Chapter 18:33-40 (ESV) - So 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.
Question to consider: Why would Pilate question the idea of truth?
Even though it was not lawful for the Jews to execute anyone, Pilate implied that he would not stop them if they took matters into their own hands and kept him from having to get involved in the matter. However, those seeking Jesus’ death were not satisfied with stoning Him because they wanted to divest themselves of any appearance of guilt and believed crucifixion would be a death that would keep Jesus from becoming a martyr. About two months later, Peter and John would have an encounter with these men, and they would accuse Peter and John of falsely trying to make them guilty of Jesus’ death (Acts 5:28). So the religious leaders emphasized that they did not have the legal authority to kill Jesus in order to put the execution back on Pilate.
Pilate then tried to probe Jesus further to see if he was missing anything by directly asking whether Jesus was a king. If Jesus admitted that He was king of the Jews, it would be enough for Pilate to justify His crucifixion, but instead Jesus admitted that His kingdom was not of this world and that He had come to bear witness to the truth.
I would have liked to have seen video footage of this encounter because I would be willing to bet that Pilate looked at Jesus like He was certifiably insane. As Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the cross of Christ is foolishness to the Gentiles. Pilate lived in a culture that was polytheistic and superstitious. Every country Rome conquered had people proclaim that their god was supreme, but at the end of the day, Rome’s war machine rolled on, and as far as Pilate could tell, the king of the Jews was no threat to Caesar.
Throughout ancient history, the worship of the gods was proliferated by the sword. If you went through my study of Exodus, you may remember that Pharaoh had a similar attitude toward Moses about the God of Israel. What kind of god would allow his people to be enslaved for 400 years? The idea was laughable until Pharaoh’s sorcerers could do nothing against the plagues brought on by the god of Moses. Now Jesus, beaten and powerless, sat before Pilate and tried to say that He led otherworldly armies and was the voice of truth. The very idea must have seemed ridiculous.
To appease his wife and still try to maintain some level of peace in Israel, Pilate offered to let Jesus go as a Passover pardon. To make the decision easier, He offered up the choice between Jesus, who was popular among the people, and Barabbas, a true insurrectionist and scoundrel. Yet those who accused Jesus called for the release of Barabbas.
Dear heavenly father, please open our eyes to the truth provided by Jesus so that we may see ourselves as Barabbas— the one deserving of judgment but who has instead been set free from our own crimes against You. As we recognize our own bloodguilt, help us to show grace to those around us who also need the truth that Christ provides. Amen.