My Kingdom Does Not Belong To This World
Last Ordinary Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 18: 33 — 37
Having completed our meditations on the Holy Gospel according to St Mark, we close the Church year with a final meditation on the true kingship of this world.
Our notes are only a brief sketch to help readers in their meditation on the wonderful teaching our reading contains; observing the Lord Jesus in His last hours still teaching powerfully by word and example. We offer two sources of information
Ryle on John 18: 33 — 37 — In depth notes for the student of Scripture.
It is the early morning following the night when Jesus had been arrested. Some Jewish authorities were assembled outside Pilate’s palace, to lay charges against Him.
Pilate comes out and asks:
“What charges are you bringing against this man?”
The response is interesting:
“If He were not a criminal, we would not be standing here
with him for you to put on trial!”
Who could fail to notice the devious avoidance strategy; there were no true legal charges that would stand up in any Court of law.
Pilate is quick to discern an opportunity to push on and get the criminal hearings over and done with, and replies:
“Well, I don’t see why you can’t take him away and deal with
The leaders are equally quick:
“But we cannot execute a person.”
They are, of course, perfectly correct. They were ready for this situation and they have Pilate in a corner.
Some Reflections on the Text
So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus
and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
It is obvious Pilate needs a moment to reflect on how to deal with a not-so-common situation for him, where Jews are turning over another Jew to him, demanding execution. We note that throughout the whole of chapter 18, Pilate moves backwards and forwards: inside he faces the challenge of Jesus; outside he faces the challenge of falsehood.
Little does he realise that it is he who is on trial.
Pilate has Jesus summoned and, somewhat perplexed as to what exactly to interrogate him about, asks him:
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
Clearly, he had been in consultation with someone before the opening of court since the official charge lacked any essential ingredients of a crime against the State. The scholars tell us that in the Greek, the word “you” is emphatic. Therefore Pilate’s question could have had a scornful tone to it, rendering “No” the only reasonable answer.
Our Lord, in the tradition of an experienced Rabbi, and therefore debater, does not answer directly, but, typically, with another question.
Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others
told you about me?”
Our Lord’s response was well understood by Pilate to mean something like:
“Do you have any reason of your own to believe what I have
taught; or is your question in reference to the claim of the leader’s?”
Here, for a brief moment, Jesus is speaking in an intimate way to the heart of Pilate, demonstrating that He never misses a chance of doing that with anyone. In fact, He is actually honouring Pilate. If there is to be any hope at all of encouraging Pilate to talk about his own thoughts, this is the moment, and Jesus gives him the opportunity.
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the
chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?”
As we see, Pilate does not take the opportunity Jesus graciously places before him. His best effort are words to the effect:
“What! Do you think I am a Jew? Heaven forbid!”
His words reflect his usual practice of denigrating the Jews. Thus he disclaims any real knowledge of Jesus, other than the scant information in the charges. He attempts to clear himself of any real involvement with the comment:
“I am not the one who is charging you! It’s your own leaders!
So what have you done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants (would)
be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.
But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”
Again Jesus does not answer directly and does not outline what He has done. Instead He perseveres with His attempt to reach into Pilate’s heart and mind to help him discover himself and be himself instead of a pathetic puppet. And so Jesus hints at the origin and nature of His kingdom at a level on which Pilate could enter into meaningful dialogue. As this episode further unfolds, our Lord is demonstrating what His kingdom is really like.
This is a very special moment in the whole of the Gospel according to St John. It is one of those glimpses of the Lord which show us His very warm feelings towards people in dire need. At this very moment, when He is on trial before the representative of the Roman Emperor, we observe Jesus struggling with all His might, not to free himself, but to free Pilate, and empower him to act as a man of authority. He talks of His kingdom being one of choice and not force! He is using all His strength to get Pilate to act as a laudable Governor, whom everyone could look up to and respect.
Inside the Palace, Pilate is giving many signals that he has a conscience which is troubling him and wants to be heard.
Outside the Palace, Pilate is weak because he will not allow his inner convictions to rule his behaviour.
