“What is Truth?”

“What is truth?”

It’s such a striking question. What is truth? In a world full of postmodern relativism, in which truth is merely an observation or an opinion or maybe even a feeling, perhaps it is the most important question that we can grapple with.

“What is truth?”

It is also the question that Pontius Pilate gives to Jesus. Not because Pontius Pilate is interested in what Jesus has to say. He couldn’t care less. No, Pontius Pilate only asks that question to Jesus to shut Him down. To end the conversation. To dismiss everything that Jesus has said.

To dismiss Jesus Himself.

“What is truth?”

Looking at the gospel account which describes the stand-off between Pontius Pilate and Jesus, and this becomes clear. Jesus Christ is talking to Pontius Pilate about His mission, the reason why He was sent to this world. Jesus is to testify for the Truth. And yet, look at Pontius Pilate’s retort.


John 18

28 Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring [against] this man?” 30They answered and said to him, “If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31At this, Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law.” The Jews answered him, “We do not have the right to execute anyone,” 32 in order that the word of Jesus might be fulfilled that he said indicating the kind of death he would die. 33So Pilate went back into the praetorium and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this on your own or have others told you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” 37So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”When he had said this, he again went out to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in him. 39But you have a custom that I release one prisoner to you at Passover. Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40They cried out again, “Not this one but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.

“What is truth?”

And perhaps that’s why I love this artwork, which illustrates this exchange between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ during this epic scene:

"What is truth?", " by Nikolay Nikolayevich, c. 1890. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
“What is truth?”, ” by Nikolay Nikolayevich, c. 1890. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

In this picture, Jesus Christ looks thin and small in contrast to Pontius Pilate’s figure, which is imposing, bulbous, and arrogant. In fact, Pontius Pilate seems to take over most of the scene.

And yet… though Jesus might be smaller than Pontius Pilate, He is no weakling. In His eyes, there seems to be a fierce defiance. He is not afraid to stand up for the Truth.

After all, Jesus is Truth.


John 14

6Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Sometimes, it can seem like when we stand up for our beliefs, we face the whole world. And we often feel small and weak compared to the world. The world tempts us with comfort; our faith asks us follow Jesus, no matter what. The world tempts us with riches; our faith urges us be content with what we already have and to share what we have with each other. The world tempts us with grandeur; our faith promises us the Cross.

Let this picture remind us that we are not the first to stand up against the world for our beliefs. And, when we do stand up against the world for our beliefs, let us have faith! After all, we mustn’t fear.

We are following the path of Christ.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

One thought on ““What is Truth?”

  • September 27, 2018 at 1:02 am

    It so happens that I began to reread “The Master and Margarita” yesterday, and am in the middle of the chapter that recounts the same episode. In this book Pilate is surprised by the answer to his question, and wonders if Jesus can cure his ills. Even so, and in spite of his own anguish, he is trapped by what he must do and condemns Jesus to death. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author Mikhail Bulgakov was inspired by this painting.


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