What is truth? John 18:28-40

Who was responsible for the crucifixion? Who bears the blame for the Jesus’s death? On the night before the cross, Jesus faced three trials. The first was in the middle of the night on which he was arrested, as Jesus was taken before the High Priest Caiaphas and all the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin. The next trial began very early the next morning before dawn, in front of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Israel at that time. The third trial, which John’s Gospel doesn’t mention probably because it didn’t have the slightest impact on the outcome was in front of the Jewish King Herod. Many people blame Pilate for the death of Jesus. But that may not be quite fair. Because all the trials were rigged and the outcome was decided even before Jesus was arrested. The Jewish leaders had already decided and arranged that Jesus should be killed.
Last week we read about how Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. We followed the story as the apostle Peter denied three times that he was a followed of Jesus. We skipped over a comment John’s Gospel makes about the trial before Caiaphas the High Priest even before that sham trial began.
John 18 12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.
John is looking back there to a discussion the High Priest had with the other Jewish leaders some time beforehand. Back in John 11 we read how Jesus raised Lazarus back to life. And this is what happened next.
John 11:45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
John 11:49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
That discussion took place weeks before Jesus came to Jerusalem. Weeks before the events we remember on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem as a Passover pilgrim, riding a donkey which to any Jew was a clear claim to be the Messiah they expected. Weeks before Jesus cleared the merchants and the money-changers out of the Temple. Even before Jesus came to Jerusalem the Jewish leaders had already been plotting to kill him.
And in all that discussion it was Caiaphas the High Priest who had suggested that Jesus would have to die to protect the Jewish nation from the Romans. Caiaphas was ready to sacrifice Jesus to save the people. “You do not realise that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Caiaphas did not realize how true his words were. Not only would Jesus save the Jews from the Romans – more than that, Jesus was the Saviour sent from God to save his people from their sins. But it was those words from the High Priest which sealed Jesus’s fate, weeks before Jesus would stand before him in a mock trial. It is Caiaphas who must bear the greatest share of the responsibility for the death of Jesus. From a human point of view, it was his plotting and his scheming and his decision to sacrifice Jesus.
So when Jesus stood bound in front of Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, the outcome of that trial was already decided. Unlike the other Gospels John doesn’t tell us any of the details of Jesus’s trial by the High Priest. It didn’t make any difference. The Jewish leaders had already condemned Jesus to death. But what would the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate say?
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 fulfil what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

In theory the Jews might have been allowed to stone a man to death for certain religious crimes. But they could not execute him by crucifixion – only the Romans could do that. And that was the death which the Jewish leaders had decided was appropriate for Jesus. The punishment of a revolutionary. But Pilate isn’t convinced. As we follow the story you can see that Pilate went in and out no less than eight times between the Jewish leaders outside and Jesus inside as he tries to reach his verdict. And one thing is very clear from all these discussions. Pilate was convinced that Jesus was innocent and did not deserve to die. That was the reason he tried to pass the buck back to the Jewish leaders in the first place.

31 Pilate said, ‘Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.’

That didn’t get rid of them so Pilate went back to talk to Jesus. Here was the heart of the trial before Pilate. And it hinges on two questions. What kind of king is Jesus – and what is truth.
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.’

The Jewish Leaders had told Pilate that Jesus had claimed to be King of the Jews. The other Gospels tell us that that was what the trial in front of Caiaphas had all been about. If Jesus was claiming to be a king, that could be seen as a threat to the tight grip the Roman Empire had on Israel. So it mattered whether Jesus was actually a king or not.

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.’

My Kingdom is not of this world. It is not like other kingdoms. Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, which means exactly the same as the Kingdom of Heaven, more than 50 times in the Gospels. The kingdom of God does not refer to some place where God is King. Rather the Kingdom of God is talking about God’s reign as King, the things God does as King, God’s Kingly Rule. So Jesus is a King, but not the kind of king Pilate would recognize.

But now my kingdom is from another place. Actually, “from another place,” in the New International Version is not a particularly good translation. What Jesus says is “my kingdom is not from this place.” “My Kingly Power does not come from here.” The Message puts it very well.
“My kingdom,” said Jesus, “doesn’t consist of what you see around you. If it did, my followers would fight so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. But I’m not that kind of king, not the world’s kind of king.”