Pilate is fumbling his way and betrays all sense of manly dignity. The best he seems able to do, is to dither, and come back to his earlier question to Jesus.
So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered,
“You say I am a king. 16 For this I was born and for this I came
into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to
the truth listens to my voice.”
Pilate’s exclamation is here correctly translated as a question which we could paraphrase:
“So, you are a King then, aren’t you?”
Although some translations have our Lord come right out with a “Yes”, it is well translated here by what is called, a “reluctant affirmative” (see UBS notes). A fair way of presenting our Lord’s answer would be:
“Well, yes, in a way I am a King, but remember these are your
words and not mine”.
Jesus then chooses the moment he has been waiting for, and presents Pilate with a compact but beautiful cameo (verse 37) of his three-year teaching throughout Israel:
“For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
In His brief statement Jesus builds in a link with and a reference to the real symbol of His kingship: the Good Shepherd:
“My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
(John 10: 27)
In this brief encounter inside the Palace, it is not Jesus who is prisoner, but Pilate. Jesus is exercising His gentle kingship and calling forth in Pilate the courage of his convictions. Pilate has the power to squash rebellion anywhere, but he is powerless to cope with his own weakness. We know that his response to the above words of Jesus was a brush-off with the mindless question he doesn’t wish to consider at all:
“Oh, what is truth?”
Our Lord has been tried for treason in the highest court next to appearing before the Emperor himself. Pilate utters that he can find no fault in the man whatsoever. He therefore orders Jesus to be scourged close to the point of death, hoping the sight of him would be enough for his enemies. But it didn’t work. When the Jewish authorities saw Him beaten and scourged, the sight goaded them on and they called for His crucifixion, which, after a struggle with Pilate, they finally obtained, and Jesus was executed.
Commentary by Mary Betz
St. John 19: 33 — 37
The Jewish chief priests have for their own reasons brought Jesus to the roman authority with the charge that he is usurping that authority’s responsibility under political occupation to appoint Jewish rulers. Pilate’s intent is to determine the accuracy of the charge and his question is thus apt and direct.
Jesus, aware as he is of Pilate’s power to condemn him to death, appears to test the waters to see if there is any possibility that Pilate is a seeker of the truth. If there is an outside chance that Pilate is asking the question out of his own seeking, Jesus wants to know — the alternative being that Pilate is simply investigating the charge the Jewish priests have made. Jesus’ hope is dashed with Pilate’s sarcastic answer “I am not a Jew, am I?” In other words, “I have no knowledge of or interest in Jewish affairs: why would I know or care about you if the chief priests hadn’t told me?”
Now Jesus answers as directly as he can. He explains what from his perspective is perfectly reasonable, but from Pilate’s perspective was obviously puzzling, if Jesus was an earthly ruler his subjects would have fought to keep him out of danger. Jesus’ rule / reign is a reality, but not in the same model of domination and control as earthly kingdoms. Jesus’ power over his followers is not coercive, not violent, not manipulative: his power is in relationship, ministry to the poor and powerless, and in his total devotion to God and human wellbeing.
Pilate understands Jesus correctly in realising that Jesus is claiming to have power but because he has no experience of this other kind of power, can only understand it as a claim to earthly kingship. Jesus attempts once more to get through to Pilate. He repeats what he has told his disciples many other times in John’s Gospel, that the reason he was born was to testify (give fairness to, live for, be) the truth. The truth is of course, God, and anyone who belongs to God understands what Jesus is saying.
End of item.
Click here for a printable copy of the commentary
Ryle on St. John 18: 33 — 37
The following are his notes, based on the KJV text.
33. [Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall.] The meaning of this must be that Pilate, disappointed in his attempt to put away the case from him, retired into his palace again, where he knew the Jews would not follow him, from fear of contracting ceremonial defilement, and resolved to have a private interview with our Lord, and examine Him alone. It is quite clear that the conversation which follows, from this point down to the middle of the thirty-eighth verse, took place within the Roman Governor’s walls, and most probably without the presence of any Jewish witnesses. If that was so, the substance of it could only have been revealed to John by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Pilate’s soldiers and a few guards of the prisoner may have been present. But it is highly improbable that John, or any friend of our Lord could have got inside the Governor’s palace. If the beloved Apostle did manage to get in and hear the conversation, it is a striking example of his attachment to his Master. “Love is strong as death.” (Cant. 8: 6.)
