“Jesus Testifies to the Truth”
Lesson Text: John 3:11-21
Background Scripture: John 18,19
Devotional Reading: John 8:28-38
28 Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early; and they themselves went not into the judgment hall, lest they should be defiled; but that they might eat the passover.
29 Pilate went out into them and said, What accusation bring ye against this man?
30 They answered and said unto him, If he were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered him up unto thee.
31 Then said Pilate unto them,Take ye him and judge him and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:
32 That the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled, which he spake, signifying what death he should die.
33 Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus and said unto him, Art thou the king of the Jews?
34 Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me?
35 Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done?
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should be delivered to the Jews, but now is my Kingdom not from hence.
37 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.
38 Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews and saith unto them, I find in him no fault.
To understand the “truth” Jesus testified to during questioning by Pilate.
To know the nature of Jesus’ kingdom.
To stand up for the “truth” about Jesus, regardless of the outcome.
Time: A.D. 30
Author: John Recipients: Mankind
Suffered Under Pontius Pilot
Long before the Jewish leaders had Jesus arrested in the garden, they had determined to kill Him (John 11:47-54). However, the Jewish council did not have the right to execute prisoners; so it was necessary to get the cooperation and approval of Rome. This meant a visit to the procurator, Pontius Pilate.
There were three stages in both the Jewish "trial" and the Roman "trial". After His arrest, Jesus was taken to the home of Annas and there interrogated informally (John 18:12-14, 19-23). Annas hoped to get information that would implicate Jesus as an enemy of the state. He wanted to prove that both His doctrine and His disciples were anti-Roman, for then He would be worthy of death.
Stage two of the Jewish trial took place before Caiaphas and whatever members of the Sanhedrin the high priest could assemble at that hour of the night (Matt. 26:57-68; Mark 14:53-65). When Jesus confessed clearly that He was the Christ, the council found Him guilty of blasphemy and therefore, according to their law, worthy of death. However, it was necessary for the council to meet early the next morning and give their verdict, since it was not considered legal to try capital cases at night. So, stage three of the Jewish trial took place as early as possible, and the leaders condemned Jesus to death (Matt. 27:1; Luke 22:66-71).
The three stages of the Roman trial were: the first appearance before Pilate (John 18:28-38), the appearance before Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and the second appearance before Pilate (John 18:39-19:16; and see Matt. 27:15-26; Mark 15:6-15; and Luke 23:13-25). As you can see, the Apostle John records only the interrogations by Annas and Pilate, and mentions Caiaphas only in passing. He focuses primarily on the Roman trial. By the time he wrote this Gospel, the Jewish nation had been scattered by Rome, Jerusalemhad been destroyed, and Roman power was all that really mattered.
Pontius Pilate was in office from A.D. 26-36 and was not greatly liked by the Jews. He could be ruthless when he wanted to be (see Luke 13:1,2), but he also understood the Jewish power structures and knew how to use them. His handling of the trial of Jesus reveals an indecisive man, a weak man, a compromising man. Pilate was not concerned about justice; his only concern was to protect himself, his job, and Rome. Alas, he failed in all three!
As you read John's account, you see Pilate seeking to find some "loophole" that would please both sides. He was afraid of the crowd, but then he grew more and more afraid of the prisoner! At least three times he announced that Jesus was not guilty of any crime (Luke 23:14, John 19:4, Luke 23:22and John 19:6). Yet he would not release Him.
The Roman "trial," conducted by Pilate, revolved around four key questions: (1)"What is the accusation?" (John 18:28-32), (2)"Are you the King of the Jews"? (John 18:33-38), (3) "Shall I release the King of the Jews?" (John 18:39-19:7), and (4) "Where are you from?” (John 19:8-16.)
When Jesus stood for truth before Pilate, the consequences were dreadful. Pilate emerged as a weakling. Those national leaders and the Jerusalemmob emerged as haters of the truth Jesus died (and rose again) for His stand, but because He refused to deny His claims to be God’s Son, He goes down in history as the one who changed the world.
Truth has a power that cannot be suppressed. Many individuals since Pilate have tried, but they have all failed. Jesus Christ has prevailed. The Bible has prevailed, and God’s truth still draws people to faith in the Son.
PILATE LISTENS (John 18:28-23)
1. Why did the Jewish leaders refuse to enter the “hall of judgment” (John 18:28)?
There are two high priests involved in Jesus’ trials (see Luke 3:2). Annas served as high priest until a.d.15, when he was deposed by the Romans. By the time of Jesus’ arrest, Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, had become the high priest (John 18:13). Some Jews do not recognize the Romans’ authority to demote Annas, and therefore consider him still to be the high priest.
Rather than becoming rivals, Annas and Caiaphas work together as joint high priests in certain respects. After His arrest, Jesus is first taken to the house of Annas (John 18:13) and then to the house of Caiaphas (18:24). Since Caiaphas is the one recognized by Rome, any request for Roman judgment has to come from him.
