Outside the walls of the Roman judgment hall you could have probably heard the angry crowd mulling. The early morning light fell through the windows and illuminated two forms, two men facing each other, one considering the fate of the Other. Here in the approaching daylight, a question was asked that would echo against the walls of the room and down the corridors of time:
John 18:38: “Pilate saith unto him, ‘What is truth?'”
This week, we’ll spend our time examining this question. Obviously, there are many philosophical rabbit trails that can be wandered in the answering of this question. Sometimes you can climb so high on the ladder of philosophical debate that when you reach the top you’ve managed nothing more than a game of semantics and a brand new set of questions. (Titus 3:9) In the spirit of Progressive Devotions we’re going to limit our study to the existential aspect of this question, focusing on the practical impact of the question and the application of the answer.
The question, despite its importance, posed here takes on an almost sarcastic tone, with Pilate essentially implying the question, “Is this worth risking your life over?” In his commentary, Wesley paints this as Pilate taking pity on Jesus, considering him a weak and helpless man. Interestingly enough, it was this same Jesus who in John 2 had driven the money changers from the temple in righteous fury. But all Pilate knew was this man who stood before him, having been betrayed by His own people, speaking about truth.
What stands out in this scene and particularly about Pilate’s question to Jesus is that he did not stay for an answer. He posed this monumental question, the answer to which could change the very course of the world, but did not have either the desire or patience for a response. Ironic, considering the One he questioned would be the most fit to answer the question. But instead, Pilate turned away and continued doing what he’d always done–addressing the crowd. The man, who did not know the meaning of truth, addresses the crowd.
One of the important things we’ve learned in our lessons on Bible study is to examine the context of a verse to better understand it. Let’s take a look at the conversation before Pilate’s weighty question is posed:
Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
It is vital to understand what Jesus is saying here. He is pronouncing Himself a messenger of truth, and He even goes to so far as to say that everyone who is “of” the truth–literally “out of” or “of the same composition as” in the Greek–will hear His voice. We’ll spend more time on this Thursday, but Jesus here hints at the exclusivity of truth; in this simple statement He is making some very powerful claims.
Tomorrow we’re going to consider the question a bit more in depth, but understand that the answer is thoroughly wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus made this crystal clear just a few chapters back in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” If you’re willing to consider the question, you must be willing to consider the Man. If you turn away from the Man as Pilate did, concerned more for the “pressing” need of the masses, you will never find the answer to the question.