Pilate went back into the palace and called Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” he asked him.
Jesus answered, “Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?”
Pilate replied, “Do you think I am a Jew? It was your own people and the chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”
So Pilate asked him, “Are you a king, then?”
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.”
“And what is truth?” Pilate asked.
Then Pilate went back outside to the people and said to them, “I cannot find any reason to condemn him. But according to the custom you have, I always set free a prisoner for you during the Passover. Do you want me to set free for you the king of the Jews?”
They answered him with a shout, “No, not him! We want Barabbas!” (Barabbas was a bandit.)
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers made a crown out of thorny branches and put it on his head; then they put a purple robe on him and came to him and said, “Long live the King of the Jews!” And they went up and slapped him.
Pilate went back out once more and said to the crowd, “Look, I will bring him out here to you to let you see that I cannot find any reason to condemn him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Look! Here is the man!”
When the chief priests and the Temple guards saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them, “You take him, then, and crucify him. I find no reason to condemn him.”
The crowd answered back, “We have a law that says he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid. He went back into the palace and asked Jesus, “Where do you come from?”
But Jesus did not answer. Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Remember, I have the authority to set you free and also to have you crucified.”
Jesus answered, “You have authority over me only because it was given to you by God. So the man who handed me over to you is guilty of a worse sin.”
When Pilate heard this, he tried to find a way to set Jesus free. But the crowd shouted back, “If you set him free, that means that you are not the Emperor’s friend! Anyone who claims to be a king is a rebel against the Emperor!”
When Pilate heard these words, he took Jesus outside and sat down on the judge’s seat in the place called “The Stone Pavement.” (In Hebrew the name is “Gabbatha.”) It was then almost noon of the day before the Passover. Pilate said to the people, “Here is your king!”
They shouted back, “Kill him! Kill him! Crucify him!”
Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to crucify your king?”
The chief priests answered, “The only king we have is the Emperor!”
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified.
John 18:33—19:16 (Good News Translation)
As the occupying force in Judea, the Romans reserved the power to execute criminals, though they allowed the Jews to govern themselves in lesser matters. So, having convicted Jesus of the capital crime of blasphemy, the Jewish leaders had to ask the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, for an execution.
Pilate engages in a sort of shuttle diplomacy, interrogating Jesus inside the palace and then going out to speak with the crowd. This occurs a few times, with Pilate growing convinced of Jesus’ innocence. Jesus was mostly silent during his trial, but he speaks here with Pilate.
“What is truth?” seems like the wistful meditation of a philosopher, but it might also reflect the cluelessness of a manipulative politician. Pilate’s attempt to release Jesus instead of the dangerous Barabbas—the term bandit can also mean rebel leader—backfires badly.
How does Jesus, in his death and resurrection, answer the “What is truth?” question for you?