“So Pilate said to him, ‘Then you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’….Once more Pilate went out and said to them, ‘Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And he said to them, ‘Ecce homo!'” JN 18:37-38, 19:4-5
One of the most profound, deep, and overlooked pieces of scripture, Pilate’s exchange between Jesus and the Jews holds great insight into the struggle to know the dimensions of Truth. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Pilate had to tread carefully in a scene teetering on chaos. To release Jesus meant a possible uprising from the Jewish authorities, but to condemn Jesus meant crucifying a man not proven guilty of any crime. What to do? what to do? Jesus’ testimony and preaching was an offence to the Jews not only because it differed from their understanding, but He went further to place an eternal stigma on his word in claiming that He was the Son of God. This clash of premises eventually culminated in Jesus’ trial before Pilate, as Jesus stood before the governor bruised an beaten.
I believe Pilate was truly sincere when he asked Jesus “What is Truth?”. As a Roman official, I assume Pilate was educated with the philosophy of the ancients, particularly the Greek superstars. Before him stood a man accused of professing a Truth above all others, opposing even his own people. What was his conviction to do so? What grounds did he have to profess and testify in such a tone, to claim the his voice heralds the Truth that all seek? Pilate found no crime in Jesus’ action, but he did recognize the substantive weight of Jesus’ words. The eternal stigma Jesus placed on his words revealed that His profession was more than just a philosophy or religion among many. Jesus’ word held the weight that He proclaimed what the Truth is.
The violence involved on the passion of Jesus was based on the opposition between the Jews and Jesus’ word, each side professing different views, each believed to hold an eternal weight. Pilate, neither a Jew nor a follower of Jesus, did not give witness to either profession. During the scene, his duty as governor was to judge Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He struggled throughout the scene to come to a compromise, unwilling to rule in favor for either side. Perhaps he hesitated because he feared ruling either way would be seen as aligning himself with one profession over the other, and then he would also be caught in an argument of ideologies.
I find the most profound part of the scene is when Pilate brings Jesus before the people exclaiming “Ecce homo!”, “Behold, the man!” As Jesus stood displayed to the crowd, he bled from the scourges Pilate inflicted on him in attempt to satisfy the Jewish authorities. “Behold, the man…..the man you made bleed because he opposes your views. The man you want dead because he challenges you. The man you want to die so that His Truth dies with him, and you reign supreme.” Jesus was beaten, scourged, spit on, and ultimately crucified because He presented a profession, a gospel, that did not compliment what the authorities of the time professed. Jesus’ testimony was radically different from the political and religious views of the time, and as time progressed, those in power decided Jesus could no longer be allowed to profess. They realized Jesus’ words could not be compatible with what they believed, and the solution they sought out was to eliminate the opposition. One side would have to win over the other, even at a bloody cost. How unjust it was for Jesus to have paid such a price for proclaiming His testimony to the Truth. I believe even Pilate saw this injustice, and he brought Jesus out, bloody and torn, so that the mob could see the unjustified violence yielded from their accusations.
Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, but he refused to give a ruling on Jesus’ innocence. His failure was that he did not judge when it was his duty to do so. Pressed against two opposing ideologies, Pilate opted not to make judgment to favor either side. Throughout the trial, he sought to find a compromise so that the prosecutors and the defendant could coexist despite their difference in understanding the eternal Truth. He gave Jesus over to Herod to be tried; He gave them the choice to release Jesus or the known murderer Barabbas; And He had Jesus scourged in attempt to satisfy an end to the erupting chaos. Pilate’s dilemma was that he was not in a civil conflict but a struggle between ideologies professing a different understanding of what is True. Jesus held an eternal stigma to what he professed, and the Jewish authorities held the same stigma in their teachings as well. Finally, Pilate forfeited his judgment since he could not justify the violence demanded from the struggle between the two differing sides. He left the sentence to the Jewish authorities, and washed his hands of Jesus’ blood.
Here is my final thought and question. Pilate did not judge because he thought the case would force his hand to rule with one testimony over the other, a ruling which could risk holding a claim about who’s testimony, between the Jews and Jesus, was closer to the Truth. What criteria could there be to help differentiate between claims that are matters of opposing views, and claims that are matters of what is universally True?
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