Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” John 18:38
Jesus was not a victim of circumstance. He was not swept up by the events around Him. Every moment of His entire life was part of a divine plan laid down before time began. Each stop on the journey to Easter was purposeful and planned. Today’s stop is the judgment hall of Pilate, the Roman governor.
Pilate had been appointed governor or prefect around 26 AD, and like the rest of the Romans thought he was superior culturally, intellectually and morally to the Jews he ruled over. His appointment to this dead-end position was a signal that his career was over as far as advancement or promotion were concerned. So the Jewish people became the targets upon whom he vented his bitterness. He was harsh and provoked the Jews at every opportunity. At one point, he seized the Temple treasury to build an aqueduct. He brought imperial images into the holy city which was considered a blasphemous insult. To say he held the Jews in contempt was an understatement. Luke 13:1 makes reference to him murdering a group of Galileans in Jerusalem. Remember Galilee was outside his jurisdiction but was Herod’s domain. Galilee was also a known hotbed for anti-Roman sentiment and haven for insurrectionists. (Think the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 for a more modern type.) As soon as the band arrived in Jerusalem, Pilate made his move and had them slaughtered.
It is against this backdrop that Jesus, the king of the Jews, is delivered to his doorstep early Friday morning. The charges were vague at best. “Doing evil.” (John 18:30) Pilate’s initial response was “I don’t have time for this.” But the charge that Jesus is an insurrectionist required further investigation. Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are You a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37)
Yes, but my mission is to bear witness to the truth. The truth is people are hopelessly separated from God because of their sins. I have come to reconcile and redeem them. (That’s reading between the lines a little.)
Pilate speaks for the skeptics across countless ages when he responds, “What is truth?”
It’s a fair question. In our culture, we’ve seen the rise of “personal truth”. Is that the answer? To the post-moderns, truth is something that everyone possesses and it is unique, but also malleable. However, if there is truth, doesn’t that also imply there is a lie? I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone claim, “What’s a lie for you, may not be a lie for me.”
The attraction of the “personal truth” is that it makes us, as individuals, the arbiters of truth, which in turn gives us complete moral authority, which means we never do anything wrong. Small wonder it’s appealing.
But if truth is an absolute, immutable reality, then it was established beyond me by someone greater than I am. And His pronouncements are that I have transgressed His character revealed in His law. He has the moral authority, then, levy punishment for those transgressions.
Rooted in Pilate’s response is the undertone that truth confers authority. He was used to wielding authority so he didn’t want to follow the truth business to its logical outworking.
At this stop on our journey, we are confronted with the same question. What is truth? Is it what Christ testified to, that we need a Savior? Or is it what we decide? And we continue to face this question every single day. Will we hold fast to what Christ says about us, about the Father’s love, about our security, about our empowerment and commission or will we define all those things in terms of culture, achievement, or identity?
What is truth? And more importantly, what will you do with the truth when you discover it? Pilate dismissed TRUTH and walked away. History says little about him after this moment. He faded into obscurity and then into eternity. Are our present-day struggles a direct result of dismissing, ignoring, or rationalizing truth?
Don’t move on from this stop until you’ve considered what is truth?
Next stop: the Empty Tomb