Jesus replied in John 18:34 - "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?" Since Pilate's question could be interpreted in two different ways (i.e., Are you the political King of the Jews? or Are you the spiritual King of the Jews?), Jesus responds with a question. Jesus had claimed to be this second type of king, and if that is what Pilate is asking, then Jesus would answer affirmatively. However, the Jews were falsely accusing Him of being the first type of king, and if Pilate is inquiring as to whether Jesus is a political king conspiring against Rome, then Jesus would answer negatively.
It should be observed that it is the Jews (and not the Romans) who are accusing Jesus (a fellow Jew) of being a threat to Rome. This is incredible (and Jesus' question would have got Pilate thinking about this point)! The Jews hated the Romans and would be much more likely to rally around one of their own that would rebel against Rome, rather than turn him in. Pilate is no fool and undoubtedly realizes this. Thus, he probably doubts Jesus' guilt from the very beginning.
"Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have you done?" (John 18:35). Pilate's response indicates that he was not concerned about the Jews' point of view. He was concerned about any possible threats to Rome. The Jews, as unusual as it probably seemed to Pilate, were bringing political accusations against a fellow Jew, and Pilate wanted to know why. He wanted to know what Jesus had actually done to cause them to desire His death.
"My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). Jesus answers Pilate's question indirectly by indicating the spiritual nature of His kingdom. The Jewish religious leaders hated Jesus out of jealousy because He taught with authority and exercised great influence over the people (cf. Matt. 7:28,29; John 12:19). This is why He was on trial before Pilate at that moment. The Jewish leaders did not care for Jesus' popularity or Messianic claims. In Gethsemane, when Peter had begun physically fighting for Jesus, He acted to restore peace immediately. The reason why was because His kingdom was not of this world; it was (and is) a spiritual kingdom and was not a threat to Rome.
"Are you a king then?" In response to Pilate's question, Jesus said - "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice" (John 18:37). Jesus had just affirmed that He had a kingdom, and thus it was obvious to Pilate that Jesus had to be a king of some sort. Jesus, because of Pilate's persistence, speaks in more detail regarding His mission as it pertained to truth.
"What is truth?" - Pilate asked this question in response to Jesus' comments about truth and His spiritual kingdom. It seems clear that Pilate is convinced at this point that Jesus was harmless and innocent as far as Roman law was concerned. Also, it appears he is growing tired of their conversation for he asks this question and does not wait for a response. Perhaps Pilate believed that no one can really know what truth is anyway and that talking about it was therefore pointless.
It is likely that the only kind of king that Pilate can imagine was one of power and political influence. The only kingdom he had ever known was maintained by the sword, and the idea that a kingdom could be established with adherents who would not physically fight for its defense and had truth as their standard was surely ridiculous to him. Jesus was probably considered to be a harmless, misguided fool by Pilate.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.