Character Profile: Pontius Pilate
“And what is truth?” Pilate asked.
(John 18:38 GNT)
What is truth?
That’s a question we expect from artists. Thinkers. College students on late-night burger runs.
But this comes from the Roman governor of Judea as he winds up his interrogation of a suspected terrorist. Pontius Pilate was coming to the conclusion that the prisoner, Jesus of Nazareth, was innocent. But it didn’t matter. At this moment, it was all about power. Political forces, for and against the Empire, waged a fierce battle in this far-flung province. Truth was a casualty.
Pilate already had a rap sheet full of atrocities he was responsible for. Violence. Corruption. Dirty tricks. Even now, historians debate whether Pilate really did all these things—or whether these were smear tactics from his enemies. Doesn’t matter. History knows him as a brutal leader whose power politics came back to bite him.
The local leaders were now threatening to riot if he did not condemn this innocent Nazarene. Pilate would be embarrassed. Exposed as an ineffective ruler. He couldn’t let that happen. So Pontius Pilate does what any crafty politician would.
He washes his hands.
Not my problem. Do what you will with this strange prisoner, this so-called “king” who insists his kingdom is “not of this world.”
We can almost sympathize with the governor. Almost. Apart from his record of brutality, was he really just a guy caught up in a crazy life? Was he looking for a way out?
Meanwhile, this Jesus of Nazareth kept talking about truth. His life was all about truth. He came to this world to speak the truth. “Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.”
Pilate wonders, “What is truth?” Shrugs, maybe. Walks away. Does truth really matter?
But as we pore through the ancient documents, we find that this Nazarene carpenter-prophet once told his followers, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
Maybe Pilate’s answer was standing right in front of him.