Not-So-Subjective Truth: John 18:28-40


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Last week, we talked about Luke’s description of Jesus facing Pilate. In Luke’s gospel, we read that Pilate had two separate encounters with Jesus, with these two separate encounters being divided by Pilate sending Jesus to see Herod, and Herod sending Jesus back.

However, none of the other gospels include Jesus’ visit with Herod, and John’s gospel includes greater detail of Pilate’s conversation with both Jesus and the religious leaders. While we can only speculate where Herod’s visit occurred in what the gospels share about Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we know that what happened that morning was more detailed and nuanced than any of the gospel writers had space to include.

Last week, I speculated that John’s conversation between Jesus and Pilate could have occurred before Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, or it could have occurred after Jesus was sent back. But regardless of when Jesus was sent to visit Herod, let’s read what John’s gospel tells us about Jesus’ trial before Pilate and the conversation that takes place between Pilate and Jesus.

Our passage is found in the gospel of John, chapter 18, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 28, John transitions away from Jesus’ trial before the religious leaders and onto His trial before Pilate by saying:

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

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. 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. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

In this passage, I see something amazing take place. Up until Pilate references the Jewish custom about releasing a prisoner, Jesus is presumed to be innocent. While the religious leaders only brought Jesus to Pilate on the claim that He is guilty, Pilate has just stated his conclusion that there is no basis for a charge against Jesus, and we could add that there is no basis for a charge that is worthy of death.

However, Pilate, perhaps unknowingly, switches assumptions after sharing His conclusion. Up to this point, Pilate assumed and concluded that Jesus was innocent, but now Jesus is presumed as guilty and in need of being freed. Perhaps this switch in assumption is because a small group of religious leaders and temple guards bring Jesus to Pilate, and the assembly of Jews present Pilate believes are impartial observers.

But this is unlikely, because only 12 hours prior to this, Jesus was walking around as a free man. For most Jews present in Jerusalem, they would have gone to sleep believing Jesus to be free, and they would have woken up and headed into Jerusalem at around the point when Jesus was being led with a cross to Golgotha. The only Jews present for the trial before Pilate are the ones who were handpicked to be awake for Jesus’ trial in front of the religious leaders, and they would have logically followed Jesus to Pilate’s palace to aid in Jesus’ judgment on the state’s side.

Pilate incorrectly assumed Jesus’ guilt after stating that he did not find the case against Jesus was valid, and he incorrectly assumed the neutrality of the Jews present in his court to help him decide his case.

However, within Jesus’ conversation with Pilate is an interesting idea that Pilate doesn’t fully understand. Jesus avoids the description and title of king, while also describing Himself as having a kingdom. Like most people would, Pilate equates the possession of a kingdom as being equal to being a king, but Jesus separates the two.

Jesus also separates His kingdom from both the Jewish leaders and this world as a whole. This is worth paying attention to because it runs counter to everything we believe about earthly kingdoms, countries, and empires.

In this conversation with Pilate, Jesus reveals several profound ideas. First, Jesus has a kingdom, but this kingdom is from a place that is not this world. This revelation should both ease tension between Christians and those focused on holding political power, but while doing so, it should also raise tension between Christians and other people who do not want to acknowledge a world other than the one we live in.

Jesus did not come to upset the political powers of the empire He lived in, and He did not call His followers to do this either. The idea that Christians should seek political influence is not found in the teachings of Jesus. While Christians can be promoted to political offices, this should always be secondary in relation to their service to Christ.

However, with this idea shared, Jesus also shares that His mission into this world is to testify to the truth. Jesus says that those who are interested in learning truth will listen to Him. Pilate, like many people living the post-Christian, post-modern world today, scoffed at Jesus claiming to have a handle on truth, especially when the concept is so subjective to so many people.

However, this is what Jesus claimed, and while Pilate rejected Jesus’ claim that He was on the side of truth, if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, we should be willing to side with the truth that Jesus taught above everything else that people today claim is truth. As followers of Jesus, His Word should supersede any claim of truth from anywhere else in culture, regardless of how loud, dominant, or widespread a theory or claimed fact is. If Jesus validates an event, idea, or fact, we can trust in it regardless of what culture says.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to place His truth above truth that the world claims it has, and to trust in His promises regarding our present lives, and the future, eternal lives He has promised to those who place their belief, faith, and trust in Him.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As always, be sure to seek God first and use Jesus’ Word as the filter for everything you see in the world today. Don’t let any idea, assumption, or secular idea take the place of the foundation of Truth that Jesus has called His followers to accept. When we side with Jesus, we accept the truth that He teaches, and this truth is as true today as it was yesterday and as true as it will be tomorrow. Jesus’ truth is truth for eternity.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself, personally, and let God, through the Holy Spirit, teach and lead you into the truth He wants you to learn. Open the Bible with a prayer requesting for the Holy Spirit to teach you, and then let the Holy Spirit open your mind to the truth about God. Don’t let anyone get in the way of you learning from God through the pages of His Word.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or let the world push you away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 40: During His conversation with Pilate, we discover some amazing things about who Jesus is, what He came to accomplish, and where His kingdom is located. We also discover, through the response he gives Jesus that Pilate has a lot in common with our culture today.

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