John 18:28-40 – What is the Truth?

John 18:28–32 (ESV) — 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. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 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.

John omits Jesus’ “trial” before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (found in Matt., Mark & Luke) and jumps straight to Jesus and Pilate.
·  He tells us that the Jewish leadership escorted Jesus to the “governor’s headquarters” (vs. 28).
o   Fortress Antonia or the Herodian palace on the Western Wall.
·  And then John gives us some irony.
·  The Jews, while illegally and unjustly orchestrating Jesus’ murder, will “not enter the governor’s headquarters” (vs. 28).
·  They did this so that “they would not be defiled” and therefore could still “eat the Passover” (vs. 28).
o   The Feast of Unleavened Bread
·  “The Jews take elaborate precautions to avoid ritual contamination in order to eat the Passover, at the very time they are busy manipulating the judicial system to secure the death of him who alone is the true Passover” – D.A. Carson.
·  “Also ironic is that they use a Gentile to achieve their ends yet will not enter a Gentile’s house” – Kostenberger.
·  Murder would be no problem – ceremonially unclean would be a huge problem.
o   More cheap equivocation – kind of.

Jesus, unlike the other Jews, had to enter Pilate’s “headquarters” (vs. 33).
·  As a result, and unlike his accusers, Jesus became ceremonially unclean.
o   Probably no big deal to Him.
·  But, yet another example that He takes upon Himself the “dirt” of the world – even the Gentile world.

This is very similar to the “costly grace” discussion last week.
·  Whether it was going through Samaria and meeting with the adulterous woman at the well.
·  Or lodging with the rich, hated tax collector, Zacchaeus.
·  Or being unjustly bound, tried and sent to Pilate’s Gentile palace.
·  Jesus marginalizes Himself on our behalf – “costly grace”.

Then John tells us that Pilate accommodates their hypocrisy – “Pilate went outside to them” (vs. 29).
·  He asks the Jews what the charges are against Jesus.
·  The Jews answer with a non-answer – “duh, obviously he is evil or we wouldn’t be here” (vs. 30).
·  “The Jews’ response tacitly acknowledges their inability to ‘bring a water-tight charge against Jesus’” – Kostenberger.
·  Pilate’s response indicates that he “was well aware of the weakness of the Jews’ case against Jesus” – Kostenberger.
o   Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (vs. 31)
·  D.A. Carson suggests that Pilate’s reply shows us he knows they are running a scheme and wants no part of it.

The Jews press on.
·  Given the fact that Jesus is “obviously evil” and needs to be put to death, the Jews respond to Pilate with something he already knew.
o   It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (vs. 31)

A question immediately comes to mind.
·  We know that the Jews stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7).
·  We also know from Josephus that Jesus’ half-brother, James, was killed by the Jews in A.D. 62.
·  Roman law didn’t stop them in these instances.
·  Why didn’t they take out Jesus in like manner – legal or not?
·  “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (vs. 32).
·  God the Father had other plans.
·  He is Sovereign and in charge.
·  Jesus was to be “lifted up”.

John 18:33–35 (ESV) — 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?”

Pilate begins his interrogation of Jesus – “Are you the King of the Jews?” (vs. 33)
·  The consensus is that Pilate wants to determine if Jesus is a political threat.
·  If massive unrest were to come to Palestine because of Jesus, Pilate would be held accountable.
o   As with Caiaphas, the status quo must be maintained.
·  Pilate’s question also tells us that he had been in communication with the Jews prior to this event.
·  We know this because, “The fact that Roman troops were used at the arrest proves that the Jewish authorities had communicated something of this case to Pilate in advance” – D.A. Carson.

There are also some who see in Pilate’s question some mockery.
·  They suggest the question was as follows:
·  “You, a prisoner, deserted even by your friends, are a king, are you?” – Barrett/Kostenberger.

Jesus’ answer to Pilate is peculiar – “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” (vs. 34)
·  We are told that Jesus is seeking to define terms – Carson/Kostenberger.
o   What kind of “King” are we talking about here?
·  In other words, a political “this world” Kingship or a Kingship that is “not of this world”?
·  And with Jesus’ question and the conversation that comes, Carson tells us:
o   “Jesus, as it were, has become the interrogator; the prisoner has become the judge.”

