The great tragedy moves rapidly on. The chief priests, members of the Sanhedrim, and Jewish leaders, had prepared their plans well; so well that Pilate, with all his well-meant endeavors, found himself unable to frustrate them. A great crowd of their creatures surrounded his palace and met every expostulation against the injustice of murdering Jesus with hoarse remonstrances, loud cries and ferocious threats. Accustomed to the inflammatory temper of the Jewish population he feared an uprising at a time when the passover had brought two or three millions of people to the city and when it would be easy to overwhelm the little Roman garrison of 600 men. He feared still more the accusations against him that they proposed to despatch to Cæsar, for he had already learned by their victory over him in a former collision that they were not without influence at Rome. Hence, rather than sacrifice himself, he begins to yield to demands to which he is bitterly opposed and knows to be cruel and unjust. His attempt to relieve himself of responsibility by sending the prisoners to Herod had failed. (Joh 19:1)
1. Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged him. Scourging was the usual preliminary of the Romans to an execution, but Pilate still hoped to appease the Jews by the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, without his death. The Roman scourging was terribly cruel. The word used for scourging implies that it was done, not with rods, for Pilate had no lictors, but with what Horace calls the "horribile flagellum," of which the Russian knout is the only modern representative. The person to be scourged was bound to a low pillar, that, bending over, the blows might be better inflicted. The scourge was made of several thongs with a handle; the thongs were made rough with bits of iron or bone, for tearing the flesh, and thus fitted, it was called a scorpion. See Psalm 129:3; Isaiah 53:5. It was our sins that made Christ suffer thus. Paul was scourged also more than once. See 2 Cor.11:24.
It would not be difficult for us to draw from the description of ancient eye-witnesses accounts of the scourging inflicted by the Romans, which would give us some idea of the shame and torture now endured by the Son of man, but perhaps it is better to look beyond the purely physical sufferings of our Savior. It is well to keep in mind, however, that a more brutal soldiery never existed in the world than the Roman. Even the Indian savage is not more unfeeling than was the soldier of the Roman legion. The national brutality which could choose for its sports the combats of gladiators in the arena, or of prisoners with ferocious beasts in the amphitheatre, reached its climax in the men whose trade was war. The laws, made in self-preservation, aimed to protect Roman citizens, but the prisoner of a subject race might as well have appealed for pity to the tiger of an Indian jungle. It is true that Pilate had become strangely interested in Jesus. There was something about the prisoner that excited his wonder and awe; his conscience had probably been stirred as never before, and he had made strenuous efforts to appease the Jewish clamor and to release a prisoner "in whom he found no fault at all." But while averse to decreeing an act of injustice, he had not that stern rectitude that would make him willing to sacrifice himself rather than do wrong, and he had therefore weakly yielded, after an ineffectual struggle. The delivery of Christ to his soldiers for the preliminary scourging, the cruel Roman method of preparing a prisoner for execution, would therefore be a signal to the ferocious men of war in his palace to expend their natural love of brutality on the Lord. Hence, we learn, not only that he was subjected to the scourge, but to the additional shame of mockery. When he was covered with blood and torn with stripes, a most pitiable object to human eyes, in mockery of his kingly claims they array him in the robes of royalty, crown him with thorns, and while pretending adulation, heap indignity on indignity. Oh, the wonders of his love and long-suffering! (Joh 19:2) (Joh 19:3)
2, 3. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns. The crown of thorns was probably a wreath of thorny leaves something like the common cactus. While presenting the appearance of a crown it would be an instrument of torture. To this emblem of royalty was added a purple, or scarlet robe (both colors are named and with the ancients differed little), which was thrown around him as a royal mantle. Matthew adds that a reed was placed in his hand as a scepter. Then, when they had thus arrayed their torn and bleeding victim, the brutal soldiers began to mockingly salute him and to cry, "Hail, King of the Jews!" Their whole conduct was designed to render his claims of kingly power contemptible. In order to make the humiliation greater they would approach him, as they saluted him as King, extending their hands as if to offer him royal tribute, and then strike him a blow. Whenever I think of one that could have called twelve legions of angels to his rescue, enduring these things, I am amazed beyond expression. Mark adds that they spit on him. In that vast hall were hundreds of ferocious soldiers and they would vie with each other in efforts to insult the prisoner whom they, in their ignorance, supposed to be a rebel seeking royal power. (Joh 19:4) (Joh 19:5)
