After a lengthly conversation with Him in which Jesus was officially interrogated to see if He was indeed guilty of any wrong doing, in John 18:38 Pilate makes a bold declaration that he “found no fault in Jesus at all!” In Pilate’s estimation Jesus was not guilty — totally innocent!
Understandably, this particular verdict didn’t sit well with these religious men out for blood. They were outraged and demanded Pilate reconsider. Recognizing this was becoming a political hot-potato, in an attempt to skirt making a definitive decision, Pilate chooses to send Jesus to King Herod to make a determination after learning He was a Galilean.
In this appearance before Herod Jesus refuses to answer any of his questions. As such it doesn’t take long for Herod to grow board ultimately deciding to send Jesus back to Pilate. If there was a silver-lining for Pilate at least Herod officially agreed that Jesus was innocent.
By the time we get to chapter 19 Pilate is certain of two things: Jesus was innocent! And He was being set up by the religious establishment. In both Mark 15:10 and in Matthew 27:18 we are told that by this point in the scheme Pilate had come to the realization “they had handed Jesus over because of envy.” They were jealous of His popularity!
And if that weren’t enough… In Matthew 27:19 we are given a behind the scenes detail that Pilate’s wife had actually sent him a message that morning warning him to “have nothing to do with that just Man” claiming she had “suffered many things in a dream because of Him.”
There is no question Pilate finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place. He knows Jesus is innocent, but he’s also aware of the political repercussions that were likely to ensue if he were to toe the line, obey his conscience, and rule against Annas and Caiaphas. The last thing Pilate needed was a riot in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover!
Hoping for a way out of his predicament Pilate comes before the people who were starting to amass that morning outside the Praetorium with a proposal… John 18:39-40, “You have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” To his shock and dismay “they all cried, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’” Pilate’s plan backfires and now his predicament has just worsened.
John 19:1-3, “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.”
Because Pilate is in this political pickle he decides to have “Jesus scourged” for two reasons: First, a Roman scourging intended to coax a confession out of a prisoner. Pilate is thinking he may have an out if Jesus — who he knows to be innocent — confesses under duress.
The second motivation behind the scourging was an attempt to appease this blood-thirsty mob without being forced to make an official ruling that defied his own conscience. Pilate is hoping the scourging might help him avoid condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion.
Before we discuss the actual scourging, I want you to first imagine the current state of Jesus’ physical condition. Back in the Garden of Gethsemane knowing what was coming — as He prayed we’re told Jesus suffered from a phenomenon known as hemathidrosis.
In Luke 22:44 we read, “And being in agony, Jesus prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Medically, hemathidrosis results when great emotional stress causes the tiny capillaries in the sweat glands to rupture mixing blood with a person’s sweat. Even before the first punch Jesus is emotionally drained.
Aside from this, during the five trials Jesus has already experienced this night before the scourging (Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and King Herod) the Gospel narratives record how Jesus was struck in the face when He replied to Annas. Then struck in the face when He decided to remain silent before Caiaphas. Additionally, we’re told that at one point Jesus was even blindfold, beaten, and spat upon as He’s taunted to name His attackers.
By the time Jesus is sent to be scourged by Pilate at the opening of John 19, He’s already battered, bruised, swollen, bleeding, dehydrated, and sleep deprived. He’s been up all night.
Once Pilate gave the official order Jesus would have been taken from the Praetorium to a place known in Hebrew as “Gabbatha” or “The Pavement.” Note: Gabbatha was a public place located in the bowels of the Fortress of Antonio and near the official judgment seat.
I don’t mean to be overly graphic, but it’s important you know what actually happens… First, Jesus would have been stripped naked and His hands tied to a post above His head.
Then two trained Roman soldiers would proceed to whip Him 39 times across his shoulders, neck, back, and legs with what was known as a flagrum. A flagrum or a “cat of nine tales” as it is more commonly referred too was a short whip that consisted of several heavy, leather thongs that had weaved into its ends small bits of stone, rocks, or glass. Every strike of the flagrum intended to inflict incredible bodily harm. A scourging was utterly barbaric!
Let me read for you one historical description of an eyewitness account of a scourging… “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 then 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, the beating is stopped.”
Following the scourging, Jesus’ hands would be untied and His body allowed to slump onto the stone pavement below. Not only is Jesus a bloody mess, but you can image He’s involuntarily wet and defecated Himself. John then tells us to add insult to injury “the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.”
