“What is truth?”
This question has probably been asked by every person in human history. In this case, it was spoken by Pontius Pilate, the Roman leader under whom Jesus was killed two thousand years ago.
Truth is contested in our culture, perhaps more now than it has ever been. Today, truth is individual, subjective, and feelings based. It’s better to rely on emotion, keep your head down, and stay with the majority.
This issue is not unique to today’s era — it’s a universal human problem. When we ask for the truth, we often don’t really want it. If someone speaks the truth, we don’t like it. One of the most puzzling parts of history is good people who were brutalized, torn down, and hated — simply for being honest.
In the case of Pilate, we see a man conflicted. On one hand, Jesus was innocent. On the other, Pilate feared public opinion, and the crowd wanted Jesus dead. Whether you’re Christian or not, the historical event of Jesus’ trial and death can teach us a lot about human nature, how a group can become so violently opposed to truth, and what our own options are for responding in the face of evil.
The trial of Jesus: history’s greatest injustice
In 33 AD, a man named Jesus was said to have been stirring up trouble among the people — charges he was innocent of. Jesus preached love, condemned the hypocritical religious and government leaders of his time, and claimed not only to know the truth but to be the truth.
Of course, the facts didn’t matter to the religious authorities. They felt threatened, so they put a reward out for His capture and got to work turning the people against Him. Eventually, Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities, where an investigation and questioning found no evidence of wrongdoing.
In spite of being found innocent, the crowd still called for Him to be killed by crucifixion — the worst possible form of punishment. How could this be?
Matthew, a disciple of Jesus, writes:
“But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus…Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”
When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” (Matthew 27:20–24)
The religious leaders were never interested in justice. Their goal was power, popularity, and wealth. They did not want to be threatened by someone like Jesus.
The mob wasn’t interested in justice either. They wanted acceptance, to be part of something, to fit in. They gathered because they were provoked by the religious leaders and led to believe evil was the answer.
As for Pilate, he seemed to show sympathy for Jesus. Knowing he was innocent, he attempted to persuade the crowd to let Him go. But when the crowd persisted, he feared them and ultimately was pressured into something he knew was wrong.
Our problem isn’t politics. It’s human nature.
Culture changes, but nothing is entirely new. At the core, people haven’t changed. Human nature is still to be driven by self-interest.
Jesus’ trial is shocking — yet also familiar. Just look around.
Hypocritical leaders who seek to make themselves look good and gain power at the expense of others? Still have those.
What about groups of people that will follow whatever is popular in order to be with the times? We have that too.
This mob mentality and indifference towards the truth is only amplified by the internet. People can not only hide behind the crowd of others chattering about the same things, but they can maintain complete anonymity. There’s no repercussions for what they say. With a few clicks, you can ruin someone’s day from halfway across the world.
It’s why we have people’s names destroyed by cancel culture, why small businesses feel threatened and are forced to close when one person decides they did something wrong, why individuals are afraid of speaking out, and why innocent people are attacked and harassed.
The circumstances are different, but our reactions aren’t.
The mob is made up of people. You have a choice.
When faced with a group bent on doing wrong, you can be Pilate and give in, or be like Jesus and hold to the truth.
If you choose the crowd, know that giving in to pressure once will never be enough. The mob will continue to scream and strike fear in anyone who disagrees with them. You don’t find relief — you find more trouble. Your identity belongs to others.
If you choose the truth, they can’t touch you. They can say what they like, but it doesn’t matter. There is freedom in doing what is right. You don’t have to hide.
“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8: 31–32)
Jesus said his kingdom was “not of this world.” Many didn’t understand. Most people want what can help them right now, but that short-sightedness is to their own detriment. Eventually, popularity, money, and power all fade.
The people who yell the loudest and create trouble are often the unhappiest and most insecure. If you’re honest, you won’t have to resort to tactics like intimidation, fear, and violence.
The truth is costly.
Standing up can make it feel like everything is crumbling down around you — and that’s terrifying.
You can lose everything doing what’s right. Look at the Apostles, who were ridiculed, imprisoned, and martyred for preaching what they knew to be true. Yet, they refused to deny their Lord.
We are supposed to count the costs and decide if it is worth it. At the end of the day, I take comfort in the fact that nothing that could happen is the end.
What is there really to lose?
On the internet, your persona or page might be attacked, but that’s not you. Social media isn’t the real world. You could make a new account. You could leave and start something else. Most of those people probably weren’t your friends anyways.
If you are a Christian, even the “real world” isn’t the end. The crucifixion of Jesus made it appear darkness had won, yet it was the ultimate triumph over evil. They killed Jesus. But three days later, he rose.
Because Jesus lives, we can have confidence that we will too. Even if we lose, we will carry on.
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33
We need more people honestly defending the truth.
For every one that speaks up, others have courage too. If people can see that they aren’t alone, the rule of the mob becomes less.
The biggest obstacle to standing up is not lack of knowledge. Everybody has the ability to think for themselves. The biggest obstacle is fear of losing what we have. We’re lulled into apathy by a false sense of comfort in things that don’t matter. That’s what mob mentality teaches us — most people would rather take the easy route than risk a struggle.
But if we don’t take risks, what are we really living for? Living in fear is hardly living at all.
Ask yourself what the greater cost is: your things that can be replaced, or your own character?
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” — Matthew 10:28