Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out…” (NRSV, John 18:38)
Pontius Pilate was the Roman Procurator or governor of the southern area of Palestine which formed the imperial province of Judea. As such he had been personally appointed by, and was directly responsible to, the Emperor Tiberius himself. His principal duties were to maintain law and order among the turbulent Jewish people and to arrange for the collection of the annual tribute which was then paid into the Emperor’s private treasury.
Pilate had been appointed governor four years before Our Lord’s trial on Good Friday, and during that time his record had been far from good. Whereas the official policy of the central Roman government was to respect the customs of the Jews, Pilate treated them with contempt. He had gone out of his way to be offensive and had been recklessly severe in suppressing disorders.
Yet essentially he was a mixture of obstinacy and weakness, the one quality leading him to overreach himself, the other causing him to back down in the face of the opposition he had succeeded in arousing.