Summary: We may either adopt the cynicism of this dying world, dismissing truth when it stands before us, or we may embrace the Son of God who is truth.

“Pilate said to Jesus, ‘What is truth?’” [1]

Cynicism best describes the governor’s demeanor when the True Light stood before him. Arraigned before Pilate’s judgement seat was Jesus of Nazareth who testified of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [JOHN 14:6]. Someone has appropriately commented that irreverence grins in the face of Holy God; never was this more apparent that when the Son of God stood before Pilate. He who hung the stars in space was on trial before a petty tyrant who disdained the very peoples over whom he ruled. The One who graciously gave sight to blind eyes, who enabled the deaf to hear and the mute to speak and who restored dead sons to their mother’s arms, was hailed before Pilate’s judgement seat where He was to be examined because of trumped up charges pressed by religious leaders driven by jealousy.

It will be helpful to our understanding to refresh our memories, getting the context in which the query was muttered. “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. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber” [JOHN 18:33-40].

It is obvious from the dialogue presented that Pilate did not want to make a decision. Pilate was well aware that Jesus was not guilty of lèse majesté; however, he was prepared to sacrifice this bothersome man if it would halt the bickering of the Jews. Pilate asked Jesus whether He claimed to be King of the Jews. Jesus responded by challenging Pilate to consider the evidence presented. Pilate’s rejoinder was caustic, pointing out that the leadership of the nation had delivered Jesus to be executed.

It was at this point that Jesus made a startling pronouncement. He laid claim to an unseen kingdom—a kingdom that did not originate from within the political world to which Pilate was wed. Moreover, He claimed that He had subjects who were prepared to fight within their own realm. When Pilate responded, we can almost hear the surprise in his voice. “So you are a king?” Jesus’ response makes it clear that He had a purpose in being born into this world. In fact, He claimed that His coming was for the express purpose of bearing witness to the truth. Listen to this powerful, comforting statement from the lips of the Master. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” Catch the import of that statement. Those who are identified with the truth hear the Master’s voice and heeds what He says.

It was at this point that Pilate muttered the words that will serve as the focus of our study today, “What is truth?” Having callously dismissed Jesus’ assertion, he now sought a way out of his dilemma. He did not want to execute an innocent man; but neither did he want to be compelled to put down a rebellion by the Jewish leaders. He thought he had come up with the ideal way to avoid all unpleasantness when he offered to release Barabbas.

Let me take an excursus to help prepare your view of this event by exploring who Barabbas might be. A number of ancient manuscripts and no less than Origen assert that the name of this man was Jesus Bar-Abba, or “Jesus Son of the father.” He is identified as a “notorious prisoner” [MATTHEW 27:16], a “robber” [JOHN 18:40], a “rebel” and a “murderer” guilty of “insurrection” [MARK 15:7; see also LUKE 23:19]. It would appear that he was a brigand, motivated by political considerations to lead a futile attempt to throw off Roman rule.

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