Today, we begin to look at what Jesus had to endure so that His birth and incarnation could complete His stated purpose – to “bear witness to the truth”.
- And to do this, it will be necessary to gain an understanding of the contextual background of the events described in our text.
- In other words, there is going to be a lot of history.
John 19:1–3 (ESV) — 1 Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3 They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.
Pilate “took Jesus” back into the Antonia Fortress after the Jews made it clear they did not want Jesus released.
- When back inside the Fortress, Pilate arranged for Jesus to be flogged.
- And then the soldiers engaged in what D.A. Carson calls, “barracks vulgarity”.
- The crown of thorns, purple robe and the hitting.
- There is a great deal more to say on these verses, so we will return to them momentarily.
- Suffice it to say, we will find that the “traditional” view of Jesus’ flogging may need reevaluating.
And BTW – Last week we noted that the Jews would not enter the Gentile fortress because they wanted to remain ceremonially pure for the upcoming feast.
- They wanted to use Pilate the Gentile to kill Jesus, but didn’t want to go in his house.
- And here again they remain outside while Jesus is taken inside to be flogged.
- The irony here is that the “ceremonially pure” Jews in our text were bankrupt morally.
- The Jews were conniving at every moment to have the perfectly, morally pure Jesus murdered.
In fact, this scene epitomizes the very thing over which Jesus clashed with them on numerous occasions.
- Moral Purity vs. Ceremonial Law Purity.
- Jesus addressed this throughout His ministry.
- Matthew 23:23 (ESV) — 23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
- Matthew 21:32 (ESV) — 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you [chief priests and elders] did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
- Mark 2:16–17 (ESV) — 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
John 19:4–7 (ESV) — 4 Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”
After the flogging, Pilate brought Jesus back to the Jews for the second time.
- His words are interesting, “that you many know that I find no guilt in him” (vs. 4).
- Now, John tells us that Jesus came out with a crown of thorns and a purple robe.
- And that Pilate sarcastically declared, “Behold the man!” (vs. 5).
- As in, “Behold the innocent man that is certainly not the threat you say he is”.
How would these actions, given the flogging, convey that Pilate had found “no guilt in him” (vs. 4)?
- For starters, Jesus looked or acted nothing at all like a king.
- He was nothing more than a homeless, humiliated Nazarene.
- And his loyal followers were nowhere to be seen.
- But wait…there is more, and we will get to it when we return to verses 1-3.
So, unfazed by Pilate’s production, the Jews were relentless.
- “…they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’” (vs. 6)
- Pilate mocked them a little, “Take him yourselves and crucify him” (vs. 6)
- He knew this would be an impossibility.
- And for the third time he declared Jesus’ innocence – “I find no guilt in him” (vs. 6).
They pretty much ignored Pilate and responded with a Levitical law to justify why Jesus must die.
- Leviticus 24:16 (ESV) — 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.
- Apparently, Jesus blasphemed God because He “made himself the Son of God” (vs. 7).
John captures when this supposed crime took place.
- John 10:30 & 34-38 (ESV) — 30 I and the Father are one [in action].”…34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
- BTW – “…the claim of being God’s son need not be blasphemous and may refer to the anointed king of Israel (2 Sam. 7:14; p 534 Ps. 2:7; 89:26–27) or to the Messiah…” – Kostenberger.
After the revelation that Jesus claimed to be the “Son of God”, Pilate begins to come across as rattled.
- Let’s take a look.
John 19:8–11 (ESV) — 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
There are two things going on here.
- (1) Why was Pilate afraid?
- (2) The Sovereignty of God.
(1) Why was Pilate afraid?
- We know that up to this point Pilate seemed anything but afraid.
- He was sarcastic, mocking and pragmatic (“What is truth?”), but not afraid.
- Carson describes him as “cynical and blunt”.
- It turns out that scholars (Kostenberger, Carson, Beasley-Murray) suggest that the Greek in vs. 8 doesn’t mean Pilate was previously afraid and then became more afraid.
But what it may mean, we are told is:
- His superstitious worldview was set in motion with the association of Jesus with a “Son of God”.
