Pilate asks Jesus,
Pilate asks Jesus, "What is Truth?"

“Pilate said unto him, ‘What is truth?’ (quid est veritas?).  And when he had said that, he went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, ‘I find in him no cause at all.” - John 18:38- 1599 Geneva Bible

“Then came Jesus forth wearing a crown of thorns, and a purple garment.  And Pilate said unto them, ‘Behold the man’” (ecce homo). - John 19:5- 1599 Geneva Bible

You know, in certain respects one almost feels sorry for Pontius Pilate, the Roman Procurator, or Governor, of the Roman Empire’s Province of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D.  Judea, especially its capital, Jerusalem, was full of quarrelsome and troublesome Jews whom the Romans considered to be “religious fanatics”.  Here was Pilate—the most powerful representative of Caesar’s government in Judea, who had a reputation for corruption and cruelty, supported by thousands of battle-hardened Roman soldiers who were all too willing to sink their short swords (the famous 20” Roman ‘gladius’) into the flesh of those pesky Jews—caught, in effect, between the rock of upholding Caesar’s laws—and not wanting to condemn Jesus-- and a hard place of placating a mob of fanatics threatening to start a riot at best, or complain to Caesar, at worst, that he-Pilate-was “coddling” a man who proclaimed that he was “king of the Jews”, thus violating one of their most sacred laws.  That he was part of an eternal drama that had been conceived by our Heavenly Father in Eternity past, before time, space, and matter existed, was not remotely a part of his thinking that day.  But Pilate was an “actor” in the most important drama that ever had or ever would happen in the universe—a drama that had been ordained by our Creator before there was a “universe”.

Picture the scene that day, if  you will:  A mob of “self-righteous” and legalistic Jews brought our Savior from his confrontation with Caiaphas, the Chief Priest of the Jews, to Pilate’s palace, probably part of the Roman fortification in Jerusalem called Fortress Antonia.  The Jews refused to make themselves “unclean” by entering the Roman building, so Pilate reluctantly came out to them, and asked them “what charges are you bringing against this man?”  The Jewish mob replied that it was “obvious” that Jesus was a “criminal”, otherwise they wouldn’t have brought Him to Pilate.  Pilate, cagey politician that he must have been, told the Jews to be gone and try Jesus under their own laws; whereupon the mob weaseled out and told the powerful Roman that they had no right to execute anyone, and since obviously Jesus was guilty of the crime of “blasphemy”, only the Roman government could execute Him. 

Pilate surely must have been frustrated and annoyed by this time.  He went back inside his palace and had the soldiers bring Jesus to him.  He asked Jesus directly:  “Are you the king of the Jews?”  Our LORD’S response must have puzzled him.  “Is that  your own idea”, Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  Pilate, obviously trying to “turn the tables” on Jesus, asked Him:  “Am I a Jew?...It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”  Jesus’ response must have puzzled the Governor, for Jesus replied: “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.”  Surprised by Jesus’ response, Pilate said: “You are a king, then!”  Jesus then told Pilate to his face the eternal truth that resonated through time, from that day to this very hour:  “…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.”

Much harsh questioning had been perpetrated against our Blessed Savior, Jesus, before the above events occurred that day.  Multiple mock trials and demands that Jesus answer His inquisitors’ questions had occurred; He endured multiple scourgings with the dreaded Roman whip, called a flagrum (which was a short whip consisting of a handle and two or three leather thongs, in which were knotted several pieces of metal—usually lead or iron or zinc—and which would swiftly shred away the victim’s skin, so weakening him from blood loss and pain that he would give little resistance to his executioners).  Jesus mostly refused to respond to his torturers, but He did respond to Pontius Pilate eventually, in the words written above.  Exasperated, Pilate replied to Jesus:  “QUID EST VERITAS?”-- WHAT IS TRUTH? His words were as much a statement of resignation as a question.  It’s interesting that Pilate even took this time to talk with Jesus, for he had a deserved reputation for violence and corruption, and used both many times during his tenure to maintain order, especially in Jerusalem (he was recalled to Rome in 36 A.D. over charges of excessive cruelty).

Well, as Christians the “rest of the story” is well known, or at least it used to be well known.  Procurator Pontius Pilate, speaking to Jesus, was looking eternity in its face, but he didn’t realize it. Though he obviously wanted to free Jesus,  he “washed his hands” of this sordid affair and, after speaking with Jesus one last time,  resigned himself to the demands of the mob, released the terrorist Barrabus to the mob, and  handed Jesus over to be crucified.  And so He was.  Although neither he nor his soldiers or the Jerusalem rabble knew it, they were about to witness the death of Diety—a cruel, painful, and torturous death that He endured for us—for you—for me—for all who name Him as their LORD AND SAVIOR.  His family and His followers then—as now—felt, and feel—so helpless, so ashamed, yet so thankful—that the Creator of the universe, who had come to live among us for a few years as a Man and teach us His message of love and redemption, suffered in such an ignoble way, bearing the very pain of Hell for those of us over all the centuries who have taken our Savior into their very hearts and tried to live—and often die-- for Him.  Sometimes, thinking about His suffering for me—for those of us who call ourselves “Christians”—is almost too much to bear, especially when we know that ALL of us deserve to bear the pain that He endured for us.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself the question:  WHY would the Creator do this for me, and for you, or for any of us?  Why would He be concerned for these sinful, rebellious, troublesome creatures called “humans” that He made?  Why would He not just let us go about our brief lives and end up in Hell, where we belong, and do as Pilate did—just wash His hands of all of us.  Well, His Word tells us that He did this because He loved us, and wanted to provide us a way back to Him after the curse of sin had entered the world because of the rebelliousness of our first parents in God’s beautiful garden.  He so loved the world of sinful men that He came among us AS A MAN, to teach us, so that whoever believed in Him should not perish—should not end  up in Hell—but would have eternal life.  “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (John 3:17). 

Yes, God’s plan was based on love for us.  But God the Son paid a terrible price because of His creatures’ sin—because of OUR sin.  His Passion tears away the veil of indifference from us, and forces us, if we are honest, to see ourselves as we really are.  Pontius Pilate asked the Savior of Mankind:  WHAT IS TRUTH?  He was looking at “ultimate truth” eye to eye, but he never realized it.  There is an UNFOUNDED story in part of the Christian Church that Pontius Pilate was saved before he died—that he became a follower of Jesus the Messiah.  This side of eternity we’ll never know with certainty.  I truly hope that Pilate did accept the One he allowed to be crucified as his Lord and Savior before he went into eternity, because if he did, when we see him in God’s Paradise, we can ask him about that day, and about his role in God’s eternal plan, and see him smile and say: ECCE HOMO—Behold the Man, our Savior, the ultimate truth.

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