As we mentioned earlier, Pilate is not really buying what the Jews are selling.
·  All the Jewish stuff aside – “Am I a Jew?” (vs. 35) – Pilate just wants to know “What have you done?” (vs. 35)

John 18:36–38 (ESV) — 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?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.

Jesus then drops the J-Bomb and begins to explain just what kind of King He is.
·  He disavows any notion that His is a political Kingship and Kingdom – “My kingdom is not of this world” (vs. 36).
·  Therefore, Jesus’ Kingship was no political threat to Pilate.
·  Carson even points out that Pilate would have had a sense that Jesus was no threat.
o   He didn’t marshal “his followers to fight and protect him from arrest” – D.A. Carson.
·  Jesus appeals to this sense with, “my servants would have been fighting” (vs. 36).

Jesus then goes on to concede His Kingship – “‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘you say that I am a king’” (vs. 37).
·  “The evidence is very strong that the expression is unambiguously affirmative” – D.A. Carson.
·  And though it sounds like it, it is not evasion – Beasley-Murray.
·  In other words, Jesus’ answer to Pilate is, “yes”.
·  Jesus then begins a discourse that reveals how His Kingship of the “not of this world” kingdom affects Pilate.

Jesus’ is a Kingship and Kingdom that Pilate must reckon with whether he “is a Jew” or not.
·  Jesus’ kingdom may not be “of this world”, but it was breaking into this world.
·  “It is essential that Jesus’ statement should not be misconstrued as meaning that his kingdom is not active in this world, or has nothing to do with this world” – Beasley-Murray.
·  For as Jesus Himself said:
·  Matthew 12:28 (ESV) — 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

So Jesus proceeds to spell out the implications of His Kingdom for Pilate (and for us).
·  Jesus said He has “… come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (vs. 37)
·  We mentioned earlier that “the prisoner had become judge” – D.A. Carson.
·  To this end, Jesus implies a crucial question to Pilate concerning His Kingdom.
o   Is my Kingdom true and will you affirm this truth by “listening” to me?
·  Pilate “…is confronted with the “light of the world” and must decide whether he prefers darkness or light” – Kostenberger.

Pilate’s reply to Jesus’ testimony says it all – “Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (vs. 38)
·  He rejects Jesus claim and thus, implicitly, is judged as not of the Kingdom or he would “listen” to Jesus.
·  “As Haenchen observed, “If Pilate, face to face with this Truth standing before him, asks, ‘What is truth?’ it is evident that he does not belong to ’those whom the Father has given to Jesus’” – Beasley-Murray.
·  His dismissal of Jesus is so thorough that he concludes, “I find no guilt in him” (vs. 38).
o   “Nothing Jesus has said has anything to do with me…it’s all jewish stuff.”
·  He then lets the Jews decide Jesus’ fate based on a custom of mercy at Passover.

Pilate’s take on Jesus reminds me of Winston Churchill’s words.
·  "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened" – Winston Churchill.


Both Jesus’ claims of truth and Pilate’s question naturally lead us to contend, however briefly, with this issue of truth.

Very quickly, we will look at the basic definitions of truth on:
·  (1) Jesus’ view
·  (2) Greek view
·  (3) Philosophical View

(1) John and Jesus’ Definition of Truth:
The word for truth used by John and Jesus is “aletheia”.
·  And our text certainly equates His truth to His work of inaugurating the Kingdom of God.
·  Jesus’ apologetic in John 5 also gives a good description of the truth Jesus is talking about.
·  D.A. Carson sums Jesus’ truth up well when he says it, “refers to the incarnation, his move from the glory he shared with the Father in his presence (17:5) to his manifestation in this fallen world to manifest something of that glory” – D.A. Carson.

John says this of Jesus’ truth:
·  John 1:14 (ESV) — 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
·  John 1:17 (ESV) — 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
·  John 8:32 (ESV) — 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
·  John 14:6 (ESV) — 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
·  John 17:17 (ESV) — 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.

The Lexham Bible Dictionary (LBD) says this truth is essentially used three ways in the NT.
·  (1) Truth as Factuality – such as the fact of the Gospel and Jesus’ testimony about Himself and the Father.
·  (2) Truth as Faithfulness and Reliability – this is the moral dimension of truth and what God requires of us.
·  (3) Truth as Reality – real and authentic as opposed to fake and counterfeit.