- The Greco-Roman worldview contained a belief in what are called “‘divine men’, gifted individuals who were believed to enjoy certain ‘divine’ powers” – D.A. Carson.
- We see this in action in Acts 14:11.
- Barnabas as Zeus/Paul as Hermes.
So Pilate’s fear may have been because he just flogged and mocked one of these “divine men” as he understood the term.
- Not a good thing to do.
- And we also can’t forget that in Matthew 27:19, Pilate’s wife told Pilate to have “nothing to do with that righteous man”.
- The gravity of all this may have struck Pilate at once.
(2) The Sovereignty of God – “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above…” (vs. 11).
- The Sovereignty of God is something we have addressed throughout our time in John.
- Whether it was with the “born again” in John 3, the “drawn” in John 6, Jesus’ “hour” in John 7, or “the given” in John 17, we have continually encountered the Sovereignty of God at every level.
- John 3:8 (ESV) — 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
- John 3:27 (ESV) — 27 John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.
- John 6:44 (ESV) — 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
- John 7:30 (ESV) — 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
- John 17:6 (ESV) — 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
And the following Scriptures also give us a small taste of this huge subject.
- 1 Chronicles 29:11 (ESV) — 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
- Daniel 2:21 (ESV) — 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
- Romans 13:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Moving on again…
John 19:12–16 (ESV) — 12 From then on [for this reason or temporally] Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.
So having been spooked and faced with what could be a “divine man”, we are told once more that Pilate wants to release Jesus.
- This could certainly be taken as the fourth time in John that we are told Pilate believes Jesus to be innocent (John 18:38; 19:4; 19:6).
- So why, then, did he hand Jesus over to be crucified?
- Was the Jews’ claim, “you are not Caesar’s friend” really enough to sway Pilate?
The answer is yes…and a possible reason why has to do with the tentative nature of Pilate’s power.
- We know that “‘Friend of Caesar’ was a title accorded to persons of honor among the leading men of Rome” – Beasely-Murray.
- We know that Pilate’s mentor and political ally was a man named Aelius Sejanus.
- And that the Roman historian Tacitus said, “Whoever was close to Sejanus had a claim on the friendship of Caesar” – Beasley-Murray.
- Sejanus was the prefect of the Roman Praetorian Guard.
The problem is that Sejanus lost favor with Caesar Tiberius.
- He was seen as a threat to Tiberius’ power and so was executed on October 18 in the year 31.
- So given Pilate’s relationship to Sejanus, it may very well have been that his hold on power in Judea was tentative.
- Therefore, any complaint from the Jewish leadership, or any sign of trouble from Judea could cost Pilate his power.
- “What is truth?” – the truth is that Jesus was to now die or Pilate may lose power.
So the Jews set a political trap for Pilate and he was “captured”.
- And at about 6 a.m. he delivered Jesus over to be crucified.
- And three hours later, we learn from Mark, Jesus would be crucified.
- BTW – these times are estimates (they didn’t have watches).
Now back to verses 1-3.
1) ROMAN PRECRUCIFIXION
We mentioned earlier the “traditional” view of Jesus’ flogging and how it may need reevaluating.
- We also asked earlier how Pilate’s actions in verses 1-3 convey that he had found “no guilt in him” (vs. 4).
- The two issues are related.
- The answer to the question will provide us with a consideration that may require us to rethink our “traditional” view of Jesus’ flogging.
Here is the problem, in John we are presented with a Pilate who, as we have seen, clearly views Jesus as not guilty and not worthy of death.
- In fact, his official finding on Jesus after his interview with him was, “I find no guilt in him” (vs. 18:38).
- And Luke even tells us Pilate said, “I will therefore punish and release him” (Luke 23:16).
- Moreover, in verses 8-11, we also have a scene in which Pilate has another conversation with Jesus.
- This conversation took place with a Jesus who had just been flogged.
So we have from Pilate a not guilty verdict, intent to punish and release, and a short but deep conversation between Pilate and a flogged Jesus.
