(John 18:37-38) Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all.
Pilate’s question did not come from a man who was confused about truth; at least the truth of Jesus’ legal case. The gospels record that Pilate knew the Jews had trumped up and fabricated charges against Jesus for their own malicious purposes. So why did he question Jesus concerning truth, when Jesus declared truth was the reason He came into the world?
My personal opinion is that Pilate’s view of truth was merely rational and materialistic. Being a Roman did not mean he actually worshiped Caesar or the multitudes of false gods in the Roman pantheon. In fact his life and struggles in war and politics would teach him that those who could force their own will through force or manipulation, would usually get their way. His truth,: might (whether physical/material or intellectual) and the one who uses it best, makes his own right.
This view point made religion, whether Jewish or Roman, perfunctory at best or merely another tool to force the will of his government. His viewpoint of truth hindered him from seeing Jesus the Messiah, as who He truly was and is. By contrast, the centurion at the cross, who was under Pilate’s authority (indirectly), confessed upon Jesus’ death “Truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). Not unlike many soldiers among the ranks of the United States Armed forces, this centurion saw the truth clearly.
A solider’s truth is defined by those who are given them orders of those in authority over them. They practice that truth by obeying those orders without question or discussion. How did this aid the centurion in recognizing the truth concerning Jesus? Because in Christ’s selfless death, where He prayed for His enemies, took care to assign provision for His mother, and forgave and received a former mocking thief (among other things), the centurion saw the highest power, that of God’s love. Jesus’ total selflessness was supernatural to the soldier, something he had never encountered. This Jesus, “the Son of God” was the Highest authority he had ever seen, love not overcome by hate, pain or shame. Truth was crucified before him.
So let us ask the question “What is truth to us?” or more specifically “How is it that we received and handle truth”?
Recently I have been reading “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS” by Charles Swindoll. In Chapter 14, entitled “The Last Trials and torture of Jesus”, Swindoll outlines 4 persons perspectives on truth. I found these very insightful and a bit troubling, concerning how clearly the church in America fits into them, in some form. In these four perspectives, you may find a diagnosis for how you handle the truth when in a situation that presses your flesh. He uses Pilate, Herod, Pilate’s wife, and the religious leaders, to illustrate his positions. Below is an extended quote from Swindoll’s book, “The Greatest Life of All: JESUS” pages 212-213.
These people were not very different from you and me. And I find four different perspectives in the case of The State v. Jesus of Nazareth, each represented by a primary figure in the historical accounts.
Pilate. He was completely convinced by the truth, yet terrified to admit it or act upon it for fear of losing favor with certain people.
Herod. He was so distracted by superficial pursuits that the truth had long ago become irrelevant to him.
Pilate’s wife. She was so easily persuaded and carelessly undiscerning that truth and fiction commingled with ease.
The religious leaders. The were willfully unconcerned with truth because it frustrated their personal agendas.
Swindoll goes on to explain…
Some people are like Pontius Pilate. They recognize the truth about Jesus Christ and even acknowledge it, but they refuse to yield themselves to that truth because it threatens to disrupt the plans they have for their own lives. They fear the rejection of people. The perhaps have a greater desire for power or money or comfort or a relationship or… the list is endless.
Some people are like Herod. they distract themselves from the most important issues of life with projects or parties or thrill seeking. Belief in Jesus Christ is for fanatics and other people who take themselves too seriously. It’s all a big joke. The truth about Jesus Christ is lost in the pursuit of the next good time.
Then people like Pilate’s wife accept that Jesus claims are authentic… along with every other passing philosophy or religious (or Christian wind of doctrine or practice; my comment) belief. They make the bible, the cross, the church, even His name into treasured tokens of a sentimental faith or lucky charms to ward off guilt and other negative experiences. Theirs is a superficial , sentimental belief, that fails to change them or transform their character.
Worst of all (like the religious leaders; my comment), many people reject Jesus Christ because He is not the Messiah they have prescribed for themselves. They have a clear picture of the god they would like to worship–and even presume to worship–but have no desire for the God who actually exists and has revealed Himself.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37). Pilate devalued the truth about the Son of God. Herod was to shallow and vain to see the truth. Pilate’s wife accepted everything as truth and, therefore, failed to recognize it. And the angry mob ignored the truth as inconvenient.
May I suggest you take some time to prayerfully consider, which of the above four perspectives on how we receive the truth fits your flesh best. Understanding this natural disposition will assist us in overcoming it, by walking in the Spirit, when trouble or God’s call presses us to deny our flesh. may God bless you as you consider this truth.