John 18:33-38. The Trial— part 1

John 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

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

36 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.”

37 “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.a Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

38 “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.

As the Roman Governor, Pilate had the last word. He questions both the accused and his accusers. He could have saved Jesus if he’d wanted to, and all indications are that, for various reasons, that’s what he’d like to have done. But he didn’t. And already Jesus’ crucifixion was an imperative. He couldn’t.

The situation is complicated. This is a Jewish conflict with Rome holding all the power. Jesus is the king of the Jews, being set up for an unjust execution by his own people. He is innocent of any crime against Rome. Jesus’ kingdom is not in opposition to Rome but it is of another realm. The Jews have rejected the truth of Jesus’ claim and want him dead. They are manipulating Rome for their own ends.

Pilate understands this. But what about the man? The private dialogue between Jesus and Pilate is like a game of chess, which circles until it gets to the very heart of the issue. Pilate wants to know about Jesus. Is he king? Is he any kind of king, since the Jews clearly want him dead? He has power— that is his reputation. What is that power and where is it from? Is Jesus a threat to Rome?

Pilate’s investigation uncovers these things: Jesus has a kingdom, he is indeed a king— he is the king of Truth.

Truth. The nuance of Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” is difficult to pin down. It all depends on his tone of voice. Is it merely a dismissive rhetorical question? Is it cynical? Is it philosophical? Is it ironic? The NIV makes it a ‘retort’. The Greek NA28 simply has, ‘he said’.

Whatever ‘Truth’ is, Pilate is not interested. He’s all about expediency. He wants the situation shut down. For Pilate, Jesus’ trial was not so much the terrible thing he’d do as the wonderful thing he’d proved incapable of doing. He could have stuck to his guns and resisted the pressure, and told the chief priests to go to away. He could have put Jesus into protective custody and sent him to Rome for trial, as Paul was later. But for now Pilate is jammed. He is on trial.

Lord Jesus, I am trial before you each day. You are not my accuser but the judge who chose to take my judgment upon himself. By your grace, let me now walk before you the way an innocent man might. I am not innocent but I am forgiven. Thank you.