- Beasley-Murray describes the above as follows:
“Pilate now seeks to satisfy the Jews’ desire that Jesus be punished…Such is the clear intimation of Luke 23:16: Pilate declares that after examination neither he nor Herod found any basis for the Jewish charges, nor ground for inflicting the death penalty. Accordingly he adds: “I will punish him and then release him” – Beasley-Murray.
So, the question arises, does the flogging traditionally associated with this part of Jesus’ precrucifixion fit with what John is telling us about Pilate and his judgment of and interaction with Jesus?
- We have to contend with what we know about the practice of crucifixion by the Romans to find out.
“Roman sources attest to the general sequence of events involved in Roman crucifixion:
- The victim was tortured by various means.
- The victim carried his or her cross-bar (patibulum) to the place of crucifixion.
- The victim was fastened by ropes or nails to the crossbeam.
- The crossbeam and victim were then raised to the wooden post or tree and fastened to it. Occasionally, the post or tree may have had a wooden seat (sedile) for the victim” – LBD.
We also know that these four things happened in succession after the guilty verdict was rendered and death by crucifixion was ordained.
- But, in Jesus’ case, Pilate had declared Jesus to be not guilty.
- And crucifixion had not been ordered at the time of his flogging in John 19:1-3.
It will also help us to know that Rome had three official kinds of flogging.
- And only one was associated with crucifixion.
- (1) “the fustigatio, a beating given for smaller offenses such as hooliganism, often accompanied by a severe warning;
- (2) the flagellatio, a more brutal flogging to which criminals were subjected whose offenses were more serious; and
- (3) the verberatio, the most terrible form of this punishment, regularly associated with other reprisals such as crucifixion” – Kostenberger.
We know that it was the third form that was exacted upon the person who was sentenced to crucifixion.
- But we just said the Jesus had not yet been sentenced to crucifixion yet.
- And importantly, this brutal form of flogging wasn’t alone.
- This flogging was also accompanied by brutal forms of torture.
- “Precrucifixion torture…could also include burning, racking, mutilation, and abuse of the victim’s family” – LBD.
- In fact, the flogging and torture were so brutal that many times a dead body was crucified – DJG.
Plato and Josephus give us a brutal picture of the flogging and torture associated with crucifixion.
- Josephus says of the Jews during the Roman siege of Jerusalem that they were, “‘scourged and subjected to torture of every description’” before they were crucified – DJG.
- Plato gives us some details – “‘[A man] is racked, mutilated, has his eyes burned out, and after having had all sorts of great injuries inflicted on him, and having seen his wife and children suffer the like, is at last impaled (i.e., crucified) or tarred and burned alive’.
- In another text, Plato writes: ‘The just man who is thought to be unjust will be scourged, racked, bound—will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled (i.e., crucified)’” – LBD.
- So the flogging that preceded crucifixion was accompanied with “torture of every description” and “suffering [of] every kind of evil”.
So the answer to our question about Jesus’ flogging in John, is that it does not appear to fit the flogging normally meted out to one sentenced to die by crucifixion.
- In fact, Beasely-Murray says, the flogging Jesus received “…was proposed as an alternative to crucifixion, not, be it noted, as an accompaniment of it” – Beasley-Murray.
- Therefore, “in the present instance, the flogging probably in view is the least severe form, the fustigatio, which was intended in part to appease the Jews and in part to teach Jesus a lesson” – Kostenberger.
- “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” – Craig Keener.
- “…the flogging threatened in Luke and reported here in John is the fustigatio, the least severe form, and was intended partly to appease the Jews and partly to teach Jesus a lesson…” – D.A. Carson.
D.A. Carson goes on to say:
- “…it is hard to imagine any Roman prefect administering the verberatio before sentencing” – D.A. Carson.
- And he says, as we just concluded, that “…it is so brutal that it ill accords with the theme of Luke and of John, that Pilate at first found Jesus innocent and merely wanted to administer enough punishment to be able to appease Jewish officialdom and then let Jesus go” – D.A. Carson.
If this is so, this is why Pilate could flog Jesus, i.e. fustigatio, and declare him not guilty or worthy of death.
