[Mark 15:15] “So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified....”
The order of activity provided by Mark presents an interesting flow of events:
Fearing the pro-Barabbas mob that had gathered outside his courts and with things tense with Rome the last thing Pilate could afford politically was word of further unrest getting back to Tiberius. To avoid any problems Pilate decides to first “release Barabbas” so that he could “gratify the crowd.”
Then Pilate “delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified” hoping this act would appease the religious leaders clamoring for Jesus’ death.
Note: The phrasing provided indicates the scourging came before the sentencing.
According to John’s Gospel it would seem the scourging might have been one final attempt by Pilate to appease the religious leaders without actually killing Jesus.
In the first century, a scouring was used to coerce a confession out of the prisoner.
If you started talking, the beating would be lightened. If you remained silent, the beating intensified. Never before had a man endured such a beating without uttering a word!
After the scouring, Jesus is brought back to Pilate where He’s presented one final time before the people.... sadly [Matthew 27:24] “When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus and led Him away.”
Three things jump out at me about Pilate:
1. He knew Jesus was innocent.
2. He tried everything in his power to avoid making a decision.
3. Though he tried to wash his hands concerning the matter, the reality is that Pilate was the only who could decide Jesus’ fate.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, for the rest of history Pilate would be known by this one decision he made concerning Jesus. Deciding what to do with the man from Nazareth would end up being the most important decision he would ever make.
The Apostles Creed: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried....”
- Sadly, Pilate willingly ignored divine revelation.
He intentionally went against his own conscience.
He resisted the warnings of a wife who loved him.
He was easily swayed by the opinions of others.
In the end Pilate cared more about his present life than the one to come.
Ironically, Pilate made his decision to “gratify the crowd,” and yet just a few years later the Jews rioted anyway and Pilate found himself being banished to Vienna (Austria) where he would die a man in disgrace.
Imagine the moment Pilate found himself standing before Judge Jesus.
One Silver Lining: According to tradition Pilate’s wife (Claudia Procula) ended up becoming a follower of Jesus and was influential in the early church.
In his final letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul (writing possibly from Europe or Rome) closes by telling Timothy that “Claudia sent her greetings....”
Before Pilate sends Jesus to the scourging floor, He is already in bad shape.
Jesus has been betrayed and abandoned by His friends which has not only caused physiological and emotional stress, but increased inflammation levels in His body.
Note to mention, during these 6 different trials Jesus is worked over: He’s struck in the face for remaining silent when questioned and He’s blindfold, beaten, and spit upon as He’s taunted to name His attackers.
Note: Before He’s scourged Jesus is already battered, bruised, swollen, bleeding, dehydrated, lonely, been slandered, falsely accused, and sleep deprived.
Mark sees no need to elaborate on a Roman scourging, mainly because his audience was all to familiar with the process. That said.... I want to explain a Roman scourging.
1. Jesus is stripped naked and His hands are tied to a post above His head.
2. He is then whipped with a flagrum 39 times across his shoulders, neck, back, and legs. A flagrum was a short whip consisting of several heavy, leather thongs with small bits of stone, rocks, or glass attached to each end.
“At first the heavy thongs cut through the skin only. Then, as the blows continue, they cut deeper into subcutaneous tissues, producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin, and finally spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying muscles. The small balls of lead first produce large, deep bruises which are broken open by subsequent blows. Finally the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death or that he has begun to confess his trespasses, the beating is stopped or lessened.”
Question: Why would God allow Jesus to be scourged?
I understand why Jesus would need to die to save me from my sins, but any rational person has to view His scourging as being a bit excessive. Why not create a scenario whereby Jesus would experience a peaceful, quick, painless death?
A#1: The scourging demonstrated the utter brutality of mankind.
A#2: The scourging reinforced Jesus’ sinlessness and innocence.
A#3: The scourging highlighted the depth of Jesus’ love for me.
A#4: The scourging illustrated God’s righteous response to sin.
[Mark 15:16-20] “Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.”
Scene of Activity
Following His scourging Jesus is untied and allowed to slump onto the stone pavement. Drenched in His own blood and in shock from the beating most men didn’t survive.
From there “the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium” which was a holding area located in the bowls of the Fortress of Antonio.
As they wait for Pilate to make his final ruling, the soldiers decide to kill the time.
They throw a robe across His shoulders (which instantly becomes saturated with blood). Then they place a stick in His hand for a scepter and press a crown of large thorns into His scalp which produces copious amounts of bleeding.
Note: “Crown of Thorns” - According to Genesis 3 the very existence of thorns are a direct consequence of the fall of mankind.
As they mock and taunt Him as the “King of the Jews” Jesus is struck repeatedly across the face. The verb tense indicates a continual “hitting and spitting.”
At some point the makeshift scepter is removed from His hand and used to strike Him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. The Bible tells us they even plucked the beard from His face.
As they prepare to leave, the robe (which had already become adherent to the blood and serum in His wounds) is torn from his back causing excruciating pain.