4. Pilate went forth again. He went out of his palace to the crowd upon the street, preceding Jesus, and again affirming that he found no fault with him, although he had scourged him. From Luke 23:16, we learn that he had proposed to scourge him and then let him go. He seems now to hope that the pitiable condition of the torn and bloody prisoner, as well as his humiliation, will appeal to the better feelings of his enemies. As Jesus, wearing the painful crown and the mocking robe, is led out he exclaims, Behold the man! His own heart is touched. He no longer speaks of him as King, but points to him as a human sufferer. Pilate, unconsciously, described the sufferer aright. That mocked and despised prisoner, with the thorny crown and the streams of blood trickling down from his brow, humiliated, beaten and insulted, was THE MAN, the one perfect man of the human race, the type of ideal manhood. To him all ages point and exclaim, Ecce homo! Behold the man! (Joh 19:6)
6. When the chief priests and officers saw him, etc. If Pilate had hoped to excite pity he was doomed to disappointment. Even his hard, heathen heart could not fathom the depths of Jewish hate. His repeated declaration that Jesus was guilty of no crime against Roman law, and the appearance on the porch, of the prisoner in so wretched a state, only provoked the cry, "Crucify him, crucify him!" This cry was evidently tumultuous and threatening. Pilate replies, "Take ye him and crucify him, for I find no fault;" not a permission to crucify him, but an angry answer: "If you want him crucified do it yourselves; I will not, for he has done nothing." This they had no power to do. Pilate's reply is both a taunt and an accusation of the priests of a wish to crucify an innocent man. (Joh 19:7)
7. We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, etc. We is emphatic. Pilate has decided that Christ is guilty of no crime against Roman law. Then they assert that he has merited death by the violation of their law. They refer to the law against blasphemy in Lev.24:16. Let it not be forgotten that the Sanhedrim condemned Jesus to death because he declared that he was the Son of God, and now when other means had failed they make the same charge before the Roman tribunal. Jesus died for the "good confession." (Joh 19:8) (Joh 19:9)
8, 9. When Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid. The calmness and majesty of the prisoner had profoundly moved the stern Roman. Man had never endured with such patience and kingly dignity. Now when he heard the statement that he had said that he was the Son of God, he thought at once of all those stories in his heathen mythology, of the gods taking human form. What if this marvelous prisoner was the son of one the gods? He was alarmed. He retired into the judgment hall with Jesus for a fresh examination. He asks, Whence art thou? Art thou of earth or of heaven, human or divine? No answer was returned. The motive of the question was not to know his claims that he might worship him, but to got some knowledge that would relieve his perplexity. Christ gave no answer that would tend to save himself. (Joh 19:10)
10. Knowest thou not . . . that I have power to release thee? Pilate was baffled and piqued by Christ's calm silence. To extort an answer he boasted of his power and appealed to the motive of fear. He had power to crucify or release. The prisoner would do well to seek to please him. (Joh 19:11)
11. Thou couldest have no power against me, etc. Jesus breaks the silence and at once assumes the position of Pilate's judge. His language shows that Pilate was the poor, powerless victim of his environment. He could have no power over himself unless it were given him. The divine majesty could blaze forth and smite at once Jew and Roman. Christ submitted because it was the Father's will that he should drink the cup. Poor, helpless Pilate was not so great a sinner as the Jews who might have known better, who were filled with devilish hate, who were now forcing Pilate to the crime. The words of Christ are really words of compassion. The prisoner to be crucified pities the judge that sends him to the cross! (Joh 19:12)
12. From thenceforth Pilate sought to release him. He continued his efforts, which John passes over with the statement. That they were persistent is indicated by the threatening reply of the Jews: If thou let this man go, thou art not Cæsar's friend. This means that he will be accused before Cæsar's tribunal of overlooking treason. The Cæsar then on the throne was Tiberius, dark, suspicious, cruel in character. Such a charge from the representatives of the Jewish nation at Rome would probably prove fatal to Pilate; would certainly end his career as a public man. The risk is too great. He would rather sacrifice an innocent man than himself. Hence he at once surrenders. The struggle is over. (Joh 19:13)
13. Sat down in the judgment seat. He had sat in the judgment seat before and had acquitted Jesus. Now he is brought forth again and Pilate takes the judgment seat in order to condemn him. The judgment seat was a raised platform, a kind of throne, from whence judicial decisions were rendered. John marks the spot where this, the most momentous of earthly decisions, was rendered. It was a spot called the Pavement, probably a square with mosaic pavement in front of the tower of Antonia. Here the seat of judgment was placed. (Joh 19:14)
14. It was the preparation of the passover, and the sixth hour. John marks the exact time when this remarkable judgment was rendered. It was about six o'clock in the morning, on Friday, the day of preparation for the passover. Mark says that the crucifixion began at the third hour, nine o'clock, as the Hebrews began to count at six. John wrote many years later, after Jerusalem had fallen, among people who began to count at midnight, as did all the Roman world, and he therefore used their language and called six o'clock the sixth hour, as we do, rather than the first hour as the Hebrews did.