Imagine this… After they’ve finished scourging Jesus these Roman soldiers throw a “purple robe” across His shoulders which instantly becomes saturated with His blood. Then they press a crown of large thorns into His scalp. Since the scalp is vascular there is copious bleeding. In another place we read how they also place a stick in His hand as a scepter.
Aside from the humiliation of playing “dress-up” after being scourged, these evil men proceed to mock and taunt Jesus hailing Him the “King of the Jews” as they repeatedly strike Him across the face. As you play this scene out in your mind you can see the soldiers take the makeshift scepter from His hand and strike Him across the head driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. The Bible tells us they even plucked the beard from His face.
In describing Jesus’ physical appearance by the time He’s returned to the Praetorium and presented to Pilate, the Scriptures tells us Jesus was completely unrecognizable as a man.
John 19:4-5, “Pilate then went out again, and said to them, ‘Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.’ Then Jesus came out (again He’s just been scourged and humiliated), wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’” (“Behold” — see or look at Him!)
Contextually, I read very little pomp into Pilate’s declaration. The scourging of Jesus was designed to avoid His crucifixion. A confession would have been best for Pilate, but the presentation of Jesus in such a state was designed to awaken pity among His enemies.
No doubt Pilate was taken aback with what happens next… John 19:6, “Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Jesus (Pilate is hoping for pity), they cried out (kept crying out or screaming), saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate (astonished by this reaction) said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’”
On at least three occasions Pilate has ruled that Jesus was innocent. Again, he declares, “I find no fault with Him.” At this point in our story Pilate’s back is against the wall. The religious leaders are trying to force his hand by any means necessary. This statement, “You take Him and crucify Him” clearly intended to articulate his frustration over the entire situation.
John 19:7-9, “The Jews answered Pilate, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’ Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, ‘Where are You from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.”
Up until this point the religious leaders have refused to specify what Jesus had exactly done to warrant death. Now sensing a need to justify themselves they tell Pilate that Jesus “ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” What’s interesting is that “when Pilate heard that he was the more afraid.” In the original language Pilate was terrified!
Pilate had just scourged a man who claimed to be a king — not a man who claimed to be the Son of God! Superstitious, Pilate swiftly brings Jesus back “into the Praetorium” and ask Him, “Where are You from?” Pilate is now begging for Jesus to explain Himself — to give him a reason to justify letting Him go! It’s as though Pilate asks, “Who are you really?”
Now in response to Jesus’ deafening silence… John 19:10, “Then Pilate said to Him, ‘Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?’” In light of the fact Pilate believed he held Jesus’ destiny in his hands, he’s astonished Jesus said nothing. “Why aren’t you begging for me to let you go?”
John 19:11, “Jesus answered, ‘You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.’” Pilate is already afraid of Jesus. In all his years of making judgments he’s never experienced a situation like this. His religious beliefs based in Roman mythology coupled with the claim of Jesus being the “Son of God” unsettled him even further.
Notice what results… John 19:12-13, “From then on Pilate sought to release Jesus, but the Jews cried out, saying, ‘If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.’ When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.”
Not only has Pilate been convinced of Jesus’ innocence since the initial interrogation, now we’re told he actively “sought to release Him.” Enough was enough. Pilate has had enough. It’s time to end the charade and release Jesus in defiance of the angry mob.
It’s at this point the Jewish leaders decide it’s finally time to play their ultimate trump card… Because Jesus “made himself out to be a king” they now argue that “if Pilate let Him go, he was not Caesar’s friend.” They rightly understood the one thing Pilate had to maintain at all costs was a healthy relationship with Rome and more specifically Tiberius Caesar.
Pilate is in a tough place. Historically, we know that because of his heavy hand and several riots that had taken place under his watch there was a real tension between he and Rome. No longer is this simply a matter of his own conscious. The greater calculous was now whether or not Pilate was willing to loose everything for a Man he’s just met.
Sadly, Pilate is about to make the most devastating decision of his life. John recalls how he now “sat down in the judgment seat” which was located at Gabbatha and has Jesus brought out before the people for a final time. His definitive ruling in this matter is about to be made.
John 19:14-15, “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And Pilate said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But 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!’”
It’s at this point Matthew 27:23-24 tells us Pilate said, “‘Why, what evil has He done?’ But they cried out all the more, saying, ‘Let Him be crucified!’ 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.’”