[And called Jesus.] This expression literally means, that he called Jesus with a loud voice to follow him inside the palace; and came out of the outer court, or area, where he had first met the party which had brought the prisoner to him. It is as though he said, ” Come in hither, Prisoner, that I may speak with thee privately! “
[And said…art Thou…King…Jews?] The first question that Pilate asked of our Lord, was whether he really admitted that He was what the Jews had just accused him of being. “Tell me, is it true that Thou art the King of the Jews? Dost Thou really profess to be the King of this ancient people, over whom I and my soldiers are now rulers?” — It is far from improbable that Pilate, living so long in Jerusalem, may have often heard of the old Jewish kings, and of the dominion they received. It is far from unlikely, moreover, that he thought it possible he had before him one of those mock Messiahs, who, like Theudas, rose up at this period, and kept the minds of the Jews in agitation.
“They accuse Thee of setting up Thyself as a King. Art Thou really a King? Dost Thou lay claim to any royal authority?” The humble attire and lowly appearance of our Lord can hardly fail to have struck Pilate. “Can it be true that Thou, a poor man, with no signs of a kingdom about Thee, art the King of the Jews?”
In order to estimate aright this question which Pilate put, we must remember that Suetonius, the Roman historian, distinctly says that a rumour was very prevalent throughout the East at this period, that a King was about to arise among the Jews, who would obtain dominion over the world. This singular rumour, originating no doubt from Jewish prophecies, had of course reached Pilate’s ears, and goes far to account for his question.
It is noteworthy that each of the four Gospel writers distinctly records that this was the first question that Pilate put to our Lord. It seems to show that the chief thing impressed on the mind of Pilate about Jesus, was that He was a King. As a King he examined him, as a King he sentenced him, and as a King he crucified Him. And one main object that he seems to have had in view in questioning our Lord, was to ascertain what kind of a kingdom He ruled over, and whether it was one that would interfere with the Roman authority. On the whole, the question seems a mixture of curiosity and contempt.
34 [Jesus answered him, Sayest thou, etc.] Our Lord’s motive in this answer to Pilate was probably to awaken Pilate’s conscience: “Dost thou say this of thine own independent self, in consequence of any complaints thou hast heard against Me as a seditious person? Or dost thou only ask it because the Jews have just accused of being a King? Hast thou, during all the years thou hast been a Governor, ever heard of Me as a leader of insurrection, or a rebel against the Romans? If thou hast never heard anything of this kind against Me, and hast no personal knowledge of my being a rebel, oughtest thou not to pay very little attention to the complaint of my enemies? Their bare assertion ought not weigh with thee.”
Grotius paraphrases the verse thus: “Thou hast been long a ruler, and a careful defender of the Roman majesty. Hast thou ever heard anything that would impeach Me of a desire to usurp authority against Rome? If thou hast never known anything thyself, but others have suggested it, beware lest thou be deceived by an ambiguous word.”
There is undoubtedly some little obscurity around the verse, and it becomes us to handle it reverently. It certainly looks like an appeal to the Roman Governor’s conscience. “Before I answer thy question let Me ask thee one. For what reason and from what motive art thou making this inquiry about my being a King? Canst thou say, from thy own personal knowledge, that thou hast ever heard Me complained of as setting up a kingdom? Thou knowest thou canst not say that. Art thou only asking Me because thou hast heard the Jews accuse Me of being a King to-day? If this is so, judge for thyself whether such a King as I appear to be is likely to interfere with thy authority.”
Poole says, “Our Saviour desired to be satisfied from Pilate whether he asked Him as a private person for his own satisfaction, or as a judge, having received any such accusation against Him. If he asked Him as a judge, he was bound to call others to prove what they had charged Him with.”
