Today multiple versions of “truth” compete for attention in politics and media. We ask the same question Pontius Pilate famously put to Jesus: What is truth? (John 18:38).
Truth already had been compromised on the night Jesus stood in Pilate’s judgment hall. At the house of High Priest Caiaphas, Peter had lied by declaring he never knew Jesus. Guards then escorted Jesus to Pilate’s praetorium (official headquarters and judgment hall) where Jesus would be sentenced to death. Seeing calamity close in on his master, and recognizing his own moral failure, Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Pilate was Roman governor of Palestine, suspicious of anyone who spoke of kingship apart from subservience to Rome. “My kingdom is not from this world,” Jesus declared to Pilate. Our Lord was not pointing to an otherworldly or theoretical kingdom. The way of Jesus already was creating alternative communities and transforming lives. Jesus was telling Pilate that authority and power in his kingdom do not come from Rome.
Nor was Jesus going to use conventional political tactics or coercive power to advance his reign. “If my kingdom were from this world,” Jesus said, “my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over.” In Galilee Jesus had taught his followers to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth! Not pie-in-the-sky politics, but a visible new society of people who live in radical obedience to a reconciling God.
What courage Jesus shows in the face of a ruler who could order his immediate execution!
Awed by such audacity, I descend with other pilgrims into what may be the room where the trial drama took place. Archaeologists recently completed excavations of this part of the so-called Tower of David in Jerusalem. This large room perhaps was Pilate’s praetorium. Walls and roof are from the Ottoman era (A.D. 1300-1922), but foundations are from the time of Christ.
“Tower of David” is a misnomer. The structure has nothing to do with David but is the palace of Herod where Pilate resided when in Jerusalem. The minaret is Ottoman, but it marks the place adjacent to the city wall where there are remains of first-century buildings.
Whether or not this is the actual place where Jesus was interrogated, mocked and sentenced, here I consider the relationship between the powers of this world and the reign of God. Someday, by God’s grace, we will celebrate the fact that “the kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah” (Rev. 11:15). But for now, political realities often are a far cry from the kingdom of God. Truth too often is the first casualty, as leaders tell half-truths or outright lies to cover their failures or advance their agenda.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and the three are closely related. With trustworthy speech that needs no oath for validation, we follow the way of Jesus. In the light of the gospel, we learn the truth about God and ourselves. At a time when society pressures us to align with political parties and polarizing ideologies, we find the life abundant of unity with Christ and his body, the church.
J. Nelson Kraybill is a pastor at Prairie Street Mennonite Church, Elkhart, Ind., and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more of his peace reflections at peace-pilgrim.com.