John then writes… John 19:16-18, “Then Pilate delivered Jesus to them to be crucified. Then they took Jesus and led Him away. And He, bearing His cross, went out to a place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified Him, and two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.”
In verse 18 John says so much with just three words, “They crucified Him.” Once again, I want you to have a complete picture of what’s actually happening here… Following Pilate’s official ruling that Jesus was to be executed via Roman crucifixion, a few minutes before 9 AM He is taken by a few soldiers and prepped for the long walk to Golgotha.
First, the purple robe that has likely adhered to the blood and serum oozing from His wounds is torn from Jesus’ back causing excruciating pain. Then a heavy, blood-stained, dirty, unsanitary wooden beam used specifically for crucifixions was tied across His shoulders.
Now with the weight of this beam on his back Jesus is forced to begin the slow journey down a road known as the Via Dolorosa towards the execution site. You can imagine the weight of the beam coupled with Jesus’ physical condition causes Him to repeatedly stumble and fall.
With each tumble to the ground the rough wood gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of His shoulders ravaged from the scourging. Physically, Jesus has been pushed beyond His human limits. In fact, at some point the soldiers end up picking a bystander from the crowd by the name of Simon and force him to carry the cross the rest of the way. Even with this relief an exhausted Jesus must still make Himself walk to “the Place of a Skull!”
Around 9 AM Jesus arrives at Golgotha where the crossbeam is attached to the vertical beam already in place. Jesus is thrown backward with His shoulders pressed firmly against the wood. His hands are then tied and forced outward upon the beam dislocating His shoulder joints. The legionnaire quickly drives a heavy, wrought-iron nail through Jesus’ right wrist deep into the wood. He then moves to the other side and repeats this with the left.
With His hands now secured to the crossbeam Jesus’ left foot is pressed back against the right — and with both feet extended onto a small platform a solitary nail is driven through the arch of each foot and into the secondary vertical beam. Once this has been completed the cross is lifted into the air and dropped into place sending a jolt of pain through Jesus’ body.
Most terribly, the only way Jesus can avoid the stretching torment in His hands is by pushing Himself upward placing His full weight on the nail driven through His feet. Each time this happen Jesus experiences pure agony as the nail begins to tear the nerves between the metatarsal bones. A Roman crucifixion was so abhorrent our English word “excruciating” is actually derived from the Latin word meaning “out of the cross.”
While the shortest crucifixion according to Roman records lasted 32 hours and the longest 13 days, because of the scourging Jesus will be dead in only six hours!
Next Sunday and the weeks to come I plan to wrap up our discussion concerning Pilate and dig into the motivations of this blood-thirsty mob. Aside from this I plan to dive into the actual location of Golgotha and continue our examination of Jesus’ experience on the cross… At some point I even plan to talk about the Passover and the exact day in which Jesus died.
And though there is so much to unpack, this morning I want to spend the time we have remaining by looking at the picture John presents for us in verse 18. He writes, “Where they crucified Him” there were “two others with Him, one on either side, and Jesus in the center.”
First, I’m struck by the image of Jesus on a cross between two sinners! How could such a thing happen? What a tragedy! Yes, there is no doubt the Jewish leaders instigated Jesus’ death. Sure, Pilate capitulated and sanctioned His execution. Indeed, it was the legionnaires who carried out the dastardly deed. And without question Satan gloated over His torment.
But never forget the one central truth essential to understanding why Jesus was crucified… It was God the Father who sacrificed the Son! God killed Jesus! To this point look no further than John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (the Lamb of God), that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Understand, the horrors Jesus Christ experienced on this particular day (including the scourging, humiliation, and crucifixion) encompassed the wrath of God towards sin — the consequence of your sin! It just so happens because of His love Jesus died in your place.
You see the punches Jesus took from those guards were meant for your face. The lashes Jesus endured from the flagrum were meant for your back. The cross Jesus was laid upon by the legionnaire had your name upon it. The nails which pierced His hands and feet had been sized for yours. And yet, Jesus willing took it all upon Himself because He loved you!
Aside from this, how interesting to the right and left of Him we find two guilty men — cohorts of Barabbas. Two men convicted of crimes they indeed committed with “Jesus in the center!”
What a picture! Two nameless sinners hung to each of His sides. What’s interesting is that Scripture provides no distinction between either men. They both began the day in prison — both were declared guilty of the same crime — both condemned to an identical death.
