Scourged and Mocked

Even though Pilate symbolically “washes his hands” of the matter he must still approve the penalty and enforce the sentence. Listening to the mob shouting their demands he agrees, releasing a man guilty of crimes against Rome and sentencing to death a man who has, by his own words, done nothing worthy of death. “Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified” [Matthew 27:26 ESV]. Part of the death sentence imposed by Rome was scourging, being beaten with a multi-tailed whip imbedded with rocks and metal. Doing this had, for those in authority, a number of advantages. First, it took all of the struggle and fight out of the man condemned. Second, it provided a visual example to those under Rome’s authority to not do anything against Roman law or the will of those in authority. It imposed the maximum amount of suffering on the condemned who would then hang from a cross unable to do anything but survive for a short while. Disfiguring the man through flogging began the process of taking away their humanity and made it easier to kill them in such a horrendous manner.

But there was another, more insidious advantage to scourging. It gave the Roman soldiers an outlet for their anger toward the people they had conquered. It entertained them. Their minds and hearts had been trained by Rome, and their experiences only reinforced their training designed to teach and ingrain unforgiving brutality. Controlled by Rome meant they were not free to hurt and harm and maim and oppress, until they were released and given permission. Once released the full extent of their brutal training surfaced and moved into full action.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a vine of thorns they put it on his head as a crown and put a reed in his right hand as a scepter. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. [Matthew 27:27-31 ESV; see also John 19:1-2 and Mark 15:16-19]

Notice the actions of the soldiers as described by these three documents. Obviously, there were soldiers present throughout the “trial” of Jesus, listening to Pilate ridicule the High Priest and goad them into hypocrisy. Perhaps, while Pilate was questioning Jesus alone the guard present had seen him roll his eyes at Jesus’ words, heard the sarcasm in his voice as he asked “what is truth?” and agreed to condemn an innocent man. Pilate may have glanced over at the guard, made eye contact, and given the impression he was talking to a lunatic. Maybe, I’m not sure without more evidence, the guard, always under control, forced himself to suppress his own laughter, seeing his authority make fun of everyone present, except the Roman guard. We do not know what went on between Pilate and those under his control. We do know he gave them permission, freed them from the constraints of discipline, and allowed them to fully vent their derision for the Jews on the person of Jesus.

Pilate had ridiculed Jesus for saying he was a king and mocked the mob for rejecting their king. So the soldiers mocked Jesus as a king. After flogging him, beating him to the point of mortal trauma, they, like Herod’s guards, heaped abuse on the man they viewed as non-human. Wanting to share the spectacle “they called together the whole battalion” [Mark 15:16 ESV] to participate. This was part of their training. Everyone learned the techniques of abuse and how to deliver maximum suffering and humility. With a stripped and bleeding back from the whip they clothed him in “purple” and placed on his head a “crown of thorns.” They gave him a scepter, a reed, then took it from him and beat him with it. They kneeled before him in mockery and cried out “Hail, King of the Jews!” while saluting him and giving him mock worship. They spit on him and struck him with their hands and the reed. As it is presented each soldier takes their turn. This was all done in the Governor’s quarters within hearing of all who lived there, including Pilate and his wife. We can only imagine the agony she endured having to listen to the abuse heaped upon a man she knew was innocent. We can only imagine the stone Pilate’s heart became as he watched and approved the slow torture and murder of a man he had determined innocent.

This is a savior? Jesus is a king? It will be hours before his murder is finished. Then he will be dead. Considering the methods used by Rome to kill people there was no possibility of Jesus escaping death or being resuscitated once the soldiers were done murdering him. All of the evidence points to his ultimate death. All of the evidence says he is alive.

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