This truth in John presupposes the God of Abraham, His covenant with Israel, the incarnation of Jesus, and Jesus’ identity as the second person in the triune godhead, etc.

(2) Greek Definition of Truth:
The TDNT tells us its etymology refers to the concept of “nonconcealment”.
·  From this “aletheia” came to mean, “what is seen, indicated, expressed, or disclosed, i.e., a thing as it really is, not as it is concealed or falsifies” – TDNT.
·   “In Greek literature, the words for truth do not have the same personal and moral connotation [as we saw above]. Rather, truth is intellectual. It is ‘the full or real state of affairs” – NBD.
·  The Greek idea of truth does not contain the “God” presuppositions of John and Jesus.
·  However, it did have a relationship to the “logos”.

It is very interesting that Greeks saw “logos” as having the function to reveal (active nonconcealment) – TDNT.
·  This is one reason why John used “aletheia” and “logos” in reference to Jesus.
·  Jesus is the revealed, incarnate Truth of God the Father.
·  And He speaks on behalf of the Father to reveal the Father’s Truth.

And in John, those that recognize and trust that Jesus is the Word and Truth of God who speaks the Truth are the “given” and walk in the light.
·  Those that do not, such as Pilate, walk in darkness.
·  Jesus told Pilate in our text, He came into the world “to bear witness to the truth” (vs. 37).
·  Pilate was skeptical – “what is truth?
o   “…he doesn’t believe that Jesus, or anyone else for that matter, could give one [an answer]” – Beasley-Murray.

So we have seen how Jesus’ and John’s view of truth is different from a clinical Greek view of truth.
·  But what about the philosophical dimensions of Jesus’ truth?
·  Can it provide insight into Jesus’ and John’s idea of truth or even into Pilate’s perception of truth?
·  It can and I think you will see it has enormous apologetic value in defending John and Jesus’ view of truth.

(3) Philosophical Theories of Truth (from Doug Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics):
There are a bunch but I want to define 3 of them.
·  Correspondence Theory
·  Postmodern Theory
·  Pragmatism Theory

But before we do, I need to define the difference between an objective truth and subjective truth.
·  This is important because truth (and its moral dimension) will be either objective or subjective.
·  And in either case, the implications are quite different for how they apply to life.

Objective Truth:
Something is objectively true if it is “valid and binding” (Bill Craig) on you whether you or your culture believe it to be so or not.
·  Or looked at another way, the reason or foundation for a fact’s truth is to be found outside of the individual or culture.
·  Something is true because something that exists outside of us says so.
·  The nature of this “outside” is hotly contested – transcendent or not transcendent.
·  This is especially the case when it comes to the kind of truth that contains moral facts.

Subjective Truth:
Something is subjectively true if it is “valid and binding” on you only if you or your society/culture deem it to be so for whatever reason.
·  Or looked at another way, the reason or foundation for a facts truth is to be found inside the individual or culture.
·  Something is true because we say so.
·  This is the “It might be true for you, but it is not true for me” sentiment.

Greg Koukl teases these two out as follows:
·  “Subjective truths are based on internal preferences and change according to our whims. Objective truths, in contrast, are realities in the external world that we discover and cannot be changed by our internal feelings. External facts are what they are, regardless of how we feel about them” – Greg Koukl.
·  Objective truths are discovered, not made.
o   “We do not create the truth; we can only discover it” – Groothuis.
·  Subjective truths, on the other hand, can be “made”.

Now let’s move on to three theories of truth.

Correspondence Theory of Truth:
“A belief or statement is true only if it matches with, reflects or corresponds to the reality it refers to. For a statement to be true it must be factual. It is the nature and meaning of truth to be fact dependent. In other words, for a statement to be true, there must be a truth-maker that determines its truth [objective/transcendent]. A statement is never true simply because someone thinks it or utters it [subjective]. We may be entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts” – Douglas Groothuis.
·  Under this view, torturing babies for fun is wrong in every place and every time.
·  Under this view, we can speak of having a real, objective knowledge of God.
·  Under this view, we speak of “Truth” and “truths”.

