What Is Truth

Commentary On John 18:36-38

An Account Of The Nature And Constitution Of Christ’s Kingdom

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.”

It is not of this world.

It is expressed negatively to rectify the present mistakes concerning it; but the positive is implied, it is the kingdom of heaven, and belongs to another world. Christ is a king, and has a kingdom, but not of this world.

First Its rise is not from this world;

The kingdoms of men arise out of the sea and the earth (Dan. 7:3; Rev. 13:1, 11); but the holy city comes from God out of heaven, Rev. 21:2. His kingdom is not by succession, election, or conquest, but by the immediate and special designation of the divine will and counsel.

Secondly, Its nature is not worldly;

It is a kingdom within men (Lu. 16:21), set up in their hearts and consciences (Rom. 14:17), its riches spiritual, its powers spiritual, and all its glory within. The ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom have not the spirit of the world, 1 Co. 2:12.

Thirdly, Its guards and supports are not worldly;

Its weapons are spiritual. It neither needed nor used secular force to maintain and advance it, nor was it carried on in a way hurtful to kings or provinces; it did not in the least interfere with the prerogatives of princes nor the property of their subjects; it tended not to alter any national establishment in secular things, nor opposed any kingdom but that of sin and Satan.

Fourthly, Its tendency and design are not worldly.

Christ neither aimed nor would allow his disciples to aim at the pomp and power of the great men of the earth. Fifthly, Its subjects, though they are in the world, yet are not of the world; they are called and chosen out of the world, are born from, and bound for, another world; they are neither the world’s pupils nor its darlings, neither governed by its wisdom nor enriched with its wealth.

[2.] An evidence of the spiritual nature of Christ’s kingdom produced.

If he had designed an opposition to the government, he would have fought them at their own weapons, and would have repelled force with force of the same nature; but he did not take this course: If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews, and my kingdom be ruined by them.

But, First, His followers did not offer to fight;

There was no uproar, no attempt to rescue him, though the town was now full of Galileans, his friends and countrymen, and they were generally armed; but the peaceable behaviour of his disciples on this occasion was enough to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.

Secondly, He did not order them to fight;

Nay, he forbade them, which was an evidence both that he did not depend upon worldly aids (for he could have summoned legions of angels into his service, which showed that his kingdom was from above), and also that he did not dread worldly opposition, for he was very willing to be delivered to the Jews, as knowing that what would have been the destruction of any worldly kingdom would be the advancement and establishment of his; justly, therefore does he conclude, Now you may see my kingdom is not from hence; in the world but not of it.

(5.) In answer to Pilate’s further query

He replies yet more directly, v. 37, where we have,

[1.] Pilate’s plain question:

“Art thou a king then? Thou speakest of a kingdom thou hast; art thou then, in any sense, a king? And what colour hast thou for such a claim? Explain thyself.”

[2.] The good confession which our Lord Jesus witnessed before Pontius Pilate

In answer to this (1 Tim. 6:13): Thou sayest that I am a king, that is, It is as thou sayest, I am a king; for I came to bear witness of the truth. First, He grants himself to be a king, though not in the sense that Pilate meant. The Messiah was expected under the character of a king, Messiah the prince; and therefore, having owned to Caiaphas that he was the Christ, he would not disown to Pilate that he was king, lest he should seem inconsistent with himself.

Note, Though Christ took upon him the form of a servant, yet even then he justly claimed the honour and authority of a king. Secondly, He explains himself, and shows how he is a king, as he came to bear witness of the truth; he rules in the minds of men by the power of truth. If he had meant to declare himself a temporal prince, he would have said, For this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, to rule the nations, to conquer kings, and to take possession of kingdoms; no, he came to be a witness, a witness for the God that made the world, and against sin that ruins the world, and by this word of his testimony he sets up, and keeps up, his kingdom. It was foretold that he should be a witness to the people, and, as such, a leader and commander to the people, Isa. 55:4. Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, in which truth faileth (Isa. 59:15, Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit regnare—He that cannot dissemble knows not how to reign), but of that world in which truth reigns eternally. Christ’s errand into the world, and his business in the world, were to bear witness to the truth.

1. To reveal it

To discover to the world that which otherwise could not have been known concerning God and his will and good-will to men, ch. 1:18; 17:26.

2. To confirm it

Rom. 15:8. By his miracles he bore witness to the truth of religion, the truth of divine revelation, and of God’s perfections and providence, and the truth of his promise and covenant, that all men through him might believe. Now by doing this he is a king, and sets up a kingdom.

(1.) The foundation and power, the spirit and genius, of Christ’s kingdom, is truth, divine truth.

When he said, I am the truth, he said, in effect, I am a king. He conquers by the convincing evidence of truth; he rules by the commanding power of truth, and in his majesty rides prosperously, because of truth, Ps. 45:4. It is with his truth that he shall judge the people, Ps. 96:13. It is the sceptre of his kingdom; he draws with the cords of a man, with truth revealed to us, and received by us in the love of it; and thus he brings thoughts into obedience. He came a light into the world, and rules as the sun by day.

(2.) The subjects of this kingdom are those that are of the truth.

All that by the grace of God are rescued from under the power of the father of lies, and are disposed to receive the truth and submit to the power and influence of it, will hear Christ’s voice, will become his subjects, and will bear faith and true allegiance to him. Everyone that has any real sense of true religion will entertain the Christian religion, and they belong to his kingdom; by the power of truth he makes them willing, Ps. 90:3. All that are in love with truth will hear the voice of Christ, for greater, better, surer, sweeter truths can nowhere be found than are found in Christ, by whom grace and truth came; so that, by hearing Christ’s voice, we know that we are of the truth, 1 Jn. 3:19.

(6.) Pilate, hereupon, puts a good question to him, but does not stay for an answer, v. 38.

He said, What is truth? and immediately went out again.

[1.] It is certain that this was a good question

It could not be put to one that was better able to answer it. Truth is that pearl of great price which the human understanding has a desire for and is in quest of; for it cannot rest but in that which is, or at least is apprehended to be, truth. When we search the scriptures, and attend the ministry of the word, it must be with this enquiry, What is truth? and with this prayer, Lead me in thy truth, into all truth. But many put this question that have not patience and constancy enough to persevere in their search after truth, or not humility and sincerity enough to receive it when they have found it, 2 Tim. 3:7. Thus many deal with their own consciences; they ask them those needful questions, “What am I?” “What have I done?” but will not take time for an answer.

[2.] It is uncertain with what design Pilate asked this question.

First, Perhaps he spoke it as a learner

Perhaps as one that began to think well of Christ, and to look upon him with some respect, and desired to be informed what new notions he advanced and what improvements he pretended to in religion and learning. But while he desired to hear some new truth from him, as Herod to see some miracle, the clamour and outrage of the priests’ mob at his gate obliged him abruptly to let fall the discourse.

Secondly, Some think he spoke it as a judge

He enquired further into the cause now brought before him: “Let me into this mystery, and tell me what the truth of it is, the true state of this matter.”

Thirdly, Others think he spoke it as a scoffer, in a jeering way:

“Thou talkest of truth; canst thou tell what truth is, or give me a definition of it?” Thus he makes a jest of the everlasting gospel, that great truth which the chief priests hated and persecuted, and which Christ was now witnessing to and suffering for; and like men of no religion, who take a pleasure in bantering all religions, he ridicules both sides; and therefore Christ made him no reply. Answer not a fool according to his folly; cast not pearls before swine.

But, though Christ would not tell Pilate what is truth, he has told his disciples, and by them has told us, ch. 14:6.

Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

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