Another difficulty occurs in the preparation for the passover. Christ and his apostles had eaten the passover already. How then could it be that that was the preparation day? Amid conflicting views I can only give what seems to me the best solution: 1. It is certain that Christ ate a meal the evening before in the Upper Room which was called a passover.2. It is certain from John 18:28, that the Jews had not eaten the passover at that time.3. It seems clear to me that Christ, anxious to eat this passover (see Luke 22:15), ate it in advance of the usual time, in order that he, the true Paschal Lamb, "Our Passover," might be offered on the same day that the passover was eaten. The priests hurried the trial and execution of Jesus so that they might proceed to the preparation for the passover that evening. As the Lord's supper was anticipatory of the suffering on the cross, so was the Lord's last passover. (Joh 19:15)
15. Shall I crucify your King? Pilate had yielded. His decision was made, but he was full of resentment against the Jews and the words with which he presented Jesus, prepared for crucifixion, were designed to taunt them. "Behold your King!" When they reply with the cruel shout, "Crucify him, crucify him!" he asks with a sneer, "Shall I crucify your King?" To this they reply: We have no king but Cæsar. They had not now. They had rejected the divine King, had chosen Barabbas instead, for life, and now make choice of Cæsar as their king instead of the Lord's Anointed. To Cæsar's tender mercies they commit themselves, and in about a generation Cæsar will trample them in the wine press of wrath. (Joh 19:16)
16. Then delivered he him . . . to be crucified. He gave to the Jewish leaders a guard of Roman soldiers ordered to take charge of the prisoner and to execute the sentence. The mob had triumphed, and the Roman had been forced to yield. Thus had been fulfilled the declaration of the prophet that his condemnation should be extorted (Isaiah 53:8). To be crucified. The death to which the Savior was now formally sentenced was regarded by the ancients as the most awful form of punishment known. Even burning was considered preferable. It was never inflicted by the Jews but was common among the Persians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans. It is spoken of by Cicero as "the most cruel and disgraceful of punishments," and was never inflicted upon a Roman citizen, though often upon slaves. It was preceded by scourging and the condemned was required to carry his own cross, or a part of it at least, to the place of execution. The place selected was outside of the gates, and on arrival, the sufferer was stripped naked, his clothing becoming a perquisite of his executioners, and the cross was so erected that his feet would only be one or two feet from the earth. Sometimes he was nailed to the cross after it was erected and sometimes before, being thrown upon his back upon the ground, and nails driven through each extended hand and through the feet. A medicated cup was usually given before the nailing out of humanity, in order to stupefy the sufferer and render him less sensible to the exquisite pain. This our Lord refused to take in order that he might meet his fate with his senses all clear. These details are gathered from Smith's Bible Dictionary, which adds: "It only remains to speak of the manner of death, and the kind of physical suffering endured, which we shall briefly abridge from the physician Richter. These are, 1. The unnatural position and violent tension of the body, which causes a painful sensation on the least motion.2. The nails being driven through parts of the hands and feet which are full of nerves and tendons (and yet at a distance from the heart), create the most exquisite anguish.3. The exposure of so many wounds and lacerations brings on inflammation, which tends to become gangrene, and every moment increases the poignancy of suffering.4. In the distended parts of the body more blood flows through the arteries than can be carried back into the veins; hence, too much blood finds its way from the aorta into the head and stomach, and the blood vessels of the head become swollen and pressed. The general obstruction of the circulation which ensues, causes an internal excitement, exertion and anxiety, more intolerable than death itself.5. The inexpressible misery of gradually increasing and lingering anguish. To all of which we may add, 6. Burning and raging thirst."
When left to the effect of the cross victims usually lingered about three days and have been known to suffer nine, before death ended their agonies. Sometimes methods of hastening death were resorted to, in mercy, one of which was the breaking of the legs; others were to build fires beneath and stifle with smoke, or to turn wild beasts upon the victim. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, abolished crucifixion as a method of punishment.