- Remember John’s description in 19:4, “Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”
- From Pilate’s point of view, Jesus got the punishment that fit the crime.
- Jesus was not guilty of being a king or aspiring to be a king in any way that concerned Pilate.
- So, Jesus was mocked, beaten and fustigatio, but He was not verberatio and tortured – at least not yet.
This also explains how Pilate could continue to walk back and forth with Jesus in and out of the Fortress.
- And it explains why Pilate could still have a conversation with Jesus.
- Had Jesus been flogged and tortured in the verberatio style, none of this would have been possible.
- And this is why we noted that Carson referred to the soldiers mocking of Jesus as “barracks vulgarity”.
- Their treatment of Jesus was nothing like what one sentenced to crucifixion would receive.
- Remember Josephus and Plato?
But what of Mark and Matthews account of Jesus flogging (Mark 15:15)?
- What of the fact that Jesus couldn’t carry His crossbeam?
- What of the fact that Jesus died so quickly?
- So quickly, in fact, that his bones weren’t broken.
If all these guys are right about Jesus’ flogging in John, How do we explain all these facts?
- The explanation is that Jesus was flogged twice!
- “After the sentence of crucifixion, Jesus was scourged again, this time in the most severe form, the verberatio” – Kostenberger.
- “…this means that Jesus received a second scourging, the wretched verberatio, after the sentence of crucifixion was passed” – D.A. Carson.
So it is here that the traditional view may need revising.
- On His way to being “lifted up” and glorified on the cross of Calvary, Jesus was flogged, beaten and mocked two times.
And from what we know of Roman precrucifixion and crucifixion, what Jesus endured was far worse than we previously thought – if that was possible.
- Due to “literary-aesthetic considerations” present at the time, the extent of, and the exact nature of an individual precrucifixion and crucifixion were not detailed – DJG.
- We can hardly imagine the flogging and torture Jesus was subjected to when the sentence of crucifixion was pronounced.
“And unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Child is given.”
- But all this was, as Jesus said, so that He might bear witness to the truth.
Bonus Material – Lexicon Info for John, Luke, and Mark’s “flogging”:
Mastigoo – Greek for flogging in John 19:1.
(a) of flogging as a punishment decreed by the synagogue (Dt 25:2f; s. the Mishna Tractate Sanhedrin-Makkoth, edited w. notes by SKrauss ’33) w. acc. of pers. Mt 10:17; 23:34. Of the beating administered to Jesus J 19:1. If John refers to the ‘verberatio’ given those condemned to death (TMommsen, Röm. Strafrecht 1899, 938f; Jos., Bell. 2, 308; 5, 449), it is odd that Pilate subsequently claims no cause for action (vs. 6); but if the latter statement refers only to the penalty of crucifixion, μ. vs. 1 may be equivalent to παιδεύω [the paideuo found in Luke] (q.v. 2bγ) in Lk 23:16, 22 (for μ.of a non-capital offense PFlor I, 61, 61 [85A.D.]=Mitt-Wilck. II/2, 80 II, 61).
Paideou – Greek for flogging in Luke 23:16.
(2) to assist in the development of a person’s ability to make appropriate choices, practice discipline.
γ. discipline by whipping or scourging (Vi. Aesopi G 61 P.; 3 Km 12:11, 14; 2 Ch 10:11, 14) Lk 23:16, 22.
Phragelloo – Greek for flogging in Mark 15:15.
in Christian usage [s. end of this entry]; but cp. TestBenj 2:3 and Aesop fr. the Cod. Paris. 1277: CRochefort, Notices et Extraits II  719 no. 19) 1 aor. ἐφραγέλλωσα (Lat. loanw.: flagello; s. φραγέλλιον) flog, scourge, a punishment inflicted on slaves and provincials after a sentence of death had been pronounced on them. So in the case of Jesus before the crucifixion (cp. Jos., Bell. 2, 306 οὓς μάστιξιν προαικισάμενος ἀνεσταύρωσεν [sc. Φλῶρος]; 5, 449; Lucian, Pisc. 2) Mt 27:26; Mk 15:15