A bloody, deformed Jesus (who is hardly recognizable) is brought from the “Praetorium” back to Pilate’s chambers where he’s presented to the crowd one final time.
Since it becomes clear the will of the religious leaders is for Jesus to be executed, Pilate reluctantly utters the formal declaration: “You shall mount the cross!”
A heavy, unsanitary wooden beam weighting around 150 pounds was then tied across His shoulders and Jesus is forced to begin the slow journey towards the execution site.
Typically, they hung a sign around a prisoner’s neck publicly declaring the crime he had committed. As we’ll see in Jesus’ case “the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
Understand: Crucifixion was not just about killing a person, it was a PR event designed to tell the masses what would happen to revolutionaries and criminals.
As Jesus makes the journey to the execution site it would appear the weight of the beam coupled with His blood loss and fatigue caused Jesus to stumble and fall gouging the rough wood into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders.
[Mark 15:21] Since the soldiers recognize Jesus will be unable to carry the cross the remainder of the way.... “Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross.”
Not wanting to carry the timber themselves, the Roman soldiers invoke their “Agrarian Right” randomly picking out a bystander from the crowd to carry the timber the rest of the way. (A person was obligated to carry anything a Roman soldier desired for one mile.)
Mark tells us the random bystander was a man known as “Simon the Cyrenian.”
“Simon” was a common Jewish name. “The Cyrenian” indicated he was from Northern Africa. More in likely his Jewish family had been displaced at some point.
Mark tells us Simon was “the father of Alexander and Rufus” indicating he was someone most within Christianity would have been familiar. According to Romans 16:13 Alexander and Rufus were key leaders in the early church.
I am sure in the moment Simon hated what these Roman soldiers were “compelling” him to do. He had traveled a great distance from North Africa to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover. He had not come to carry the cross for a criminal deserving of death.
Though in the moment it was a matter of grave inconvenience, in retrospect Simon would look back on this moment as being the most important thing he ever did.
Q: Aside from the physical limitations, why didn’t Jesus bear His own cross?
A: Though a minor detail in Mark’s narrative, I believe Jesus is teaching His followers a very important principle.... no man can carry his own cross!
In Mark 8:34 Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Jesus invokes the cross because it symbolized brokenness, death, total surrender.
The cross Jesus spoke of carried such a weight that it couldn’t be carried by the one it was intending to execute. The only thing this cross would do is drive a man to his knees in surrender.
“We can only pick up the cross. We can only choose the death of self. The deed itself must be carried out by another.... a Savior must carry the cross for us.”
[Mark 15:22] “And the Roman soldiers brought Jesus along with Simon to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.”
“Golgotha” is the Greek transcription of an Aramaic term meaning “Place of a Skull.”
In the Greek the phrase is translated “Kraniou Tôpos.” In Latin we get the phrase “Calvariae Locus” from which we derive the English word “Calvary.”
At Calvary John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Mark indicates this was “the place” known in the day as “Golgotha.”
1. Some see “Golgotha” as being a geographical descriptive reference to as a hill resembling a skullcap located outside one of the gates of Jerusalem.
2. Since “Golgotha” can be translated as “Gol Goatha” others believe it actually referred to a “mount of execution” - a common place for executions outside the city.
3. Others believe the word indicated a mount located near a cemetery.
4. Finally, it could be that “Golgotha” is just a contraction of “Goliath of Gath” and was the location where King David ultimately buried the head of the giant.
History has wrestled with the actual location of Golgotha.
Biblical and Historical clues:
As a place of execution it was outside the city (no more than 1 mile).
As a place of execution it was on a common roadway (public execution).
The location was in close proximity to a garden graveyard for the nobility.
A wealthy man named “Joseph of Arimathea” buried Jesus is his tomb.
“Mary Magdalene” mistook the resurrected Jesus for a gardener.
From the location you could see into the inner courts of the Temple.
Mark 15:38-39 “Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that (present tense) He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, “Truly this Man was the Son of God!”
Tatian (160 AD) “And immediately the face of the door of the temple was rent into two parts from top to bottom... And the officer of the foot soldiers, and they that were with him who were guarding Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things which came to pass, feared greatly, and praised God, and said, This man was righteous; and, truly he was the Son of God. And all the multitudes that were come together to the sight, when they saw what came to pass, returned and smote upon their breasts.”
Two Theories as to the location of Golgotha:
1. The traditional location derives its identification from Helena, the mother of Constantine. In 325 AD the “Church of the Holy Sepulcher” was built on the site.
2. Though not officially recognized by any church, many protestants believe a rock face resembling the face of a skull located Northwest of the “Church of the Holy Sepulcher” near the “Garden Tomb” is actually the site of Golgotha.
Problem: Neither of these locations factor in the ability of those at the cross of Calvary to view into the Temple to see the tearing of the veal.
To me the only location that fits is the Mount of Olives.