Burgon remarks that Jesus did not need information in asking this question. He asked, as the Lord asked Adam, ”Where art thou?” (Gen. 3: 9) in order to arouse Pilate to a sense of the shameful injustice of the charge.
35 [Pilate answered, etc.] The answer of Pilate exhibits the haughty, high-minded, supercilious, fierce spirit of a Roman man of the world. So far from responding to our Lord’s appeal to his conscience, he fires up at the very idea of his knowing anything of the current opinions about Christ, — “Am I a Jew? Thinkest thou that a noble Roman like me knows anything about the superstitions of Thy people. I only know that Thine own countrymen, and the very leaders of Thy nation, have brought Thee unto me as a prisoner worthy of death. What they mean I do not pretend to understand. But I suppose there is some ground for their accusation. Tell me plainly what Thou hast done.”
Pilate’s answer seems tantamount to an acknowledgment that he knew nothing against our Lord. But as He had been brought before him as a prisoner, and he was pressed to condemn Him, he asks Him what He has done to bring this hatred of the Jews upon Him.
He that would know the depth of scorn contained in that sentence, “Am I a Jew?” should mark the contemptuous way in which Horace, Juvenal, Tacitus, and Pliny speak of the Jews.
Stier remarks, “The Romans were only concerned with what was done; not with dreams, like the Jews; nor with wisdom, like the Greeks” Pilate’s question was characteristic of his nation.
36 [Jesus answered… kingdom… not… world.] In this famous sentence our Lord begins His answer to Pilate’s question, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” “Thou askest whether I am a King. I reply that I certainly have a kingdom, but it is a kingdom entirely unlike the kingdoms of this world. It is a kingdom which is neither begun, nor propagated, nor defended by the powers of this world, by the world’s arms or the world’s money. It is a kingdom which took its origin from heaven, and not from earth,
— a spiritual kingdom,
The literal rendering of the Greek would be “out of this world.” But it evidently means “belonging to, dependent on, springing from, connected with.” It is the same preposition that we find in John 8: 23: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world.”
That the above was our Lord’s plain meaning, when He spoke the words before us, is to my mind as evident as the sun at noon-day. The favourite theory of certain Christians that this text forbids Governments to have anything to do with religion, and condemns the union of Church and State, and renders all Established Churches unlawful, is, in my judgment, baseless, preposterous, and utterly devoid of common-sense. Whether the union of Church and State be right or wrong, it appears to me absurd to say that it is forbidden by this text. The text declares that Christ’s kingdom did not spring from the powers of this world, and is not dependent on them; but the text does not declare that the powers of this world ought to have nothing to do with Christ’s kingdom. Christ’s kingdom can get on very well without them; but they cannot get on very well without Christ’s kingdom.
(c) To tell us that a Government must leave religion alone, because it cannot promote it without favouring one Church more than another, is simply absurd. It is equivalent to saying that, as we cannot do good to everybody, we are to sit still and do no good at all.
Chrysostom says that our Lord’s reply meant, “I am indeed a King; but not such a King as thou suspectest, but one far more glorious.”
[If my Kingdom… servants fight… Jews.] Our Lord proceeds to give proof that His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore not likely to interfere with the Roman authority. “If the kingdom of which I am head, were like the kingdoms of this world, and supported and maintained by worldly means, then my disciples would take up arms and fight, to prevent my being delivered to the Jews. This, as thou mayest know by inquiry, is the very thing which I forbade last night. Thine own soldiers can tell thee that they saw Me reprove a disciple for fighting, and heard Me tell him to put up his sword.”
Let us mark that a religion propagated by the sword, or by violence, is a most unsatisfactory kind of Christianity. The weapons of Christ’s warfare are not carnal. Even true Christians who have appealed to the sword to support their opinions, have often found themselves losers by it. Taking the sword, they have perished by the sword. Zwingle dying in battle, and the Scotch Covenanters, are examples.
Stier thinks that by “my servants” in this verse our Lord meant the angels! This, however, seems very improbable.