As we pick up our lesson (18:28), Jesus is now led from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor (Pilate) after Caiaphas and members of the Sanhedrin claimed He was guilty of blasphemy. “The hall of judgment” is the Jerusalemresidence of the governor. This place had an inner hall where the governor could receive audiences. But the Jewish leaders who accompanied Jesus did not enter. To have done so would put them in contact with Gentiles, resulting in ceremonial uncleanness. Such a defilement would render them unfit to continue participating in the Passover festival. It is Friday, and the next day is particularly important to the Jews (John 19:31). The religious leaders did not hesitate to condemn an innocent man, but they were careful not to be defiled by walking on Gentile ground! It would be tragic to be ceremonially defiled during the seven days of Passover!
2. What did the direct question by Pilate have on the Jewish accusers of Jesus? (v. 29)
Pilate accommodates the Jewish leaders by going out to them. This may be to a balcony or platform overlooking an open courtyard below, as this scene is often depicted by artists. If so, it means that Pilate has the upper hand psychologically, as the Jews are forced to look up at him while he looks down on them.
Pilate offers no polite small talk, but begins business talk immediately, almost rudely: "What charges are you bringing against this man"? The Greek word translated charges is where we get our word category. So Pilate is asking for formal, categorized accusations based in written legal code. Perhaps Pilate already has the charges, but he wants the Jewish leaders to speak to them publicly.
3. How did the Jewish Priests initially avoid giving Pilate a direct answer (v. 30)?
In the eyes of the Jewish authorities Jesus spoke blasphemy. But this was a religious offense, not a civil crime. While a Roman official might question the sanity of a person who claimed to be God, he would not likely put a person to death for such a cause. Pilate was appropriately skeptical of the Jewish leaders’ claim to be seeking justice.
In verse 30, the Jews may be trying to make things easier for Pilate, as in, “We’ve already convicted this person; all you have to do is sign the death warrant.”
Jesus himself received more than one change of venue, but not out of a sense of fairness or impartiality. The accusers who took Jesus from the courtroom of the high priest to the judgment hall of Pilate had already decided his guilt, as their statement in John 18:30 proves. They had a vested interest in the outcome, thinking that Jesus would take their place and the nation's place (See John 11:48).
4. What was Pilate’s response to the Jews (v. 31)?
Pilate, of Course, was no fool. The governor also knew they were jealous of Jesus because He was a threat to their power. Yet Pilate had to look into the case (see Mark 10).
However, Pilate was not anxious to get involved in a Jewish court case, especially at Passover; so he tried to evade the issue. After all, if the prisoner was creating problems for the Jews, let the Jews try Him under their own law. Thus his suggestion: “judge him according to your law.”
Romehad permitted the Jews to retain a certain amount of jurisdiction, especially in matters relating to their religious laws and customs. (See Acts 18:12-16 for another example.)
5. Why couldn’t the Jews execute Jesus themselves (v. 32)?
If the Jews themselves could execute Jesus, it would be by stoning (again, Leviticus 24:16). But this would not fulfill Jesus’ prophecy concerning His death: that He must “be lifted up” (John 12:32), a reference to being raised on a cross (12:33). This lifting up on a cross fits the pattern established by the brass snake of Moses, which saved those who looked upon it (see 3:14,15, last week’s lesson). Elsewhere, Jesus foretells His death by a Gentile court, which also indicates that He is not to be stoned by the Jews (see Matthew 20:18,19; Mark 10:33,34).
PILATE QUESTIONS (John 18:33-38)
6. What scriptural evidence is there that Pilot himself is confused and has no understanding of Jesus' true kingdom? (John 18:33,34)
The Jewish leaders have no concern for his own ritual cleanliness, for no one expects him to continue participating in the week long festival. Consequently, the Jewish officials changed their indictment for blasphemy to sedition. They accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. They made it sound as though Jesus had set Himself up in opposition to Caeser, which would be a treasonable offense.
Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
The question asking Jesus if He was King of the Jews is recorded by each of the Gospel writers. As Roman governor, Pilate would certainly be interested in the claims of any king. Messianic expectations always ran high at Passover season, and it would be easy for a Jewish pretender to incite the people into a riot or a rebellion against Rome. Pilate no doubt felt himself on safe ground when he asked about Christ's kingship.
However, he was not prepared for His answer. "It is as you say" (Matt. 27:11, nasb). But then Jesus added a question of His own: "Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?" (John 18:34, nasb) What was our Lord really asking? "What kind of a king do you have in mind? A Roman king or a Jewish king? A political king or a spiritual king?" Jesus was not evading the issue; He was forcing Pilate to clarify the matter/or his own sake. After all, it was not Jesus that was on trial; it was Pilate!
If Pilate had a Roman king in mind, then Jesus could be considered a rebel. If the governor was thinking about a Jewish kind of king, then political matters could be set aside. It is interesting that Pilate called Jesus "king" at least four times during the trial, and even used that title for the placard he hung on the cross (John 18:39; 19:3, 14,15, 19).
