What is truth? That was Pilate’s question to Jesus. Pilate had asked Jesus if he was the King of the Jews. Jesus had replied to him that his kingdom was not of this world – if it had been his servants would have been fighting that he might not be delivered over to the Jews. 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.” (John 18:33-38).
It was at this point that Pilate asked, “What is truth?” It seems that his question is anything but sincere. Perhaps it was asked in contempt, perhaps in derision. Pilate, the worldly wise Roman and before him the accused insurrectionist “King of the Jews,” Jesus of Nazareth in whom Pilate found nothing worthy of death. It seems to me to have a touch of cynicism – a sort of “You? You are nothing but ignorant Jew and you are going to tell me what truth is? How could this pitiful, seemingly powerless person who didn’t even claim to be an earthly king and certainly no threat to the mighty Roman Empire have the answer to the question of the ages?
“This question had long agitated the world. It was the great subject of inquiry in all the schools of the Greeks. Different sects of philosophers had held different opinions, and Pilate now, in derision, asked him, whom he esteemed an ignorant fanatic, whether he could solve this long-agitated question. He might have had an answer. If he had patiently waited in sincerity, Jesus would have told him what it was.” (Barnes New Testament Notes; John 18:38).
Jesus certainly wasn’t hesitant to tell the Jews what truth was. When he was talking with the Jews he said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” (John 8:28). Then he said to those who believed in him, “… and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Verse 32).
What was that truth? It was the truth he had just spoken in verse 28 – that he was the “Son of Man.” Of course “son of man” can refer to him being human, but in view of the words of Jesus here it certainly means more than that. This was an expression used in both the Old and New Testaments, often to refer to Jesus. The first time it is used in the Bible is in Daniel 7:13-14, the coronation scene of the “one like a son of man,” who “came to the Ancient of Days” and was given “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him…” The Jews were, no doubt, familiar with this passage from Daniel. They knew that for Jesus to claim to be the Son of Man was to claim to be the Messiah, the divine ruler whom God had promised to send.
Just a few verses later Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). This hardly leaves any doubt as to what the truth was that Jesus was talking about here. We are not set free by truth and set free by the Son. If the truth sets you free and the Son sets you free, then the Son is the truth that sets men free.
We don’t have to wonder if we have arrived at the correct conclusion about this very important matter. Jesus makes it so plain that no one should miss it. When he is preparing his disciples for his departure from them he said,
“…you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:6-7).
Truth – absolute truth – is not a set of doctrinal propositions. It is not abstract ideas arranged in logical form. It is not scientifically proven facts. It is not a core philosophy. Truth is a person. The person of Jesus Christ. The very truth Peter confessed in Matthew 16:16 – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is the foundational truth upon which we can securely build our lives. It is the solid bedrock upon which all God’s people are built together as the church. This is the greatest truth in all the universe. There are other things that are true, but he is the only truth that matters.
But what does that truth mean when stated as Peter stated it, “You are the Christ?” This is where this truth becomes difficult and unacceptable to the world. It would have been unacceptable to Pilate had he realized what it meant when Jesus was before him. It means that Jesus is King. It means that he is the absolute ruler over all creation. It means that whatever king, president, emperor, dictator or head of state of any kind is not the ruler – Jesus is. It means for the Christian that the honor of King Jesus comes before that of any other. It means that he has first claim to our loyalty. It means that obedience to him comes before obedience to any other. That is how important this one truth is.
He said “the truth shall make you free.” There is no other truth that can make us free from sin. That the sky is blue or that Columbus discovered America in 1492 or that George Washington was the first President of the United States are all true statements but none of them do anything to free us from sin.
The freedom we have in him is not incidental. We were enslaved to sin and to law. There was no other way to set us free from the curse we were under. Law couldn’t do it. All it can do is accuse and condemn because we all have violated it’s rigorous demands for perfect obedience. But through the truth that is Christ we have been set free.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
This truth that makes us free necessarily incorporates all that he is and all he has done. He is God who became flesh. He was tempted, yet without sin. He was tried, crucified, buried and resurrected to save us and to restore us to a life of truth and righteousness. The truth becomes real in our lives when he lives in us as Paul said he lived in him.
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
This is the truth that is to be lived out by faith in our lives. This is the truth to which we are to be loyal. This is the truth that must distinguish us from the world and from all false religions.
What is truth? As important as the Bible is, it isn’t the truth. It contains truth. It is where we learn the truth. But Jesus is truth. Without him the Bible would be as powerless as last Sunday’s newspaper.
How important is this truth? He is the truth – the embodiment of truth – the only truth. Here is the only truth we must believe. As he himself said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). This is the most important truth in the world!