Truth According to Pilate

Anger is a hiding place for many. People, not all, believe their anger absolves them of all responsibility for their actions. Anger controls and directs and motivates to action. Anger excuses and rationalizes and covers up irresponsible thinking. Anger, as an emotion, brings out the fight in a person and once they have discovered they are able to control they encourage, even manufacture anger. No one can attack another without bringing to the surface an emotion like fear or anger. Those who control their anger or fear, who understand the emotions and why they feel as they do, cannot be controlled by another’s anger toward them.

Pilate is the one, the governor, sitting on the judgment seat holding the life or death decision as he questions Jesus. He thinks he is in control. He realizes the Jews are trying to manipulate him. To a certain extent he allows their manipulation. However, he is not going to be manipulated by the man before him who stands accused of crimes against Rome and Jewish law. Jesus demanded Pilate judge him based upon truth and the evidence of his life, words and works. He had never encouraged rebellion against Rome. Jesus had told no one to refrain from paying their taxes. As for shaking the traditions held by the Jews, Pilate didn’t care. He didn’t think or feel like a Jew and refused to be lumped in with a people he disdained. His response to Jesus is a rebuke. “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done” [John 18:35 ESV]?

Jesus is a Jew and knows the traditions and culture of his people which focuses upon their relationship with God. He actually cares about restoring people’s relationship with God. Jesus is the one who has challenged the Jewish leader’s hypocrisy. He made them angry to the point they wanted to murder him. Pilate didn’t want to involve Rome or himself. He wanted to be left alone by these undignified and barbaric people. They weren’t Romans who conquered them but a people conquered by Rome with no rights and little value other than what can be taxed out of them. He knew he was being used by the Jews and the beaten man before him had done nothing deserving death.

Once again Jesus tried to refocus Pilate’s attention. He is more than he appears. In a blatant statement Jesus gives Pilate the impression he is either a raving madman or someone beyond Pilate’s comprehension. Because Pilate does not care about truth he views Jesus’ claim as unbelievable. “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” [John 18:36 ESV]. Jesus says it twice. He is a king and his kingdom cannot be touched by the world.

Right here, at this moment, we must be careful attributing to Pilate a more significant reaction than he actually gave. Jesus didn’t answer Pilate’s question because he had done nothing wrong. Jesus does continue talking about his kingdom. Pilate, a typical man who asked a reasonable question realizes something about Jesus, and the Jews who brought him, based upon his pragmatic thinking and decisions based upon the circumstances. He views Jesus as a madman.

I can see Pilate standing and staring at Jesus for a moment. Unable to grasp truth he draws a conclusion. Jesus is mad. Not angry mad, like the Jews who brought him but crazy mad. He has lost complete touch with reality. Pilate will finally crucify the man and Jesus will be dead. Not dead like ineffective or unable to continue leading people astray. Not dead like out of the way and no longer a threat to the Jewish religious leaders. Dead. Rotting in a grave, dead. Torture, suffering, then absolute death. Dead, the ultimate truth, dead.

Once again, I can see Pilate rolling his eyes as he realizes the mental instability of the man before him. If he was sitting down he would have leaned his chin on a hand and yawned his next question. “So you are a king” [John 18:37 ESV]? He asked the air not the man. Being a lunatic is not against the law and does not deserve death.

Jesus finally gives Pilate a glimpse into the reason and purpose of his life, of his being born into the world and why he is standing before this man who will determine whether he lives or dies. In this decision Pilate had no choice. He will condemn Jesus but not because Jesus has done anything worthy of condemnation. “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” [John 18:37 ESV].

There is more to this man than any can imagine. Everyone who encounters Jesus struggles with truth. Their struggle is with whether they accept truth or try to turn it into something it is not, something more palatable and convenient to their circumstance. Something which does not demand they confront who they are but excuses their corrupt nature. Truth brings guilt. But it will also bring release from guilt. Truth reveals separation but also reveals a number of other emotions such as anger, fear and guilt. Guilt is a feeling easily covered over with anger, easily hidden. No one can live with guilt. Judas committed suicide because of guilt. Either you deal with guilt, you commit suicide to get away from guilt or you go insane, believing there is no guilt.

Pilate now dismisses Jesus. He makes two more statements. First to Jesus then to those who accused Jesus of capital crimes. “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'” [John 18:38, see also Luke 23:4 ESV}. He probably asked this question as he is walking away from Jesus. A lunatic cannot know the truth. But then, neither can those who’s minds and hearts are corrupted by sin and are in rebellion toward God. He was not asking Jesus a question he expected Jesus to answer. His question was dismissive and rhetorical and probably with a wave of the hand and a turning of the back. He no longer cares what Jesus says. Returning to Jesus’ accusers he states flatly Jesus is guilty of nothing. In fact, Pilate is probably chuckling at the Jews who have had to deal with this mad man. It is now a game to him. Jesus has made the Jews angry and Pilate laughs at their anger and conniptions. Let them deal with his lunacy.

Anger is no reason to condemn a person to death. Nor is anger a reason to dismiss him. Pilate did not examine Jesus’ words and works, while the Jews had seen and heard him teach and do miracles. Even seeing the evidence of Jesus’ life will not convince some of who he is. Pilate will eventually have Jesus crucified and he will die.

Then Jesus will rise from the dead. What do we do with this truth?

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