"I Came into the World to Testify to the Truth"

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 4 May 1988, the Holy Father reflected on the words of Jesus to Pontius Pilate, that He had come into the world to testify to the truth.

"For this I was born and for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth" (Jn 18:37). When Pilate, during the trial, asked Jesus if he were a king, Jesus answered: "My kingdom is not of this world." When the Roman governor insisted in his question, "Then you are a king?" Jesus replied, "You say I am a king" (cf. Jn 18:33-37). This dialogue during the trial, recorded in John's Gospel, links what we have to say with the previous reflection concerning Christ's message on the kingdom of God. At the same time it opens up to us a further dimension or another aspect of Christ's mission indicated by the words, "to testify to the truth." Christ is king and "he came into the world to testify to the truth." He said so himself and added, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice" (Jn 18:37).

This reply opens before our eyes new horizons on Christ's mission, and on man's vocation, particularly on the fact that man's vocation is rooted in Christ.

Through the words addressed to Pilate, Jesus emphasized what is essential in the whole of his preaching. At the same time he anticipated in a certain way that which will always constitute the eloquent message of the paschal event, that is to say, the cross and resurrection.

Speaking of Jesus' preaching, even his opponents expressed in their own way its fundamental significance when they said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man...you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth" (Mk 12:14). Jesus was therefore the Teacher of the "way of God"; an expression of ancient biblical and extra-biblical origin to designate a religious and salvific doctrine. As regards the ordinary hearers of Jesus they were impressed by another aspect of his teaching: "The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Mk 1:22). "He spoke with authority" (Lk 4:32).

This authority was constituted especially by the power of the truth contained in Christ's preaching. His disciples addressed him as "Teacher," not only in the sense that he knew the law and the prophets and commented on them with acute perception, like the scribes, but for a still more compelling reason: he "spoke with authority." This was the authority of the truth whose source is God himself. Jesus himself said, "My teaching is not my own, but is from the one who sent me" (Jn 7:16).

In this sense inclusive of the reference to God, Jesus was Teacher. "You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right for so I am" (Jn 13:13). He was Teacher of the truth which is God. He bore witness to this truth unto the end, with the authority which came to him from on high, or we could say, with the authority of one who is king in the realm of truth.

In previous reflections, we already drew attention to the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus revealed himself as the one who has come, not "to abolish the law or the prophets," but "to fulfill them." This fulfillment of the law was an act of kingship and authority: the kingship and authority of the truth which decides on the law, on its divine source, and its progressive manifestation to the world.

In the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5-7), one perceives this authority with which Jesus intended to fulfill his mission. Here are some significant passages: "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill'...but I say to you...." "'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you...." "It was said... 'Do not take false oaths'...but I say to you...." After every "I say to you" there is an authoritative exposition of that truth of human conduct which is contained in each of God's commandments. Jesus did not comment in a human way, like a scribe, on the texts of the Old Testament. But he spoke with the authority of the lawgiver himself. This is the authority of lawmaking—kingship. At the same time it is the authority of the truth, by reason of which the new law becomes for humanity a binding principle of conduct.

When Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said on various occasions, "but I say to you," his language echoed the Old Testament texts which frequently repeated, "Thus says the Lord God of Israel" (2 Sam 12:7). "O Jacob...thus says the Lord who made you" (Is 44:1-2); "Thus says the Lord, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (Is 43:14). Still more directly he harked back to the reference to God which was so frequently on the lips of Moses in giving the law—the "old" law—to Israel. Much greater than that of Moses is the authority which Jesus claimed in "fulfilling the law and the prophets" by virtue of the mission received from on high: not on Sinai, but in the sublime mystery of his relationship with the Father.

Jesus was well aware of this mission which was sustained by the power of the truth drawn from his own divine source. There is a close connection between his reply to Pilate: "I have come to bear witness to the truth" (Jn 18:37), and his statement before his hearers: "My teaching is not my own, but is from the one who sent me" (Jn 7:16). The connecting and unifying thread of this and other statements of Jesus on the "authority of the truth" with which he taught is in the awareness of the mission received from on high.

Jesus knew that the eternal Wisdom was manifested to humanity in his teaching. He therefore rebuked those who refused to accept it, not hesitating to recall the "queen of the south (the Queen of Sheba), who had come "to hear the wisdom of Solomon," and added immediately, "there is something greater than Solomon here" (Mt 12:42).

He also knew and openly proclaimed that the words which flow from that divine Wisdom "will not pass away." "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mk 13:31). They contain the power of the truth which is indestructible and eternal. They are therefore "words of eternal life," as the Apostle Peter confessed at a critical moment, when many of those who had assembled to hear Jesus, began to leave him, because they could not understand and were not disposed to accept his words foretelling the mystery of the Eucharist (cf. Jn 6:66).

Here we touch on the problem of human freedom to accept or not to accept the eternal truth contained in Christ's teaching. It is certainly valid to give to people of all ages—and therefore of our time also—an adequate response to their vocation which opens on to the eternal. Confronted with this problem, having a theological as well as an anthropological dimension (the human reaction and response to a truth proposed), it will suffice for the present to refer to what the Second Vatican Council said, especially in regard to the particular sensitivity of the people of today. The Council first of all stated that "all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church," but also that "truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power" (DH 1). Moreover, the Council recalled the duty of people "to adhere to the truth once it is known and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth." Then it adds: "Men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom" (DH 2).

Such is the mission of Christ as teacher of eternal truth. The Council recalled that "God calls men to serve him in spirit and in truth.... God has regard for the dignity of the human person whom he himself created." Then it said that "this truth appears at its height in Christ Jesus, in whom God manifested himself and his ways with men. Christ is at once our Master and our Lord and also meek and humble of heart. In attracting and inviting his disciples he used patience. He wrought miracles to illuminate his teaching and to establish its truth, but his intention was to rouse faith in his hearers and to confirm them in faith, not to exert coercion upon them" (DH 11).

Eventually, the Council linked this dimension of Christ's teaching with the paschal mystery: "In the end, when he completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby he achieved salvation and true freedom for men, he brought his revelation to completion. For he bore witness to the truth, but he refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does his rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to himself" (DH 11).

As of now we can conclude that he who sincerely seeks the truth will find easily enough in the teaching of Christ crucified the solution to the problem of freedom also.