“Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.” (John 19:1-3)
Oftentimes, the most significant statements found in the Scriptures can be easily overlooked. Such is the case with John 19:1-3. We have here in today’s text a series of statements regarding Pontius Pilate’s treatment of Jesus prior to His crucifixion. They chronicle the despicable treatment the Lord received on our behalf.
First of all, what is meant by the word “flogged?” It comes from the Greek word μαστιγόω (mastigoo). It means to severely whip or to beat or scourge with a whip. The IVP Bible Background Commentary of the New Testament provides us with some valuable insight into the first century practice of flogging.
Severe scourgings often preceded crucifixions. Beatings were a regular punishment themselves, but flogging and scourging, much more severe, were part of the death sentence. Because Pilate has not yet pronounced sentence, the beating Jesus receives is a lesser one. Pilate may hope that the blood it draws would satisfy Jesus’ accusers (19:5)—but this is an unlikely supposition (18:31). In the provinces, soldiers normally administered this punishment. Free Romans were beaten with rods, soldiers with sticks, but slaves and probably despised non-Romans with whips whose leather thongs enclosed sharp pieces of metal or bone. Jewish law allowed only thirty-nine lashes; Roman law allowed scourging till the soldier grew tired, and texts report that bones or entrails were sometimes bared.
Luke 23:16 says, “I will therefore punish and release him.” Pilate thought that by having Jesus mercilessly beaten it would satisfy the blood lust of the crowd. Not so!
Secondly, the soldiers then made a crown of thorns and placed it on Jesus’ head. They also clothed Him with a purple robe. The IVP Commentary explains that, “Greek vassal princes typically wore a purple chlamys—purple dye being the most expensive—and a wreath of gilded leaves. The “purple robe” that the soldiers put on Jesus may have been a faded scarlet lictor’s robe or an old rug. The crown of thorns, perhaps from the branches of the thorny acanthus shrub or from the date palm (the latter would have looked more realistic), may have been meant to turn mainly outward (mimicking the wreaths of Hellenistic kings) rather than painfully inward; nevertheless, some thorns must have scraped inward, drawing blood from Jesus’ scalp. Only the highest king would wear an actual crown instead of a wreath, so they are portraying him as a vassal prince.”
Finally, the soldiers then began to further mock Jesus by sarcastically hailing Him as the King of the Jews. Dr. John Walvoord writes, “The flogging, the mocking crown of thorns and purple robe, the ridiculing in hailing Him King of the Jews, and the physical blows on His face—these were all part of Jesus’ deep humiliation as He was identified with human sin as the Servant of the Lord (cf. Isa. 50:6; 52:14–53:6). (Matthew and Mark added that the soldiers spit on Jesus [Matt. 27:30; Mark 15:19].) The thorns on His head are mindful of the curse of thorns caused by human sin (Gen. 3:18).”
However, the sovereign plan of God was well in place. John Calvin writes, “But all of this is directed by God, in order to reconcile the world to Himself by the death of His Son.”
Lest we condemn Pilate too severely because of his actions, let us take notice of the mockery and rejection which continues to this day regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. As John Calvin concludes: “We all condemn Pilate; and yet it is shameful to relate that there so many Pilates in the world who scourge Christ not only in His members but also in His doctrine. There are many who, for the purpose of saving the life of those who are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, constrain them wickedly to deny Christ. Others select and approve of certain parts of the Gospel and yet tear the whole Gospel to pieces.”
Take a moment today to meditate upon the scene we have examined today. All of this was part of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement on the sinner’s behalf. Respond to the Lord with praise, worship and thanksgiving for His unspeakable gift of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
May God’s truth and grace reside here.
Soli deo Gloria!