“Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 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’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. ” (John 18:28–40, NIV)This is all about political maneuvering. But don’t miss the hypocrisy which opens this scene as the religious leaders avoid ceremonial uncleanness while seeking to murder the one who promised to make them clean. The Jewish leaders had become so tied to a system of religious ritual that they came to believe that the system saves and not the person. But before you condemn the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, understand that their sin of substitution is equally as prevalent today. Religious ritual in the form of denominational alliance, church attendance, sacrament observation or even ministry service are all modern means by which we seek salvation in a system and not in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is our salvation, and nothing we do in the ritual of our religion either merits His favor or secures His obligation. Don’t miss that!
As you continue in the dialogue, you can sense the irritation of the political leaders. The Romans are the ruling party of the day and they really don’t want to mess with the trivial religious squabbles of the Jews. The Jews, however, are on a mission that they cannot carry out without the assistance of their hated oppressor. As much as they would like to take care of Jesus on their own, they cannot crucify Him unless He is convicted by Roman law.
And so Pilate reluctantly fulfills his obligation by speaking to Jesus in person. The charge against Jesus is one of insurgence and so Pilate seeks to validate the threat of a revolt against Caesar. The response of Jesus makes it clear that He has no intention of inciting a revolution. He admits that He is a king, but not a king with any earthly kingdom. That’s much too small. Jesus reigns from heaven in accordance with everlasting truth.
Truth? “What is truth,” asks Pilate as he leaves the room. For him and so many others, truth is relative. The Romans had a pantheon of gods and you simply chose the ones to best meet your needs at the time. Did you need something for success in your business…we have a god for that. How about sexual indulgence…we have a god for that. Would you like to improve your outlook on life…yep, we’ve got a god for that. This whole idea of only one way to salvation for your soul was the core of the offense. It was offensive to the Jews, it was offensive to the Romans…and it is offensive to most Americans today.
But the claim of Jesus has not changed. He is the way, the truth and the life and no one will find salvation for their soul except through Him. There is no religious system, no social agenda, no lifestyle choice that will satisfy the longing of your heart. Our pantheon of gods in America today is no different than that of Rome. Our idol worship easily rivals theirs. People still seek to satisfy their life with wealth, sexual pleasure and personal improvement. Jesus stands in the midst of all these choices and He invites you to submit to His rule as the one true king. There is a truth… and it is found in only one person.