Saturday, August 12, 2017

Pilate's Great Truth?

“What is truth?” Pilate asks the prisoner Jesus according to John 18:38.

This nihilistic question often appears in attacks against relativism and post-modernism.  It’s quite useful for many Christian apologetics groups. 

But the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus is not about some abstract idea of “truth”.

Fast forward a bit in the story to John 19:10.

Pilate asks, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you, and to crucify you?”

If a person hears this question, recognizes Pilate’s appeal to epistemological truth (“don’t you know”) and concludes that the big idea behind this conversation is that his purported relativism has been contradicted by his own words, they’ve missed the point.

Pilate believes in truth. 

He just doesn’t think it matters. 

In the end, the fundamental truth is death and the power to kill.  Specifically, the truth is that Pilate has the power to either kill Jesus or set him free.  And that’s all that matters.  This is the truth that Pilate announces to Jesus.  It is the truth of the power to kill.  What is “truth” in comparison to the sheer fact of Pilate’s power to kill or set free?  Whatever the “truth” is, it pales in comparison to Pilate’s power to crucify. 

What is “truth” in comparison to the “fire and fury” of sheer military force, ancient or modern?


Jesus does not debate Pilate’s ability to crucify him.  He acknowledges it.  He responds in John 19:11 with this:

“You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above.”

He has authority.  But there is another "authority" too.

“From above”.  What is that?

Is Jesus alluding to the truth that Pilate is right about the nature of power, but that he possesses a power that is ultimately just bigger and better than Pilate’s? 

No, I don’t think so.

In John 18:36 Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

That’s what servants do according to the tenets of power in this world.  They fight.  It is the way of things.  But his kingdom is not of this world, so truth is not subservient to or synonymous with the power to kill.  No, the truth that Jesus alludes to is found in relation to this power “from above”.  And this power does not fight to keep Jesus from being handed over.

It’s quite pious sounding.  And it’s absolutely scandalous. 

It’s not of this world.

What is this power, this truth?

You can say “the power of God”, sure.  But what does that mean?

It is the power that raises Jesus from the dead.  It is the power that forgives from the cross and speaks “Shalom” upon his resurrection.  It is the eternal power that stems from the truth of life over death.  It’s a power that confounds, overcomes, and finally envelops the power of Pilate. 

It’s not that Pilate’s power isn’t real.  Look around the world.  All the death, loss, and tragedy.  It is real.

But it’s not the last word.  It is not the power of the world only bigger.  God is not Pilate but with more firepower.

Christ, the Word and power of God, is the beginning and the end.  

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