radically different rule, because his authority is rooted elsewhere – in the heavenly realm of truth. Jerusalem rules by expediency. Its priests must find some way to have Jesus executed to save their own interests (John 11.45-53). But Rome’s representative is only interested in reminding Jerusalem where real power lies in their holy city. He uses Jesus as a pawn to draw out their shameful admission that ‘we have no king but Caesar’ (John 19.15), before agreeing to his crucifixion.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus keeps his distance from earthly notions of power (John 6.15). His talk of himself as the ‘good shepherd’ resonates with the prophets’ longing for a new shepherd ruler to liberate God’s people (see Ezekiel 34). But Jesus’ ‘good shepherd’ is no warrior king. He lays down his own life for his sheep (10.15). His ‘good shepherd’ leadership models the other-centred divine love that sacrifices itself even as it liberates others (13.1-20; 15.12-17). This is true kingship, and Pilate is not the only one who fails to get it.

 

The links between the readings

All three readings move between heaven and earth. Daniel’s heavenly vision inspires confidence for victims of earthly injustice. John’s heavenly vision is good news for churches under pressure from earthly rulers. Jesus, before Pilate, seems to be the victim of unjust earthly rule, but his heavenly authority will triumph.

 

This week's Bible study.

 

Notes on Psalm 93 and ideas for using it together.

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Children & Young People

Bible notes

Daniel 7.9-10,13-14, John 18.33-37

 

  • John arranges the trial of Jesus carefully into scenes. Earlier in chapter 18, Jesus is arrested and questioned by the high priest before being handed over to Pilate, as the representative of imperial Rome. In 18.33-37 there is a dialogue between Jesus and Pilate on the nature of Jesus’ kingship. In a sense, this discussion continues until chapter 19, when Pilate asks the Jews whether he should crucify their king, and they respond that they have no king but the emperor.
  • Jesus is presented as ‘the king of the Jews’, a pretender to the throne of David, but Jesus presents himself as one who exercises a very different kind of kingship, not dependent upon earthly authority. The relationship between Pilate and the Jewish religious authorities is difficult, so Pilate uses Jesus as a pawn in a political power game. 

  • Daniel chapter 7 contains a description of a heavenly vision in which four world kingdoms are replaced by the kingdom of God. ‘One like a human being’, sometimes translated as the Son of Man (a title Jesus used for himself), is presented to the Ancient One and receives eternal kingship. 

  • Jesus doesn’t deny his kingship, but alludes to it in an unusual way. He says that his kingship is ‘not from this world’ – it is based on authority from God and transcends time and space. Pilate is blind to the truth and agrees to Jesus’ crucifixion, but he is unable to prevent Jesus’ heavenly kingship, which continues to this day.
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