Scripture declared that both of these men were transgressors of the law and there was nothing either man could do to save himself. In fact, each man had his hands and feet nailed to a cross totally incapacitated. Each man’s fate was inescapable and unavoidable!
On this day two rebels hung the same distance from Jesus — each man was given the same amount of revelation — each within earshot of Jesus’ Words from the cross — each able to watch the way in which Jesus lovingly handled His accusers. Amazingly, each of these men heard Jesus pray (Luke 23:34), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!”
Two rebels hung the same distance from the Savior — each the same distance from eternal separation and each a chance to be permanently forgiven and restored. Each of these men found themselves the same distance from God’s righteous wrath and each His amazing grace — Each could experience salvation and life or everlasting condemnation and death.
Beyond this two rebels were each provided the same opportunity — both men would die on the cross upon which they hung, but they were each given the opportunity to go to heaven instead of hell. Though both were unable to do anything to earn God’s favor, each man was given a final chance to ask Jesus to save them and each could place their faith in Him.
Two identical rebels — sinners hung the same distance from Jesus — men who could accept or reject Him as their Savior. While Mark tells us these two rebels initially “reviled Jesus,” according to Luke 23:39-43 something amazing happens — In fact, a difference emerges!
Luke records that one of these two criminals begins to verbally “blaspheme Jesus, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
Though virtually everything about these two men was identical, because of their differing positions concerning Jesus, these two men would ultimately awaken to two radically different eternal realities. The rebel who rejected Jesus would be lost, while the other who placed his eternal faith in Jesus as his Lord would awaken with Him in Paradise.
Understand, two rebels on two crosses situated between Jesus illustrate for us two amazing truths. First, Jesus came to save rebels. He came to redeem sinners. It’s not that Jesus would save one and not the other — it’s that He was willing to save one of them at all!
Secondly, this scene is so important for it illustrates the idea that our eternal salvation has nothing to do with our actions, but His… Our works matter not in the context of His work! We are not saved by the sacrifices we make for God, but the Sacrifice He offered for us!
Please know your salvation is not based upon what you do, but is rather based upon what He did on that third cross and whether or not you accept that! That one man was saved by His faith in Jesus and His petition that Jesus save Him! As his hands and feet were nailed to his cross meaning there was literally nothing else he could do! Because of his salvation we know righteousness cannot be a matter of performance, but one entirely of faith!
Friend, like these two men you are guilty and a certain death is in your future. And yet, Jesus is willing to save! He’s willing to bear your sin if you’ll place your faith in Him. In the end you aren’t saved because of your first holy communion, your confirmation, or being baptized! It’s not the things you do for God or the things you sacrifice for Him that ultimately matters.
As illustrated by two rebels crucified to His right and left the only thing that matters in this life is the decision you make concerning Jesus! Will you accept Him as your Lord?
When it’s all said and done this picture of three crosses reminds you of the only two options before you. As these men illustrate you can stand in the crosshairs of the wrath of a righteous God. Or you can look upon His cross and accept the grace of a righteous Savior. In John 3:36 we are reminded of this important reality, “Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life, but whoever rejects Jesus will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
Let me close with a story told by Charles Spurgeon of a man who dreamed that he stood outside the gate of heaven, and while there he heard sweet music from a band of godly people who were on their way to glory. They entered the heavenly gates and there was great rejoicing and shouting. The man asked, “Who are these?” and he was told that they were the band of prophets. He signed, and said, “Alas, I am not one of those.”
He waited a while longer, and another band of bright ones drew near to the gate of heaven with hallelujahs, and when he enquired, “Who are these, and whence came they?” The answer was, “These are the glorious company of the apostles.” Again he sighed, and said, “I cannot enter with them.”
Then came another body of men who were white robed and bearing palms in their hands, who marched amid great acclamation into the golden city. These he learned were the noble army of martyrs; and again he wept, and said, “I cannot enter with these.”
In the end he heard the voices of much people, and saw a greater multitude advancing, among whom he perceived Rahab and Mary Magdalene; and there is Saul of Tarsus and Nicodemus; and there is the thief who died at the right hand of Jesus. These all entered in. And the man asked, “Who are these,” and they answered, “This is the host of sinners saved by grace.” Then he was exceedingly glad, and said, “I can go with these.”
Yet, he thought there would be no shouting at the approach of this company, and that they would enter heaven without song; instead of which, there seemed to rise a seven gold hallelujah of praise unto the Lord of love; for there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over even one sinner that repents.
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