Bullinger makes some good remarks on this sentence, in reply to the Anabaptists of his time. He says, among other things, “Just as it does not follow that the Church is worldly, because we who are flesh and blood, and are the world, are members of the Church, — so no one, unless he wants common sense, will say that the Church is worldly, because in it Kings and Princes serve God by defending the good and punishing the bad.”
Calvin observes that this sentence “does not hinder Princes from defending the kingdom of Christ, partly by appointing external discipline, and partly by lending their protection to the Church against wicked men.” Beza says much the same.
Hutcheson observes, “This text is not to be understood as if Christ disallowed that they to whom He has given the sword should defend His kingdom therewith; for if magistrates were as magistrates should be, nursing parents to the Church, and ought to kiss the Son, then certainly they may and should employ their power as magistrates for removing idolatry, and setting up the true worship of God, and defending it against violence.”
[But now… my kingdom not… hence.] The true meaning of this little sentence is not very clear. May it not mean, “Now, in this dispensation, my kingdom is not an earthly one, and is not of this world. A day will come by and by, after my second advent, when my kingdom will be a visible one over the whole earth, and my saints shall rule over the renewed world.” – This may seem fanciful to some; but I have a strong impression that it is the true meaning. The adverb “now,” in the Greek, is very decided and emphatical.
37 [Pilate therefore… Art Thou a King?] Here Pilate returns to his question, though he puts it in a different way: “Art Thou in some sense a King, if not such a King as the Kings of this world? Thou speakest of Thy kingdom and Thy servants. Am I to understand that Thou art a King?” We should observe the distinction in the language here, compared with that of verse thirty-three. There it was, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” Here it is simply, “Art Thou a King?”
[Jesus answered, Thou sayest… I am a King.] This sentence is a direct acknowledgment from our Lord’s lips that He is a King: a King only over hearts, consciences, and wills, but still a real true King. “Thou sayest,” is equivalent to an affirmation. “Thou sayest truly: I am what thou askest about, I admit that I am a King.”
There can be no doubt that this “is the good confession before Pontius Pilate,” which St. Paul specially impresses on the attention of the timid disciple Timothy, in his pastoral epistle. (1 Tim. 5: 13.)
[To this end… born… witness… truth.] Here our Lord informs Pilate what was the great end and purpose of His Incarnation. “It is true that I am a King, but not a King after the manner of the world. I am only a King over hearts and minds. The principal work for which I came into the world, is to be a witness of the truth concerning God, concerning man, and concerning the way of salvation. This truth has been long hidden and lost sight of. I came to bring it to light once more, and to be the King of all who receive it.”
I think the “truth” in this sentence must be taken in the widest and fullest sense. The true doctrine about man, and God, and salvation, and sin, and holiness, was almost buried, lost, and gone, when Christ came into the world. To revive the dying light, and erect a new standard of godliness in a corrupt world, which neither Egypt, Assyria, Greece nor Rome could prevent rotting and decaying, was one grand end of Christ’s mission. He did not come to gather armies, build cities, amass treasure, and found a dynasty, as Pilate perhaps fancied. He came to be God’s witness, and to lift up God’s truth in the midst of a dark world…….
Some think that “I was born” points to Christ’s humanity, and “came into the world,” to His divinity.
[Every one… of truth… heareth my voice.] I think that in this sentence our Lord tells Pilate who are His subjects, disciples, and followers. “Wouldest thou know who are the members of my kingdom? I tell thee that it consists of all who really love the truth and desire to know more of God’s truth. All such hear my voice, are pleased with my principles, and subjects of my kingdom.” It is like our Lord’s words to Nicodemus: “He that doeth truth cometh to the light.” (John 3: 21.)
Thus our Lord shows Pilate that His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom, that His business was not to wear a crown and found an earthly monarchy, but to proclaim truth; and that His followers were not soldiers and warriors, but all men and women, however poor and humble, who believed and received Him. Pilate therefore might dismiss from his mind all idea of His kingdom interfering with the authority of Rome.
Let us note that the position of Christ in the world must be the position of all Christians.