Postmodern Theory of Truth:
“In a nutshell postmodernism holds that truth is not determined by its connection to objective reality but by various social constructions devised for different purposes….‘man is the measure of all things’ instead of being measured by them…Truth is what you make it, nothing more” – Douglas Groothuis.
·  Under this view, it is possible that there is a time and place where torturing babies for fun is not wrong.
·  Under this view, “Instead of the ‘knowledge of God’, we speak of ‘beliefs’, ‘opinions’ or ‘feelings’ instead” – Groothuis.
·  Under this view, there is no distinction between “Truth” and “truths”.

A third theory of truth has a great deal in common with the Post-Modern Theory.

Pragmatism Theory of Truth:
·  “To simplify a bit, the general pragmatic understanding of truth is that a belief is true only if it produces desirable or beneficial effects in the long run” – Douglas Groothuis.
·  “A true belief is like a tool that works well for whatever purposes you have in mind...If a belief is not useful or interesting in some way, then it doesn't matter. On the other hand, if it is useful over the long haul, then it is true - sort of like how an arrow ‘flies true’ when it hits your target, in this case your purposes” – Philosophy Forum.


Given the above discussion, some obvious questions arise:
·  Is the truth espoused by John and Jesus objective or subjective? Why?
·  Is the truth espoused by John and Jesus a correspondence, post-modern or pragmatic view? Why?

And what about Pilate’s view of truth, how would we categorize it?
·  Kostenberger hints that Pilate’s view is a pragmatic one.
·  Pilate’s question to Jesus, “may reflect disillusionment from a political, pragmatic point of view” – Kostenberger.
·  In other words, whatever best serves his interests as a politician is truth.

Clash of Truth and truth:
So given the nature of Jesus’ truth in or text, we see right away it is at odds with much of the world’s view of truth.
·  It contains fundamentally different presuppositions – objective/transcendent truth (God) vs. subjective/relative truth (us)
·  It is no accident that in John, Jesus primarily grounded His truth with the transcendent, objective Father.
·  Again, refer back to His apologetic in John 5.

And from Jesus’ point of view, what is the “thing” that separates “Pilates” from “believers”?
·  “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (vs. 37)
·  In other words, the separation comes from what one does with Jesus!
·  Is He a truth or The Truth?
o   He can’t be both – if the law of non-contradiction is objectively true.

This point ties us back into Jesus’ kingdom language.
·  We learned some weeks ago that those who trust in Jesus have both a place and position in the Kingdom of God.
·  In context of our lesson, this means that our place involves a transcendent and objective place and position.
·  Not a place made by us as Karl Marx thought (opiate for the masses), but a real place and position grounded in God.
·  Our union with Christ and His Kingdom is not subjectively true, it is objectively true – it is real.

So what – the Moral Argument:
For those that don’t have faith, how can we communicate the differences between Jesus’ objective truth and their subjective truth?
·  How do we highlight the differences and tease out the implications of each?

The implications of the moral argument seem to me to be one of the best ways to do so.
·  For example, reasonable people will all agree that what just happened in Connecticut was wrong.
·  But was it wrong objectively so or subjectively so?
o   Was it wrong because its wrongness was connected to a transcendent fact? (actually wrong)
o   Or was it wrong because we declare it to be so? (relatively wrong)
·  Brilliant arguments can be constructed to say that for society to function properly, innocents (especially children) are not to be harmed.
o   In other words, actions that harm others are wrong and produce no benefit to society.
o   The glue that holds society together is weakened by such actions, thus they are wrong.
·  But what is the problem with this view?

And what of the justice dimension of morailty?
·  Is justice man-made and subjective?
·  Or is it transcendent and objective?
·  If the first, then justice can be thwarted or avoided.
o   Criminal’s can escape, avoid extradition or kill themselves.
·  If the second, there is no escape from justice.
o   We all will stand before God – “every knee shall bow and tongue confess” – and be judged.

Without a transcendent truth, morality and justice, things will not be, and can’t be “put right”.
·  And to live and talk like they can be is irrational and just plain gibberish.

So we can try to nudge people to doubt their presuppositions with implications from the moral argument.
·  As Greg Koukl says, we can try to show them that, “their feet are firmly planted in midair”.

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed" – G.K. Chesterton.

“Christians, of all people, must strongly affirm the notion that truth is what corresponds to reality – and must do so unswervingly, whatever the postmodern (or other) winds of doctrine may be blowing in our faces” – Doug Groothuis.