7. How did Pilate reply to Jesus? (vs. 35,36)
Pilate's reply to Jesus: "Am I a Jew?" suggests that he scoffed at the notion that he could have any personal interest in the controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders. No doubt there was an obvious note of disdain and sarcasm in his voice. Jesus was not a prisoner because Pilate had arrested him, but because His own nation's leaders had arrested Him! Where there is smoke there must be fire; so Pilate asked, "What have You done?"
Graciously, Jesus consented to explain Himself and His kingdom. Yes, He admitted that He is a King; but His kingdom (reign) does not come from the authority of the world. The Jews were under Roman authority, and Pilate was under the authority of the emperor; but Jesus derived His authority from God. His kingdom is spiritual, in the hearts of His followers; and He does not depend on worldly or fleshly means to advance His cause. If His kingdom were from the world, by now His followers would have assembled an army and fought to release Him.
What Do You Think?
Since we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world, what impact should this have on the way we live?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
-Concerning attitude (Matthew 5:3)
-Concerning perseverance (Luke 9:62)
-Concerning the power in which we live (1 Corinthians 4:20)
-Concerning vigilance (1 Corinthians 14:20)
8. How did Jesus respond to the question about being “a king then” (v. 37)?
Pilate’s next question (v. 37a) is similar to the first with a slight twist. This time he asks Jesus if He is a king rather than “the King of the Jews” (John 18:33, above). We might interpret this as a follow-up question to Jesus’ last answer, His claim to be something other than an earthly king. Pilate is asking, “What sort of king are you? Help me understand.”
Jesus’ answer (v. 37b) may confuse Pilate. Perhaps Pilate is expecting Jesus to say that He is the king of some small, nonviolent group of holy people. Nevertheless, if the governor wanted to call Jesus a king, then Jesus would not dispute Pilate’s statement. Jesus, however, focused on His purpose for coming into the world instead of debating His title. Jesus’ purpose was to bear witness to the truth. He then added that all who sought the truth would listen to Him who is “the way and the truth and the life” (14:6).
9. What does Pilot imply by his statement: "What is truth" (v. 38)?
Implicit in Jesus’ statement was a question that asked whether Pilate was willing to listen concerning the truth. The governor shrugged off Jesus’ statement by cynically retorting, “What is truth?” (18:38).
Sadly, Pilate is not interested in Jesus’ answer. Pilate has all the answers he wants and is tired of this game. So he returns to the Jewish leaders and announces that he has found nothing that would indicate that Jesus was dangerous to the state.
Since the governor was a shrewd politician, he suggested that Jesus be released according to their custom in which the Romans freed one Jewish prisoner during each Passover Feast. This way Pilate could avoid offending those Jewish officials who wanted Jesus convicted of a crime and yet not execute a man he believed to be innocent of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the governor could not resist a scornful jab by referring to Jesus as their “king” (v. 39). The crowd, how ever, shouted for the release of Barabbas and not Jesus (v. 40). Since Barabbas had taken part in the local rebellion against the Romans, the crowd probably viewed him as a national hero. Mark and Luke called him a murderer (see Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19).
A Very Postmodern Question
Postmodernism is the controlling attitude in Western culture today. This attitude says that truth is subjective and personal to each individual. Gone are the days when biblical concepts were the basis for society’s attitudes about government, business, or morality. Now everyone is said to have his or her own truth.
The result is that anyone who dares question someone else’s personal truth is dismissed as intolerant. Anyone attempting to state the logic of the objective truth of Christianity risks derision. “Logic can no longer be seen as either/or. You can’t say either Christianity is true or it’s false. Reality is also/and.” The result of this kind of thinking: “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Anything goes.
Pilate’s question “What is truth?” was designed to shut down a dialogue, to end a discussion. Today’s Christian who tries to say “Here is truth” is likely to be shut down by the postmodern listener. Postmodern culture may yet find the truth when it sees us living the way Jesus tells us to live. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). –C.R.B
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Who is leading who, you or Jesus (John 18:28)?
2. God will give us the courage to stand for truth when falsely accused (vs. 29-31).
3. God allowed these things to happen so that Jesus’ prediction about the way in which He would die (namely, by crucifixion) would be fulfilled (v. 32).
4. Always act fairly and objectively based on what you know to be true (vs. 33-38).
CONCLUSION “What Is Truth?”
When we get to this point in John’s Gospel, the question “What is truth?” is asked of us almost as a quiz to test what we have learned in reading this book. The Bible does not separate truth from God. All truth is God’s truth, and all truth comes from God. A few hours before appearing in front of Pilate, Jesus had prayed to the Father to “Sanctify them [his disciples] by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The readers of the Gospel of John know that the Word is personified in Jesus (1:14). He is the truth (14:6).
A better question for Pilate to have asked would have been, “Who is truth?” for Pilate was in the presence of the Son of God, the Word of truth. So are we.
Father, we pray that You sanctify us in Your truth. May we not be like Pilate, who missed the blessing of Your Son. May we listen to Jesus’ voice of truth and trust Him with all of our hearts. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Never compromise the truth of the gospel.