Like our Master we must be witnesses for God and truth against sin and ignorance. We must not be afraid to stand alone. We must testify.
The expression “every one that is of the truth” is remarkable. It must mean every one that really and honestly desires to know the truth, receives my teaching, and follows Me as a Master. Does it not show that our Lord, when He appeared, gathered round Him all who were true-hearted lovers of God’s revealed will, and were seeking, however feebly, to know more of it? (Compare John 3: 20; and 8: 47.) That there were many such, like Nathanael, among the Jews, anxiously looking for a Redeemer, we cannot doubt. “These,” says our Lord, “are my subjects, and make up my kingdom” Just as when He speaks of Himself as a shepherd,
He says, “My sheep hear my voice;” so when He speaks of Himself as God’s great witness to truth, He says, “All friends of truth hear my voice.”
The wise condescension with which our Lord adapts his language to Pilate’s habits of thought as a Roman, is very noteworthy. If He had used Jewish figures of speech, drawn from Old Testament language, Pilate might well have failed to understand Him. But every Roman in high position must have heard of the arguments of philosophers about “the truth.” Therefore our Lord says, “I am a witness to truth.” In speaking to unconverted people, it is wise to use terms which they can understand.
Theophylact suggests that here is an appeal to Pilate’s conscience: “If you are a real seeker after truth you will listen to Me.”
End of item
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(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so, remain
My Kingdom Does Not Belong To This World
Last Ordinary Sunday Year B John 18: 33 ― 37
1. From the very beginning of the Church, Christians have followed the Jewish model of arranging Sacred Scripture to be read throughout the year, in a carefully designed pattern. This order helps us live Scripture and see more clearly the great design of God’s Plan of Salvation and how we are part of it.
Out text belongs to the time of Lent and Easter, yet it is presented here as a capping stone for the Church Year which ends this week. It is a celebration of Christ our King. It is a solemn assertion of the universal Kingship of Christ against the great heresy of our days which is secularism. It is a time for Christians to proclaim with all their might:
“Jesus Christ is our King!”
2. All through the account of our Lord facing the Court trial, He never deviates from trying to save Pilate the Governor. He is a King with a mission: to win every heart willing to respond to Him in His outreach to them, to the most distant, even most unlikely, members of society.
In this way He models for us how we are to interact with people we might least expect to be interested in joining His Church.
3. Jesus said, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
When asked one day by an admiring young rabbi, which is the greatest Commandment, Jesus immediately declared:
“Here O Israel,
The whole life of Jesus is a testimony to this over-arching truth.
All wisdom and all knowledge stem from and point to this ultimate and paramount truth.
At the Transfiguration of Jesus, God declared His only Commandment recorded in the New Testament:
“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
Now, in our text, just a short time before His cruel execution Jesus declares His divine purpose; before the Governor, Pilate:
“….. to testify to the truth.”
“I have come”, Jesus had already taught, “to proclaim the all-encompassing truth”:
The Lord our God is Lord alone.
In our Faith, the Truth is a Person, not a philosophical concept. The Lord our God created us, saved and redeemed us and is preparing us for life with Him in Heaven. He is an awesome God of infinite love and mercy.
There is only one fitting response God’s creatures can offer:
Therefore you shall love God with all your heart,
I have come to do that and perform God’s Will on behalf of all humanity, said Jesus, whatever the cost.
I invite everyone who hears my voice to follow me and do the same.”
All of this is contained in the words of Jesus: “I have come to testify to the truth.”
Then He closes His beautiful testimony with a line from His earlier ministry among His disciples, recalling His prophetic role as True and Good Shepherd:
“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
With those words, Jesus quietly closes His ministry to the people He came to save, and with great dignity, hands the situation back to the Governor to deliver his judgment.
Blessed be God who calls us to listen to the Teaching of
John 18: 33 ― 37
Last Ordinary Sunday Year B
33 So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus
34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others
35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.
37 So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered,
16  You say I am a king: see ⇒ Matthew 26:64 for a similar response to the high priest. It is at best a reluctant affirmative.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised