Pilate was assigned to serve as the Roman governor (procurator) of Judea in AD 26. His five predecessors exercised discretion wisely choosing to show respect for Jewish customs. Pilate was charged with keeping peace within Judea yet routinely provoked confrontations with the Jews. According to secular accounts, there were two occasions when Pilate intentionally offended the Jews by displaying images of Tiberius within the holy city of Jerusalem. On another occasion, Pilate raided the sacred “Corban” Treasury to fund an aqueduct into the city. His insensitivity incited the Israelites to openly oppose him rather than allow him to desecrate their holy city. Through these interactions, Pilate revealed his weak character by conceding to the Jewish demands rather than carrying out his brutal threats of bloodshed. His stubbornness, pride, and corruption precipitated the Jews’ hatred of him and of the Roman government.
One the night before His death, Jesus endured two sets of trials. The first trials were before the Jewish leaders- Annas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin. These Jewish leaders determined Jesus’ guilt and death penalty before his arrest. The trials were a mere formality where they sought a formal charge to bring against him. False witnesses came forward but gave conflicting testimonies. Frustrated, the high priest questioned Jesus directly, demanding to know if He was the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus’ own testimony was the only evidence against Him. They charged the Son of God with blasphemy.
Jewish law called for blasphemers to be stoned, but they didn’t stone Jesus as they had tried to do previously, and as they did with Stephen who was convicted of blasphemy in Acts 7. The Jews sought not only to kill Jesus but to silence his followers. To do that, they had to discredit him and his teachings. Stoning him would silence the messenger, but the power of His teaching would remain if not dealt with properly. Those who died by crucifixion were considered cursed by God. Only this death penalty would satisfy the Jews. They reasoned that this ultimate humiliation and disgrace would surely cause his followers to scatter. The Jewish leaders were so blinded by their sin that they failed to see how all their plotting and conspiring was fulfilling the scriptures they should’ve known.
All these details reveal the hand of God working through history to sovereignly accomplish His purposes. It was by God’s design that both Jews and Gentiles were guilty of the sin of rejecting Jesus and took part in His execution. The Jewish leaders refused to bear the full responsibility of Jesus’ death and showed themselves to be just as calloused as Roman authorities.
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected.
32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
These verses reveal the deep hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders. They were concerned about ceremonial cleanliness but not concerned with justice according to God’s law. They knowingly violated Jesus’ rights, ignored the law, lied (9th commandment), and conspired to commit murder (6th commandment) yet claimed righteousness before God. Jewish law reflected a respect for human life that made it difficult to execute, yet Jesus was charged, tried, and condemned within a matter of hours.
Pilate must go back inside in order to question Jesus. Despite Pilate’s previous treatment of the Jews, he was given the truth from Jesus himself. Jesus’ answer reveals that none are too arrogant- none have rejected grace so much that we cannot share the truth of Jesus with them.
Jesus revealed that his kingdom was not earthly and that it did not threaten Rome. Jesus kingdom is “of the truth”- based on beliefs and principles. Jesus then invites him in and warns him at the same time saying, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
Pilate’s response reveals the condition of his heart. John 18:38 “What is truth?” he asked, but did not wait for a response. He returned to the Jews gathered outside and declared there was no basis for a charge against Jesus. Pilate asked questions but wasn’t really interested in Jesus’ testimony.
Pilate’s view of truth differs from the Christian definition. Pilate didn’t have the Bible or the Holy Spirit. Truth was what Caesar declared. Truth was what felt good and made life easier. His truth was Roman truth, but that was different than Jewish truth, which was based on religious tradition. Pilate recognized that even the Jews lied and deceived to get what they wanted. These hypocritical Jewish leaders twisted “truth” at their pleasure.
So, what is truth?! Pilate asked a real and probing question. Up to this point, truth was purely subjective. It was an idea, not something tangible. Maybe you’re identifying with Pilate today. You’re asking the same question and are unsure if truth even exists. Science relies heavily on theories. History relies heavily on perspective. Religions rely on their sacred writings. Even the Bible can appear confusing and can be interpreted differently by different people. Like Pilate, maybe you’re wondering where truth can be found?
Pilate was a Roman judge proceeding over the case of a clearly innocent man accused by religious leaders who claimed to live according to the truth of God. Pilate was completely at a loss as he stood face to face with the Truth. He spoke with the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He looked in the eyes of the One in whom there was no deceit. Truth is not an idea or a book. Truth is a person. It is God, Himself, in whom there is no deceit.
What do you say truth is?
How do you pursue knowledge of the truth? The Bible says that we can know the truth and the truth will set us free. Do you know Him? We know Him by reading His Word and studying it for ourselves and not just believing what others tell us is true- and especially not what the world tells us is true. We know Him by asking Him to guide us and give us understanding. He promises to be faithful to reveal truth when we truly seek it. He says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart.”
The religious leaders claimed to know truth yet actively suppressed and denied it. By their worldview, they were righteous based on their deeds. Pilate based truth on Roman government and authority (worldview). All worldviews are based on the lies of the ruler of the world, Satan, and will never display Truth. The Truth is foolishness to those who do not believe.
Jesus is the Truth who frees us from the penalty and power of sin.
In his trials, He displayed the truth of God’s grace extended to all- both Jews and Gentiles. In his suffering, He displayed the truth of God’s love for mankind and the Son’s love for the Father. In Jesus’ sacrifice, He displayed the truth of God’s holiness and judgment of sin. We, too, must display the truth through the actions of our daily lives.
Do you know the Truth who can set you free? This freedom is for all who believe the testimony of Jesus.