What Is Truth?
Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
We must avoid over spiritualizing what we read in the Word of God. John’s new heaven and earth, for example, are as truly real as the risen Lord is real. To spiritualize away divine things is the expedient of people who do not themselves know that reality. Many of us amass spiritual truth, only, I fear, to build for ourselves with it a false world. We confuse truth and doctrine, but the two are not the same. Doctrine is what is said on earth about the eternal truth. I know well that our word “truth” in the Chinese Bible is chen-li (roughly “reality doctrine”), but in fact the Greek meaning is chen without the li- “reality.” The Jesus who said, “Ye shall know the truth” himself embodies all that is true. The mark of our own spiritual maturity will always be that divine things become real to us because he is real to us.
Today’s title is the words once asked by an interrogator to a person charged with treason and blasphemy. Pontus Pilate, as he is addressing Jesus asked this question and hundreds are still asking the very same question. Among the myriad of voices all clamoring to be heard and all proclaiming to speak “truth,” we may find ourselves in a state of confusion much like Pilate. He has been told by the leading Jewish leaders that Jesus is guilty of treason, yet all of his interrogations have turned up no such evidence.
“Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium (governor’s palace). Now it was early and the Jews did not enter the Praetorium so that they would not be [ceremonially] unclean, but might [be able to] eat [and participate in the Feast of Unleavened Bread which began after] the Passover [supper]. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” They answered, “If He were not a criminal, we would not have handed Him over to you [for judgment].” Then Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.” The Jews said, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word which Jesus had spoken to indicate by what manner of death He was going to die. So Pilate went into the Praetorium again, and called Jesus and asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own people and their chief priests have handed You over to me. What have You done [that is worthy of death]?” Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world [nor does it have its origin in this world]. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would be fighting [hard] to keep Me from being handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this world.” So Pilate said to Him, “Then You are a King?” Jesus answered, “You say [correctly] that I am a King. This is why I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth [who is a friend of the truth and belongs to the truth] hears listens carefully to My voice.” Pilate said to Him [scornfully], “What is truth?”And when he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no guilt in Him [no crime, no cause for an accusation]. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. So shall I release for you the King of the Jews?” Then they all shouted back again, “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. So then Pilate took Jesus and had Him scourged (flogged, whipped). And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe around Him; and they kept coming up to Him, saying [mockingly], “Hail, King of the Jews [Good health! Peace! Long life to you, King of the Jews]!” And they slapped Him in the face. Then Pilate came out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him [no crime, no cause for an accusation].” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, and Pilate said to them, “Look! The Man!” When the chief priests and officers saw Him, they shouted, “Crucify [Him]! Crucify [Him]!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him [no crime, no cause for an accusation].” The Jews answered him, “We have a law [regarding blasphemy], and according to that law He should die, because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.” So when Pilate heard this said, he was [even] more alarmed and afraid. He went into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus did not answer him. So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me at all if it had not been given to you from above. For this reason the sin guilt of the one who handed Me over to you is greater [than your own].” As a result of this, Pilate kept making efforts to release Him, but the Jews kept screaming, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar! Anyone who makes himself out [to be] a king opposes Caesar [and rebels against the emperor]!” When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover [week], and it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Look, your King!” But they shouted, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar!” Then he handed Him over to them to be crucified.”
John 18: 28-40, 19: 1-16
This is no doctrine or story written by humans. This is a record of reality. And we cannot afford to make this some creed or catechism that we repeat by rote without seeing the reality of it. So let’s talk reality. The first reality is that the Judge of all humanity was being judged by flawed humans and was being charged as a criminal. The truth is that they who were criminals themselves were condemning an innocent man. Pilate asks Jesus what crime He has committed that was worthy of the death His captors had charged Him with. The question of Pilate indicates that Jesus was being charged with treason by making Himself King of the Jews. No doubt this was the assumption that stemmed from Christ’s triumphant journey to Jerusalem where the crowd had shouted that He was the Messiah- long awaited deliverer and king. Although that’s what the mob shouted, Christ never finished the journey. Instead He stopped on Mount Olivet, overlooking the city and wept over its rejection. King of the Jews? Accused and charged but not reality. Jesus replies to Pilate that instead His kingdom was not of this world. The reality was that He was not a king that was rebelling against Rome, but the King of kings who reigned over the entire universe and the truth was that His power and authority exceeded that of both Pilate and Caesar. So we find the most powerful condemned to death by mere humans that in reality were powerless. As Christ said to Pilate that day, “You have no power over me except that which has been given to you from above. Reality and yet false assumption appeared to make Pilate and the Jewish leaders in power and Christ subject to their decisions.
Even today there are those who say that Christ was crucified by the Jews. Others say by Rome. And still others hold all humanity guilty. But none of these perceptions are truth. The reality truth is that God gave up His only begotten Son as the substitute sacrifice for you and I who were sinners condemned to eternal death and punishment. No person brought it about. Although the devil worked to influence humans to seek the life of Jesus, even he, was nothing more than an instrument controlled by God to bring about His purpose.
But let’s apply this truth to us in 2023. What is the true reality? Is it true that evil will prevail? Sometimes it may seem so. Is it true that culture and society have the right to decide what are acceptable behaviors and lifestyles? Is it true that the Bible is the “God-breathed” truth or is it a mere collection of human thought? There are many who seem to think so. But is that truth?
If the true reality is that God is the Sovereign Ruler over the universe and who as Paul writes in Colossians has created all things:
“For by Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, [things] visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities; all things were created and exist through Him [that is, by His activity] and for Him. And He Himself existed and is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [His is the controlling, cohesive force of the universe.]”
Colossians 1: 16-17
If that’s the truth, then isn’t it true that Christ has the authority to set the standards of acceptable conduct and lifestyles? That’s reality truth.
But what about the Bible itself. Is it really God’s Word? Here’s what it says about itself: First from Christ:
“Do not think that I came to do away with undo the Law [of Moses] or the [writings of the] Prophets; I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you most solemnly say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke [of the pen] will pass from the Law until all things [which it foreshadows] are accomplished. So whoever breaks one of the least [important] of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least [important] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them, he will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5: 17-19
Here Christ validates the Old Testament writings as instructions and laws given by God that continues to remain in place. The only exceptions are those pertaining to sacrifice of animals to cover sin since He himself was the acceptable sacrifice. Only Old Testament rituals designed to bridge the gap between God and humanity became unnecessary because Christ fulfilled them.
Paul follows up by saying that the entire Word of God has been God-breathed, written as the Holy Spirit moved upon writers:
“All Scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration] and is profitable for instruction, for conviction [of sin], for correction [of error and restoration to obedience], for training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage]; so that the man of God may be complete and proficient, outfitted and thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3: 16-17
Peter sums it up thus:
But understand this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of or comes from one’s own [personal or special] interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
2 Peter 1: 20-21
So now it rests upon us. Do we choose to accept Christ and the Word of God as truth or do we substitute human reasoning or philosophy as determined by culture and society as truth? We must decide. But reality truth is that either the Bible as a whole is truth or none of it is true. Any story that is filled with half-truths or lies becomes fiction. The seriousness of this matter is that our eternity hangs upon truth.
Dr. John Thompson