The fact is that the question of what kind of King Jesus is was irrelevant, as Jesus goes on to explain.

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.
Whether Jesus was or was not a king in human terms was not the point. The important thing was that Jesus came to reveal the truth.
John tells us, John 1 14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
In John’s Gospel eternal life comes through knowing and believing the truth. The truth that it was Almighty God who created the earth from nothing. The truth that human beings have cut themselves off from God by rejecting him and rebelling against him. The truth that only Jesus Christ the Son of God can bring us back to God again. This is the truth. Jesus Himself was the Truth. He said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6).
Jesus is the truth who brings us eternal life. John 8 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” …. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
What is truth? asked Pilate. Jesus the Way the Truth and the Life became a human being. Jesus came to reveal the truth about God and about eternal life. But human beings rejected that truth, which is the whole reason why they nailed Jesus to a cross. And sadly there are very many people still today who actually don’t want to hear the truth.
With this (Pilate) 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.
I find no basis for a charge against him. So Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But to give himself a way out without losing face he made the suggestion that he might pardon Jesus rather than Barabbas the convicted revolutionary. That didn’t work. I am sure that Pilate was just as sad and angry about letting Barabbas the convicted revolutionary walk free as he was about condemning Jesus to death. So he tried a different strategy. Pilate had Jesus flogged and the soldiers mocked Jesus with the crown of thorns and the purple robe.
John 19 4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’ 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’
Again the same verdict. “I find no basis for a charge against him.” Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent. So he brings him out on display. “Behold the man.” Perhaps Pilate was hoping that the Jewish leaders would see what a pitiful sorry state Jesus was in and would be satisfied with that. Perhaps he hoped they would change their minds about killing him. But that didn’t work either.
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’
But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’

Once again Pilate declares Jesus to be not guilty.

7 The Jewish leaders insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realise I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’
11 Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’

Pontius Pilate was the Roman Governor. He was the representative of the Emperor and the most powerful man in the Province at that time. And Jesus tells him the truth he doesn’t want to hear. 11… ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.
Jesus knew that behind all the events which were unfolding, God was in control. And although Jesus did not want to die, of course not, he also knew that his death was the lynch-pin of God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation.

11 ,…. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.’

The one who handed me over to you – Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. They were the ones to blame for the crucifixion. Not Pilate.

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, ‘If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’

Despite his best attempts, Pilate was trapped in a corner. To keep the peace he would have to have Jesus executed. But he refused to accept responsibility for that death. The other Gospels record the symbolic action Pilate took which has become a byword in our culture.

Matthew 27: 22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

Pilate washed his hands of the whole affair. He passed the buck back on to Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders and all their cronies in the crowd. Then he made one last attempt to save Jesus before he passed sentence.

John 19 13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
‘Here is your king,’ Pilate said to the Jews.
v15 But they shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’
‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked.
‘We have no king but Caesar,’ the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

“We have no King but Caesar!” That wasn’t just the ignorant crowds chanting, but the High Priest and the chief priests. They were the ones who rejected Jesus, their Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour the whole nation had been waiting to come for centuries. “We have no King but Caesar!” Such hypocrisy in those words. In the Old Testament, the Lord God is the true king of Israel. Isaiah wrote, ISAIAH 26:13 LORD, our God, other lords besides you have ruled over us, but your name alone do we honour.
At all their great and joyful celebrations, including the Passover, Jewish worshippers even to this day recite the great song of praise the Hallel which is made up of Psalms 113 to 118. They would end with this prayer: ‘From everlasting to everlasting thou art God; beside thee we have no king, redeemer, or saviour; no liberator, deliverer, provider; none who takes pity in every time of distress or trouble. We have no king but thee.’
So when the chief priests said We have no king but Caesar they knew that they were denying the heart of their Jewish faith. Worse than that, they were also rejecting Jesus, the Son of God, their true Messiah and Saviour. As the prologue to John’s Gospel records,
John 1 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Caiaphas and the Jewish leaders shoulder the blame for the death of Jesus. But Pilate was not without guilt. It was Edmund Burke in 1770 who wrote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. Three times he said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” He tried to set Jesus free, but he didn’t try hard enough. So the events of Easter unfolded to their ultimate conclusion.
John 19 16 Finally Pilate handed (Jesus) over to them to be crucified.

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