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Jesus Before Pilate: What is Truth? - John 18:28-40

Posted on March 4, 2018

Jesus Before Pilate – What is Truth?

John 18:28-40

Scripture Reading:

John 18:33 - 38

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

Introduction: KIDNAPPED BY HATRED - On February 9, 1960, Adolph Coors III, millionaire head of Coors Company, was kidnapped and held for ransom. Seven months later his body was found on a remote hillside. He had been shot to death. Adolph Coors IV was then fifteen years old. He lost not only his father, but also his best friend. For years Adolph Coors IV hated Joseph Corbett, the man who was sentenced to life for the slaying of Adolph Coors III.

In 1975, almost 15 years later, Adolph Coors IV became a Christian. Yet, his hatred for Corbett, the murderer of his Dad, still consumed him.

Adolph Coors knew he needed to forgive Corbett as Jesus Christ forgave him. So he visited the maximum-security unit of Colorado’s Canon City penitentiary to talk with Joseph Corbett. Corbett refused to see him.

So Coors left Corbett a Bible with the following inscription: "I’m here to see you today, and I’m sorry that we could not meet. As a Christian I am summoned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive. I do forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me for the hatred I’ve held in my heart for you."

Later Coors confessed, "I have a love for that man that only Jesus Christ could have put in my heart."  SOURCE: Adapted from James S. Hewett’s Illustrations Unlimited.


  • The trials that Jesus endured were as one commentator said the “most egregious miscarriage of justice” one has ever seen
    • The Friend of sinners face the hatred of sinners
    • The Judge of all the earth was arraigned before petty human judges
    • The Holy, Righteous, Son of God was treated as the vilest of sinners
    • The one who authored the truth had to endure the lying of evil, manipulative, conniving of men
    • Out of all of this shines forth Jesus and His absolute innocence.
      • Take this to the bank young people. Character and truth will always prevail in the end
      • He was mistreated and arrested NOT because;
        •  He lacked teaching the truth – John 14:30
        • Called the Holy Child at His birth in Luke 1:35
        • Judas said he betrayed “innocent blood”. – Matthew 27:4
        • Paul said Jesus knew no sin – 2 Corinthians 5:21
        • Hebrews says He was tempted in all points like man yet without sin – 4:15
        • Committed no sin – I Peter 2:22
        • In this section of scripture, we will be reading, Annas sent Jesus to Caiaphas in 18:24
          • John skips the meeting with Caiaphas and the Jewish Council as we said last week
          • It is now Friday morning and the Sanhedrin convene just after daybreak with a nod to legality. They were not to have trials at night or closed to the public.

Purpose: Every Christ follower must not allow hatred and rage to affect their judgment.

Transition: We pick up the story in John 18:28 where the location of these proceedings is at Pilate’s headquarters.

Pilate’s encounter with the Jewish religious leaders

  • What is the offense?

John 18:28

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor's headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor's headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.

  • The location of Pontius Pilate’s headquarters is either at the north end of the temple at Fort Antonius or at Herod’s palace.
  • Now the Jewish leaders had the opportunity they had waited for, for a very long time.
  • They pronounced the sentence but they were unable to execute Jesus. Rome would not let the Jews do it because they did not want nationalists executing those who were loyal to Rome. Rome removed this ability in about 6 A.D. when Judea became a province of Rome
  • “Early morning” – It was the 4th watch of the night (3:00 – 6:00 am). This term early could be used in a general sense.
  • The Roman officials began their work around dawn and completed it by 10 or 11 am.
  • The goal of the Jewish leaders was to have Rome rubber stamp the charge of insurrection against Rome and have Jesus executed before the people got up and the crowds would begin to gather.
  • Notice that the Jewish leaders remained outside of Pilate’s court
  • According to one of the Jewish historic commentaries, the Gentiles at that time would dispose of aborted or stillborn babies down their drains and since the Jewish religious leaders could not come into contact with dead bodies that would make them ceremonially unclean for seven days and unable to observe the Feast of the Passover, they remained outside but Jesus was inside
  • It is interesting that John points out the unwillingness of the Jewish leaders to go into the inside of Pilate’s headquarters because they were being a stickler of the law here yet they were unjustly murdering Jesus.
    • Another thing that is important to note here is the time line of events.
    • It says they could not eat the Passover. Was the Passover on Thursday, when the Last Supper occurred or was it on Friday when the Jewish religious leaders were said to have observed it?
    • There were two methods of counting time back in the day. Much like Indy does not change clocks and the rest of the country does.
      • Method #1 of counting time. The people in Northern Israel – Galilee – Jesus and His disciples counted days from sunrise to sunrise which is how the Pharisees observed time
      • Method #2 – Southern Israel – Sadducees – People who lived near Jerusalem where the temple was counted days sunset to sunset.
      • The practical benefit of the Passover was that it could be celebrated on two consecutive days to accommodate all who came from all over Israel to Jerusalem. It would ease the crowd conditions in the temple and lambs could be sacrificed over a two-day period
      • This shows there is no contradiction between John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels.
      • Jesus / Disciples would eat on Thursday / Sadducees would eat at sunset on Friday

John 18:29

29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?”

