John 18: 28 – 40 Jesus before Pilate

John 18: 28 – 40 Jesus before Pilate

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. So Pilate came out to them and asked, ‘What charges are you bringing against this man?’

‘If he were not a criminal,’ they replied, ‘we would not have handed him over to you.’

Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’

‘But we have no right to execute anyone,’ they said. This took place to fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’

‘Is that your own idea,’ Jesus asked, ‘or did others talk to you about me?’

‘Am I a Jew?’ Pilate replied. ‘Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?’

Jesus said, ‘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.’

‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘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.’

‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release “the king of the Jews”?’

They shouted back, ‘No, not him! Give us Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

*       *       *

“’What is truth?’ retorted Pilate”

That question lies at the heart of this passage.

“What is truth?”

Pilate was a sophisticated, worldly man, an important player in the politics of the Roman Empire. He was aware of the mixed motives behind people’s actions. The nature of human power structures would have taught him, indeed, would have forced him, to act pragmatically. He didn’t have the time to sort out truths from lies; he needed results.

The life or death of a non-Roman citizen was a very small affair. It was only lobbying by the chief priests that had caused him to be involved at all, because he needed them on-side politically. It didn’t really matter whether the accusations against Jesus were true, it was whether they represented a threat to Roman peace.

At one level, “What is truth?” meant “Truth doesn’t matter here.”

But at a deeper level, Pilate believes that matters are never black and white in human affairs. People’s self-interest always gets in the way. It’s ridiculous to imagine that there’s a single specific truth. His “What is truth?” is a denial that truth is attainable. If truth doesn’t exist, there’s no absolute need for justice. No absolute requirement for living a moral life. If there is no truth, the lives of others don’t matter. There’s never anyone who is wholly in the right; all human beings do evil deeds.

And, you know what? He’s right. All human beings (except Jesus) are fallible. And that’s a point on which Pilate and Jesus agree. Human beings are by nature selfish and deceitful. I’m selfish. I’m deceitful. I try not to be, but the temptation is always there.

Where Jesus and Pilate part company is in their response to this fact. Pilate doesn’t care about people; he cares about his personal satisfaction. He is quite prepared to destroy people if they obstruct him.

Jesus, although he understands as clearly as Pilate that human nature is inherently selfish, is not prepared to leave it at that. He loves each and every one of us selfish, deceitful, treacherous human beings throughout history. He lived his life outside of power structures. He called out self-interest whenever he came across it. He has never once been selfish, never once been deceitful.

What is truth?

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’. (John 14: 6)

What matters to Jesus is not the problem, not the action of a fallible human, but the person. He loves each of us, and wants the best for us. That is truth.

Jesus answered, ‘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.’

Even as he is on trial for his life before Pilate, Jesus is reaching out to save him, giving him a chance to repent and embrace the truth.

I want to be on the side of truth. I try to listen to Jesus. What do I hear?

‘This is my command: love each other.’ (John 15: 17)

‘But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send you in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.’ (John 14: 26)

What is truth?

The truth is love.

The truth is Jesus.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you for Jesus, your truth in the world. Please help me to respond wholeheartedly to his love.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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