“So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 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 18:33–38, ESV)
The Jews pleaded with Pilate when he turned their request around on them and told them to judge Jesus for themselves. They pleaded with him to rule because they had no power themselves to sentence him to death. But Pilate was very reluctant to listen to their request. In our passage for today we read about what Pilate did in response to their plea. He left them and returned into his headquarters where he then called for Jesus to come to him. Once there he asked Jesus personally about the accusation made against Him—“Are you he King of the Jews?” Again Jesus did not directly answer the question. Instead He asked Pilate if this was a question that he had on his own or whether he was asking based upon what he had heard and the charges that were made by others. Pilate responded to Jesus telling Him that He was not a Jew and that it was Jesus’ own people that turned Him over to Pilate. His very logical question was, “What have you done?” What could He have possibly done that would have had the leaders of the Jews screaming that He be put to death? What could have been so heinous?
We read Jesus answered Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Jesus was no threat to Roman rule. He did not come to replace them (at that time), but told them that His kingdom was not of this world. If it were He would not have given Himself up so freely and His disciples would have fought to keep Him free. They would have poured their efforts into putting Him on His throne and not standing by as He was taken away. If He truly were sent to set up His kingdom then and there His plan was a poor one at best. But His kingdom was not of this world, and He had no intention of trying to put in place or defend something that He was not given to do.
But in answering Pilate He also said the key words, “My kingdom.” Regardless of what He said about the where, Pilate heard His intent to rule, and he said to Him, “So you are a king?” But Jesus still did not claim this title for Himself, and responded to Pilate saying that it was him who said that He (Jesus) was a king. Jesus told Him that He was born to bear witness to the truth, and that those who heard His voice would listen to the truth to which Pilate asked the question that many have asked throughout time, “What is truth?” Clearly Pilate did not feel threatened by Jesus, and he went back out and told the Jews, “I find no guilt in Him.”
In wrapping up this encounter I found Pilate’s last question and his following judgment quite interesting. He asked, “What is truth?” He knew that the Jews had a belief system that Jesus had rubbed up against such that they wanted Him put to death, but not believing as they did and not accepting their standard as His or even understanding the truth of which Jesus spoke, Pilate had no concept of what truth was or wasn’t. For Him there was no issue. It seems that for him truth was relative and that He was not going to judge against Jesus because of their differences or understanding of truth. For Pilate Jesus was not guilty of anything, and it was his judgment to not judge in favor of the Jews. But for the Jews, they knew that the truth of which Jesus spoke was a real threat to what they held dear and their own religiosity. Jesus had called them hypocrites. He had told them that they did not know God whom they claimed as theirs. He told them that they were of their Father the devil. And He told them that only those who believed that He was sent by the Father would inherit eternal life and forgiveness. They did not accept Him or the truth which He spoke about, and because of that they wanted Him removed. Pilate didn’t see the threat and he did not feel compelled to take any action.
Isn’t the same thing true today? Those who are not confronted with something that they hold close generally find no compelling reason to respond. For them, the issue is not seen and they do not grasp the big deal. But those who see the truth of God’s Word as an offense to their way of life, they tend to respond strongly. And when in their response they are able to compel others to join their cause or accept their effort as valid, then the fight for truth intensifies.
How did Jesus respond? What Jesus told Pilate is that this world is really not His home. This was not where He was setting up His kingdom, and He was not going to focus His effort on winning this battle. What He came to do was to bear witness to the truth, knowing that He as the truth was going to set people free. Clearly Jesus did not remain silent about sin, but He always knew that the answer to man’s problem was not stopping Him from sinning but freeing him from the slavery of sin which only could be accomplished by making them new creations through His death, burial, and resurrection.
When things get really bad and evil seems to be at its strongest we need to remember that Jesus has overcome the world and that by trusting in Him for salvation He will help us stand any attack and endure all hardship. We are to pray for, encourage, and stand with one another knowing that our home is eternally set in the presence of Christ. This is the essence of hope. Truth matters.