  • Just who was Pontius Pilate?
    • He was appointed the governor of Judea by Emperor Tiberius in 26 A.D. and these events were occurring in 32 or 33 A.D. So, he was about 10 years into serving as governor.
    • He was proud, arrogant, and cynical as we learn from history. He was weak and a people pleaser constantly vacillating on his positions to try to appease all the people. He was very insensitive and brutal according to Luke 13:1

Luke 13:1

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices

  • Pilate, instead of rubber stamping the Jewish leaders’ decision begins his own interrogation of the prisoner.
  • By the way, blasphemy for religious reasons would never hold up in a Roman court of law.
  • Notice the Jewish leaders request of Pilate.
  • Will you execute Jesus for us?

 John 18:30 – 32

30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

  • They insulted and attacked the character of Jesus and did not share the trumped-up charges against Him.
  • Pilate knew they wanted him to execute Jesus and he initially stands his ground. The Jewish leaders must make their case before he will pronounce the appropriate sentence.
  • Jesus predicted in Mark’s Gospel that the Gentiles would be involved in His crucifixion

Mark 10:33- 34

(Jesus), saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

  • All of this as verse 32 says to fulfill His prediction and that He would die on a cross (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13)
  • We see the venomous hatred and seething jealousy with which the Jewish leaders approached the arrest and trying of Jesus in their tribunals. They bent all the rules and laws to get the verdict they wanted and presented him to a cowardly, people pleasing Pilate to carry out their diabolical plan.
  • Do you see the effects here of hatred and anger without restraints?
    • How have you see the effects of this in your life either by your actions or witnessing the actions of others?

Illustration: In his book Being Nixon: A Man Divided, author Evan Thomas recalls the occasion when then President Richard Nixon received word that former president Dwight Eisenhower had died. Eisenhower had asked Nixon to deliver his eulogy. Thomas writes:

Sitting by the fire on a cold early spring evening, Nixon began to muse to his speechwriter, Ray Price, about one particular quality that set Eisenhower apart. "Everybody loved Ike," Nixon said, not a little enviously. "But the reverse of that was that Ike loved everybody." Nixon went on: "He never hated his critics, not even the press. He'd just say, 'I'm a little puzzled by those fellows.'"

Price could picture Nixon's mind working, catching himself. Nixon knew that what he had said was not quite true. It was too much to believe that Ike never felt anger. The difference was that, after a blowup, the anger passed, while Nixon let it fester. At some level, Nixon might have wished to emulate Eisenhower. But he couldn't. Possibly, he did not want to; resentment, though toxic, was vital to Nixon. What we do with our anger is so vitally important! - Evan Thomas, Being Nixon: A Man Divided (Random House, 2015), pp. 226-227; submitted by Van Morris, Mt. Washington, Kentucky

Application: Hatred left unchecked always leads to a rush to judgment

Transition: Let’s look now at how Pilate interacts with Jesus to determine his guilt or innocence.

Pilate’s encounter with Jesus; the King of the Jews – John 18:33 – 40

  • Are you the King of the Jews?

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?”

  • In verse 33, the Jewish leaders portray Jesus to Pilate as;
    • One who was against paying government taxes – Matthew 22:21
    • Called Himself the “King of the Jews”.
    • An insurrectionist, one who wants to subvert and overthrow the government.
    • Pilate was incredulous to these charges. Pilate asked Jesus if He is the King of the Jews?
      • Jesus in verse 34 asks a clarifying question. Are you asking me if I am a king in the political sense of the world?
        • Jesus rejected the crowds when they wanted to make Him king in John 6:15
        • Jesus could not deny though that He was the Messiah – Jesus who was the King of the Jews
        • In verse 35, Pilate shows his disdain for the Jews. He was exasperated with them, frustrated, puzzled by the case that was set before him. Pilate repeats the charges leveled against the prisoner. It was the Jewish leaders who accused Him, not Rome.
        • Pilate knew that the Jews handed Jesus over to gain something.
        • Pilate asked Jesus “What have you done?”
          • Unlike the Jewish legal system, the Romans questioned the defendant in detail
          • Pilate just could not understand what provoked the Jewish leaders to have such hostility for Jesus. What crime did He commit?
          • Where is your kingdom?

John 18:36 – 37a

36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world

  • Jesus answers Pilate who is repeating the Jewish leaders charge against Him.
    • I am a king “out of the midst” of this world. Literally not part of this world’s system
    • Nor did Jesus derive His authority from human authority
      • Again, he had rejected the crowds attempt to make Him King
      • He passed on the opportunity to proclaim it during His Triumphal Entry
      • Besides, no earthly king would have been willing to be arrested so easily? Jesus had rebuked Peter for defending Him in the Garden.
      • Jesus Messianic kingdom was a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of His followers conquering sin in the lives of those who belong to His kingdom.
      • But one day, according to Revelation 11:25, 20:6, this spiritual kingdom will become a physical kingdom
      • Jesus was absolutely no threat to the Roman Empire. The charges against Jesus were simply absurd and Pilate knew it.
      • Yet, Pilate was confused as evidenced by His follow up question
      • Jesus says that He is a King

I Timothy 6:13

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.

