Pilate asked Jesus, “What is Truth?” Has a more cynical question ever been asked? Pilate is a politician, a governor in Judaea, a troublesome assignment with a difficult people. In this rugged barren wilderness, he is the voice and arm of Rome, the occupier. Rome is a hierarchy of lords and over-lords. The realms of power spawn corruption, lies, greed, flattery and betrayal. People say one thing and do another. Motives are hidden, politeness is forced. Everybody wants something. With constant maneuvering and positioning to be close to the seats of power, who can be trusted? Who is genuine? Who is humble? Who has no self-interest? Who tells the truth?
Israel is the land of The One True God, how different it is from the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. How distinct from the idolatry of the surrounding nations. How foolish from Rome’s point of view, they seemed to think all of this world is the sole responsibility of one God. With a fierce loyalty to the laws of Moses their prophet and Jewish custom, Jews held a deep disdain for the goyim who now soiled their sacred land. The House of Israel was a burdensome brood. Their food was weird. Their customs odd. The Romans were bacon eating dogs. They had no love for each other.
The Jews awaited the Messiah, their King, a promise that had echoed through the generations from Abraham on. But even from the Beginning, God had promised to undo the work of the serpent. Messiah would unseat earthly power and restore the Glory of Israel to the Nations.
That morning the high priest and Jewish leaders came to roust Pilate but would not step foot into the Roman palace for fear they would be unclean, unfit to eat the coming passover meal. The Roman palace was unsuitable, a dog house. Pilate was known for brutality. He had mixed the blood of some executed Galilean prisoners with the Jewish sacrifice. Now the Jewish leaders demanded Pilate meet them outside the palace. It was urgent.
The high priest’s entourage made quick complaint, brought accusation and demanded execution. What an annoyance. What a rebellious troublesome lot. They were seeking the execution of the “King of the Jews”, the would-be Messiah. Rome already had a partner in Israel who was tetrach, Herod. No doubt news of Jesus’ activities had reached Pilate’s ears. Tales of healing and miracles spread quickly. Powers that be pay attention to large gathering multitudes because they can become rebellions and insurrections. Now before Pilate, stood Jesus, accused of making himself the King of the Jews.
Pilate found no real fault in Jesus and even offered to release Him, an act of mercy. Even Pilate’s wife had a bad feeling about this. She knew He was an innocent man. Jesus gave no real defense other than His Kingdom was not of this world or His followers would have fought His arrest. Jesus had miraculously healed Malchus the one guard who was wounded by Peter’s sword during the arrest. Jesus told Peter to put down his sword. The prophet had foretold, “as a sheep is silent before it’s shearers so He would open not His mouth.” This rebel was laying down His life.
“What is Truth?” Truth was standing before Pilate. Pilate did not recognize it. Few did. Truth was a person. Truth was Jesus. He claimed to be the Truth, not just a container, not just a purveyor.
This reality came to me in a shocking way. I like to talk to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes. One time in particular was not a good day. I was annoyed at their bad timing. A sweet older lady came to the door and started talking to me. I had to go somewhere. I told her I could not talk now and she insisted that nothing was more important than the truth and she was trying to share it with me. Didn’t I want to know the truth? I looked at her and out of my mouth came the words, “Truth is a Person”. She was stunned at my response, so was I. We looked at each other for a quiet moment. “Know Jesus and you will know the Truth”, I told her. “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except though Him.” Jesus embodies everything there is to know about the Father. He is His Glory, His grace and Truth, His Word to us. Jesus is the face of God that Moses was not allowed to see. As John so wonderfully puts it,
‘We proclaim to you the One Who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This One who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the one Who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then He was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy.’
The Pharisees (conservative religious leaders of Jesus’ time) were concerned about truth. They were the children of Abraham, they followed the Law of Moses. They looked for the advent of the Messiah and believed in the Torah, the Law and the Prophets and clung to the promise of His arrival. They attempted to remain pure and clean in their ceremonial life. They were pious. They believed in the resurrection. In contrast, the Sadducees (liberal religious leaders of Jesus’ time) did not believe in the resurrection nor the complete inspiration of the scriptures. Both the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ ideas of the Messiah looked very different from who Jesus was. Jesus did not bear their image. The Jewish scribes, lawyers, religious leaders tested Jesus, pressed Him for answers, tried to trick Him into damnable testimony. Called Him the devil, a glutton, a drunk, a bastard, a friend of sinners. They conspired to put Him away, to even kill him for the sake of the prolonged safety of their nation under Rome.
Jesus confronted the leaders with their unbelief and their rejection of Himself and in turn their rejection of the Father, because the Father had sent Jesus. He told them,
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”
What a sad conclusion: rejection of the long awaited One, the Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promise. Jesus had lived, demonstrated and proclaimed truth before their very eyes. Yet they rejected Him. And eventually, they made a deal with Judas to betray Jesus with a kiss. Called Him the sinner. Called Him the liar. Rejecting Jesus, they rejected the Father who sent Him.
Now before Pilate stood Truth. Pilate washed his hands, not his problem. The people called for crucifixion and said, “His blood be upon us and our children.” Pilate sent Him away to be scourged and crucified as the mob cried out.
Jesus had promised “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” He spoke and taught, His words were for our abode, the word of truth, words of eternal life. To know Him is eternal life. Jesus is the Word of Life, the Word become flesh, the very truth that sets free the humble hearted, the truth that Pilate and proud hearted would not see.