These are the words of Pontius Pilate.
The scene is the tribunal of Jesus Christ after arrest and before the Crucifixion.
Who was Pontius Pilate?
He was governor of Judea in the time of Tiberias Caesar of Rome. Jesus was brought to him because the Jewish leaders didn’t have the political power to sentence a criminal to death, being only a religious power within Roman jurisdiction.
Previous to this, after praying to the Lord until his sweat poured blood at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested. He willingly allowed himself to be bound and taken to the Jewish high priest who questioned him about the teaching he was disseminating among his disciples and the Jewish people.
Jesus answered that since all that he taught was done out in the open, they could ask any of the people what he taught; it was no secret. The guard slapped him hard in the face for his impudence.
Yet since he couldn’t find any religious (i.e., scripturally illegal) fault with Jesus, Annas sent him on to his son-in-law and high priest for that year, Caiaphas, who then transported him to the palace of Pontius Pilate nearby. Here, Pilate tries to determine the manner of civil crime that is being presented.
Pilate asks, “Who are you? Are you the king of the Jews, as people say you are? What have you done?”
Jesus: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
Pilate: “So you ARE a king, then!” (v. 37).
Jesus: “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (v. 37b).
Pilate retorted: “What is truth?”(v.38)
Then Pilate goes onto the balcony to address the Jewish leaders gathered below and addressed them.
Pilate: “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
Pilate is no Jew. What was in his mind to release to the disgruntled Jews living under Roman occupation a man whom they call a king? And why was Jesus called a king? That has to do with the ancient prophesies of a Jewish Messiah who would come from the royal line of Judah, from King David’s genetic line. Jesus was, indeed, a descendent of King David through his mother, Mary. But it wasn’t only for the Jews he would bring salvation.
But what neither Roman nor Jew could comprehend is that Jesus’ father is God Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit. All man in his humanness, and all God in His Divinity.
Of course, the Jews cried out for the release of a known rebel named Barrabas. Pilate was left with the life of an innocent man in his hands. Out of his fear of a revolt from underneath (the Jews) and the potential charge of weak leadership from overhead (Rome), Pilate publicly washed his hands of the guilt of the act and had Jesus beaten, mocked, and ultimately crucified on a Roman cross out by the landfill outside of city gates.
But what do we make of Pilate’s question?
It was a Greek question, which was adopted into Roman philosophy. The word used in scripture is the Greek “aletheia“, which means “truth”; but the full meaning of the word in context means: “What = reality?” What is real, authentic, revealed as fact?
Pilate is a skeptic. He is a hard man who struggles to enact justice in an unjust world. He is scarred and scared and jaded. And he is blinded by his hopelessness.
We’ve heard it before: “All things are relative.” The idea that we cannot know truth is called skepticism. However, the idea that there is no truth to be known is called relativism. Pilate is asking a philosophical, rhetorical question asking the first, and expecting the second. He does not expect an answer, and Jesus gives him none.
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t have the answer.
One chapter previous, Jesus had already said what was true (John 17:17–this is easy to remember, isn’t it?): “…Your Word, [God,] is truth.” Couple this with how the author put these facts together in John 1:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John 1:1-5, 14 NIV)
One doesn’t need to state a belief in the Bible or even in God to realize what the Bible is claiming here: Jesus was born of God and is God. The Word of God is true. Jesus is the expressed Word of God, therefore Jesus is true.
The Darkness Falls
Pilate didn’t even see that the answer to his rhetorical question stood bound before him.
Truth would be slapped, brutally flogged with a cat-of-nine-tails (a spiked whip of multiple barbed strands of leather), spat on, stripped naked, mocked and debased by a lowly Roman guard, and marched in this condition, carrying His cross for a time until he physically became dependent on the help of a foreign standerby. Then he was nailed to a cross outside where the refuse and the lepers stayed and criminals were executed to their shame:
- filled with the potential of ultimate power, and yet willing to be powerless so he could win our salvation;
- exalted in the heavens with the honor of perfection, and yet willing to be literally stripped of that honor to bear the shame of our sin before God;
- in full, and joyful fellowship with God the Father, and yet willing to lay down his unity with God to be condemned to the darkness of all separation from God, death and the grave.
In this time of confusion about global collapse and fear and anxiety, we all ask the same question. Is there objective truth? Can truth be known? Is there any HOPE?
This is what the written Word offers us. These things happened and are verified by historical literary analysis. The verity of all the words of scripture match the truth that we see evidenced in our own human nature and in the way we see the world works. We see truth crippled and stumbling in the streets and we see truth die in public shame.
This all matches what can be experienced by us today. We see pain we can’t do anything about, and we feel fear. We now have imposed isolation from others and we fear isolation from a mighty and terrible God. Our honor and fame is shredded in global statistics and the failure of science to save, even if a cure comes available soon, it can not save lives being lost by the thousands now. And when we read scriptures our own spirits are pierced with its truth of our personal shame and failure to even meet our own expectations—much less the expectations of others or of an Eternal Judge.
In the description of Jesus’s final hours, we see the failure of the world. The failure of us.
The Light of the World is Jesus
But the Bible is only a text, sanctified by the message of the words within it. They speak of Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God to man, not man.
In love, God became man, and lived among us full of grace and truth, yet the world didn’t recognize him. He suffered and died to justify our wrongs by taking our wrongs into His own body and sacrificing it publically in our own time and space in history. But we still don’t recognize or acknowledge Him.
And yet it is said, that though “the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 17:17-18).
The final hours of Jesus speak of the failure of man, but also of the glorious victory of Christ! On Good Friday, we commemorate His death, but on Resurrection Sunday, we celebrate His victory over death and His Promise fulfilled of eternal life for all who believe in Him for salvation. In Him is the Light of the World[a], able and powerful to save, able to dispel our darkness and able to replace our shame with His honor.
And He is coming again to destroy all evil and to eliminate all suffering and pain, fear and death. He is coming again to reign in undisputed victory![b]
Can I stand in the face of these claims and deny that one can know truth? Will I face the evidence of the Resurrection of our Living Christ and say that this truth does not apply to me? Can I stand in the face of the promise of a Coming King and say that I can invent my own truth and live by it without immediate or eternal consequence?
During a time of global crisis, of disorientation, with isolation and suffering and death very near, we need truth now more than ever. Truth = HOPE.
As you read the Bible, look for Truth in the Person of Jesus Christ.
“…Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore you from captivity and gather you from all the nations and places to which I have banished you, declares the LORD. I will restore you to the place from which I sent you into exile.”…(Jeremiah 29:12-14 BSB)
© April 2020 by ReadPsalm119.com. All photos are by ReadPsalm119.com.
a) The Light of the World – John 17:9-13 NIV:
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” —
b) Our Coming King – Revelation 19:11-16 NIV:
“As John wrote, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems. … and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
See “Christ our Coming King – Decision Magazine” (brief article) at https://decisionmagazine.com/christ-our-coming-king/
2 thoughts on “What is truth?”
Hey, Wow, this is an amazing post; only partway through and will finish tomorrow and share it around. THANK YOU for focusing on Jesus. Especially love this line: . All man in his humanness, and all God in His Divinity. And how you explain Pilate’s predicament. I spent 7 hours on Skype with my mom yesterday. We have a sibling schedule to share this otherwise she would be trapped in one room and alone all day. The aides come in for minutes to give her food, meds, and help her change. TODAY, please pray because I am trying very hard to finish my manual about how to use “Read in Pictures.” It will be like a mini OG course. Took this week off of remote teaching with my students (put them on ERE) to do this and making great progress. Please pray that God continues to give me wisdom, direction and so far NO BACK or spine pain (thank you Lord for healing). Maybe we can “walk” and talk tomorrow. Much luv c
Carol, thank you for your kind words! We have spoken in person many times since your original post, but I want to publicly thank you. I also want to reiterate my congratulations on your progress with EasyReadEnglish.com! (Friends of this website can see links in my Blog Roll.) Thank you also for publicly telling of the prayers and concern for your mom; we are all praying for our elderly family and friends during this time. Good to hear those “daily” moments as we live this out. Love and prayers! t