  • What does Paul mean by “The good confession?”
  • In verse 37, we see that Jesus claimed to be eternal; that He pre-existed before the world, that He was from another world, another realm.
  • Later, Jesus would be the judge of Pilate’s life
  • Came into the world – incarnation – to do ministry, to proclaim the truth of the Gospel of His kingdom
  • Jesus taught that what you do with the truth that He proclaimed determines your eternal destiny.
  • Everyone who is of the truth hears / obeys the Words of God.

Luke 9:35

And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

  • Jesus words implied an invitation for Pilate to hear, to obey, to accept the truth. Jesus wanted Pilate to become a believer in God’s kingdom.

Illustration: Billy Graham’s funeral

  • What is truth?

John 18:37b – 38a

To bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

  • Pilate’s question, what is truth? has echoed down through the centuries. How his question was intended is problematic. Was it a wistful desire to know what no one could tell him? Was it philosophical cynicism concerning the problem of whether there was absolute truth or relative truth? Was it indifference to anything so easy to believe as absolute truth? Or was it irritation at Jesus’ response? These are all possible interpretations of his words. But the significant thing is that he suddenly turned away from the One who is “the Truth” (14:6) without waiting for an answer. Pilate’s declaration of Jesus’ innocence is important. He would die like a Passover lamb, without blemish (Ex. 12:5).
  • Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 337–338). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • Whether Pilate was sneering or sighing as he asked the question, we do not know; so, it would be unwise to pass judgment. - Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 379). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  • We do know from history that Pilate was not drawn personally to Christ’s message.
  • There is no morality and no truth apart from God. He is the author and sustainer of all that is true.
    • In our culture, in post-modern thought, people do not want to believe that truth is absolute but that it is subjective, up to each individual, based on feelings and if it works or not in that current situation.
    • When you take God out of the equation you forsake the truth for a lie.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

  • The last thing we see this morning is found in the end of verse 38 through 40
  • Should I release Jesus; the King of the Jews?

John 18:38b – 40

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

  • Pilate pronounces his verdict. He posed no threat to Rome
    • He was innocent of being an insurrectionist
    • There was no valid indictment at the beginning of the proceedings and that led to no conviction of Him in the end.
    • This Jesus who was the Lord of Glory, who was maligned, hated, falsely accused was found to be faultless, perfect, and innocent
    • But the chief priests and elders solved his problem when they shouted that Jesus had stirred up the people even in Galilee (Luke 23:5). Galilee! That was Herod’s responsibility, so why not send the prisoner to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem for the feast? Between John 18:38 and 39 you have the events recorded in Luke 23:6–12.- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 379). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books
    • In verse 39, Pilate was desperate to separate Himself from this tense and toxic situation for him and Rome, thought of another plan to avoid executing Jesus. He did not have the courage of His convictions to do what was right.
      • He had sent Him to Herod between verses 38-39, He listened to the crowd and even scourged Jesus but Pilate eventually gives in
      • He offers to release a prisoner as a good will gesture to the Jewish people at Passover.
      • Pilate mocked the Jews by referring to Jesus as “The King of the Jews.”
        • The crowd got wind of what Pilate was proposing as they gathered in the early morning to see what was going on.
        • Pilate was trying to play the crowd against the Jewish leaders to spare Jesus life. Pilate was aware of what the people said of Jesus on Sunday, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
        • Unfortunately, Pilate underestimated the fickleness of the crowd and the Jewish leaders resolve
        • The religious leaders had manipulated the crowd while Pilate was preoccupied with a message from his wife not to execute Jesus.
          • Jesus appearing before the crowd, bound and looking like a helpless prisoner of the Roman government was not going to meet their expectations of a conquering Messiah
          • Passover was a time of repatriation. Nationalism was high during this feast.
          • Barabbas is offered to be released. Who was Barabbas?
            • He was called a robber, notorious prisoner, murderer and an insurrectionist.
            • Looking at Jesus as weak and unable to overcome the Roman government, at least Barabbas was guilty of trying to overthrow the Roman government so they chose Barabbas to be released.
            • The irony of all of this is that the same Jesus leaders who accused Jesus before Pilate of being an insurrectionist now demanded the release of a known murderer and a proven insurrectionist.

Application: Hatred leads to rejecting the truth and causes ugly consequences

Key Thought: Jesus faces the full measure of the world and Satan’s hatred and is resolved to trust in God by His acceptance of the verdict.

Questions to Ponder this Week

  1. How do you avoid the rush to judgment when filled with rages of anger and hatred?
  2. How do you avoid being blind to the truth when you react to those who mistreat you. 
  3.  What will you do this week to have the attitude Jesus displayed in the face of the full fury and wrath of hatred unleashed upon Him?