JOHN 18:37c-39
What Is Truth?
Prepared by Dr. John Marshall

John 18:37c (Holman) “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”

Jesus was full of truth (John 1:14), the truth itself (John 14:6). There was no ounce of error in Him. In the incarnation of Jesus, truth came to earth (John 1:17). He precisely revealed God as He really is because He was true God of true God.

Jesus accurately conveyed God’s essence, and desires to find people true enough to accept this truth. He still seeks any who will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), that is, according to the reality He has revealed.

Truth refers to actuality. A person “who is of the truth” is one who sincerely desires to hear things as they really are, however opposed the truth may be to one’s own preconceived notions, habits, and actions. People “of the truth” relinquish long held convictions once they are shown to be wrong, and give up activities they enjoy when shown to be sinful.

A genuine believer submits to the authority and Lordship of Jesus. Such disciples are rare. Many heard Jesus’ physical voice while He was on earth; few profited by it.

The only right response to His commands is to receive, approve, and act on them. His words should receive our affection and submission.

Believers gladly submit to Jesus’ rule because we have found in Him the truth our hearts long for, all we could ever desire. Other kings may rule our bodies, but only Jesus can rule our hearts.

Individuals can evaluate themselves by their response to Jesus. We absorb and become what is most agreeable with our innermost thoughts. The truer we are inwardly, the more we will submit to the kingship of Jesus.

People of the truth quit heeding “the father of lies” and the world’s false philosophies. They respond, acquiesce, to truth as presented in Jesus.

John 18:38 “What is truth?” said Pilate. After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no grounds for charging Him.”

A good question, the most important one Pilate ever asked. Unfortunately, Pilate’s inquiry was not sincere, as his actions would show.

In his essay “Of Truth,” Francis Bacon wrote: “What is truth? Said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” By not waiting, Pilate showed his own disregard for truth. To him it was unimportant.

Pilate could have never asked a better question to a more knowledgeable person. Right question, right time, right person, but Pilate made the wrong response. The Procurator lacked humility and sincerity.

Pilate knew Jesus could not hurt him, and could not help him. Pilate believed Jesus was completely harmless and completely useless.

It is appropriate the last direct reference to truth in this Gospel came from a scoffing, unconcerned unbeliever. This is people’s usual response to truth. Deeming Jesus unimportant and insignificant, they could not care less about Him.

Pilate feared the crowd more than he feared Jesus, but Christ is a potent force to be reckoned with. Pilate, religious leaders, Romans, and all else who try to suppress Jesus are fighting a losing battle.

Truth can be opposed, but never deposed. Jesus came to be an everlasting King. Thus, His truth is marching on, and shall forevermore endure.

Pilate did not wait to hear an answer to his question. This does not mean there is no answer.

A full discussion of truth could not be compressed into a few sentences. A handful of words alone could not be adequate. Jesus’ whole life had been an answer in action. All He had done and said answered Pilate’s question.

I think our author was using Pilate’s question as an introduction to the crucifixion and resurrection narratives. Pharaoh’s scornful question, “Who is YHWH?” (Exodus 5:2) was answered by deeds. Pilate’s question was too.

The cross and empty tomb will be the ultimate answer to Pilate’s question. At Calvary and in the resurrection we see God’s truth, God revealed as He really is, indestructible, hating sin, yet loving sinners, and desiring their redemption.

John 18:39 “You have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at the Passover. So, do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?”

Pilate admitted he could find no guilt in Jesus. The Procurator should have released Jesus, but was too much a coward to buck the religious leaders.

Pilate decided to try a method whereby the people would release Jesus for him. Pilate fell into the trap of seeking a way to do an unpopular right thing without having to suffer for it.

Passover was Israel’s celebration of their release from bondage. Rome recognized the holiday by granting freedom to a Jewish prisoner.

On this occasion, Pilate let the crowd make their own choice. He probably thought they would ask for Jesus to be released.

This custom appears magnanimous on the surface, but was an injustice to the public. Indiscriminately releasing criminals never blesses a society.

In this case, the custom was a double travesty. It released a guilty man, and treated Jesus as guilty.