19 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” 5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
(John 19:1-6 NIV)
Yesterday we looked at the end of Chapter 18, where Jesus was taken from the meeting of the Sanhedrin to the Roman governor Pilate. Pilate goes outside his palace to hear the complaints and charges against Jesus brought by the Jewish leaders. Pilate brings Jesus into the palace, questions Him, and then goes back outside to tell the Jewish leaders their charges are unfounded, that Jesus is innocent of the charges they are bringing.
Somewhere around the end of Chapter 18 and the beginning of Chapter 19, Pilate discovers that Jesus is from Galilee. Luke records that Herod, the Roman ruler of the Galilee region, is in Jerusalem, so Pilate sends Jesus to Herod for questioning. Herod and his soldiers verbally abuse Jesus, then send Him back to Pilate.
Luke records that after Jesus came back from Herod’s interrogation and mistreatment, Pilate again pronounced Jesus’ innocence to the Jewish leaders and wanted to release Him. But the Jewish leaders whipped the crowd into a frenzy and demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate, once more trying to spare an innocent man’s life, tells the Jewish leaders that he will punish Jesus then release Him.
As we look into today’s passage, Pilate makes good on his promise to the Jewish leaders and orders his soldiers to flog Jesus, thinking that he will appease the Jewish leaders and still save an innocent man’s life.
When we hear the term “flog” in the Bible, the description is typically of a Jewish flogging, which uses a whip with multiple leather straps attached to a handle. The whip was used on the person’s back, and the leather straps caused pain and raised welts on the skin. The Jewish flogging was a prescribed 39 lashes so as to inflict intense pain, but not to kill the one receiving the punishment.
What Pilate ordered was not a Jewish flogging, but a Roman flogging. The Romans were far more brutal. The Roman punishment device was a series of leather straps attached to a handle, similar to the Jewish instrument. The Romans, however, embedded metal, bone, glass, and other sharp objects into the ends of the leather straps. When the person was flogged, the leather straps caused pain and raised welts on the skin, like the Jewish punishment. The sharp object embedded in the ends of the leather straps penetrated the skin and stuck in the person’s flesh. When the whip was pulled back, the sharp objects tore the skin and flesh. There was no limit on the number of strokes applied during the flogging. The only measure was that the person was to be flogged until the skin hung in shreds from their back.
After the soldiers had flogged Jesus, they mocked Him and weaved a crown of thorns and jammed it onto Jesus’ head, then proceeded to abuse Him further and ridicule Him. The soldiers then brought Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate, hoping to satisfy the mob, brings Jesus out to show that he kept his word by punishing Jesus. Pilate was hoping that his pronouncement of innocence plus the sight of Jesus would appease the crowd. As Jesus stood beside Pilate bleeding and in shock, Pilate introduces Jesus, saying, “Here is the man!”
But the punishment has the opposite effect that Pilate had hoped. Instead of satisfying the Jewish rulers’ sense of justice, the sight of Jesus whips the crowd into a further frenzy. The mob demands Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate, again trying to wash his hands of the whole affair, tells the Jewish leaders to kill Jesus themselves.
Isaiah summed up this moment in his prophecy:
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
(Isaiah 53:3 NIV)
Jesus endured this pain and the pain yet to come on the cross for your sake and mine, to take the punishment for our sins so we could be reconciled to God.
By His wounds we are healed.