1. It fits within the Biblical requirements.
The Mount of Olives is located on a popular roadway outside the city of Jerusalem.
At the southern base of the Mount of Olives was not only the Garden of Gethsemane, but also a graveyard specifically designated for the nobility of Jerusalem.
Since the Temple faced East and the Mount of Olives was located East of the city, this seems to be the only location that would provide a perfect view directly into the Temple.
Mishnah, “All the Temple walls were high, save only the eastern wall, because the High Priest that burns the Red Heifer and stands on the top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the Sanctuary when the blood of the Red Heifer is sprinkled.”
2. It presents a location consistent with Biblical symbolism.
Geographically the ramifications are powerful: If Jesus was being led from the Roman “Fortress of Antonio” to the Mount of Olives He would exit the city from the North through the “Sheep Gate” where He would once again find Himself crossing through the blood filled Kidron Valley before making the ascent up the Mount of Olives.
The perfect “Lamb of God” passing from the “Sheep Gate” through the blood of the Passover sacrifices to be sacrificed Himself seems symbolically consistent.
Not to mention, the symbolism of Jesus’ blood mixing with the blood of the atoning sacrifice further reinforces a powerful picture.
Scripturally the activity seems consistent: Though most all of the activity of the Priests occurred within the Temple precincts, the Law demanded two activities occur outside the eastern walls (Mount of Olives).
1. The Scapegoat. According to Leviticus 16, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to cast lots in order to designate the fate of two identical goats (interesting lots were cast by the Romans before Jesus execution).
The Talmud stipulated these two goats be identical in size, color, and value (in both goats we find their fulfillment in one man: Jesus).
As the die was cast one goat was to be designated for the LORD and would be sacrificed in the Temple as a sin offering for the people.... with the second goat (the scapegoat), atoned for by the sacrifice of the first, being taken outside the eastern wall and released into the wilderness symbolically removing sin from the people.
From this same location Jesus would not only atone for the sins of the people, but by His sacrifice we now find the permanent removing of sin once and for all.
2. The Red Heifer. According to the “Law of Purification from Sin” outlined in Numbers 19, a red heifer "without spot" and “without a yoke” was to be slaughtered and burned outside the camp.
The ashes of the heifer would then be preserved for future use as a "purification for sin" for anyone who incurred defilement through contact with the dead.
This water offering (mixture of ash and water) was not a regular offering, only an occasional ceremony being universal in its scope and reach. The red heifer was a congregational, or corporate sacrifice made for all people Jew and gentile.
The ashes were viewed as being sufficient for all the people and the onetime sacrifice universal. Therefore, when a person needed purification, a fresh heifer was not required to be sacrificed. The sacrifice of one heifer was sufficient for all!
[Hebrews 9:11-14] “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come.... Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Jesus was sacrificed once and for all outside the camp in the same location of the Red Heifer (the Mount of Olives according to the Mishnah) for the purification of the sin of all men! And because He was “without spot” and “without yoke” His one time sacrifice was permanent and sufficient for all!
In many ways the sacrifice of the red heifer itself was a picture of the cross. According to Numbers 19 “the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer.”
Note: According to Leviticus 14:4-6, each of these three items are used in the cleansing ceremony for a leper (a picture of the sinner).
- Cedar: Jesus was crucified on a cross made from cedar.
- Hyssop: Jesus was offered drink from a hyssop branch on the cross.
Scarlet: Picturing the cleansing blood of Jesus.
Numbers 19:1-3, “Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him....”
It is significant that the act of offering the red heifer was designated not by Moses (the Law) or by Aaron (the priest), but by “Eleazar” who’s name literally means “God has helped.”
Beyond this the significance of the Mount of Olives doesn’t end there.
It’s not an accident that the Mount of Olives was the location of Jesus’ ascension into heaven (Acts) as well as His future return to earth (Revelation).
According to Zechariah when Jesus returns to the Mount of Olives the mountain will split in two creating a valley that will flow from east to west with a spring of water rushing out replenish and restore the earth.
Upon this same mountain Christ was broken and from His sacrifice also would proceeded “Living Water” able to quench man’s spiritual thirst and permanently restore him to God.
Beyond this the Mount of Olives almost always speaks of “separation.”
The Mountain itself is formed by the separation of two summits: the northern summit separated from the southern summit by a narrow inlet.
In Ezekiel, the prophet sees the “glory of the Lord” depart from the Holy of Holies leaving the Temple and the holy city only to “stop above the mountain east of it.”
Matthew Henry, “God separated Himself from the vileness of His people.”
In the garden as He prepared Himself for His coming arrest and execution Jesus separated Himself from the disciples to spend time in prayer.
Upon His ascension Jesus further separated Himself bodily from the Church so that He might send the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts.
When He returns to establish His kingdom the Mount of Olives will split in two before Jesus separates the elect from the wicked whom He’ll destroy and judge.
If we keep with this imagery, as Jesus hangs on the cross on the Mount of Olives He will experience the ultimate separation when His Father forsakes Him.