Summary: Stripping Jesus naked and gambling over his clothes is business as usual for the Roman soldiers. However, because the humiliation of Jesus is ordained by God for our redemption, we cannot treat the nakedness of our crucified Jesus in a business as usual fashion.
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Why Are You Naked?
During the crucifixion of Jesus there is a situation which arises that adds to the humiliation that Jesus is experiencing.
John 19:23-24 gives us the most comprehensive description.
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 ‘Let’s not tear it,’ they said to one another. ‘Let’s decide by lot who will get it.’
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, ‘They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.’
So this is what the soldiers did.
Four items of clothing – what would they be?
… an outer garment.
… a belt.
… some sort of head covering.
Four items to be divided among four soldiers.
Then a seamless tunic … an under garment.
It is the garment Jesus is wearing when he washes his disciples feet.
The fact that it is a seamless tunic has generated a lot of discussion.
Some early church fathers saw it as a symbol of unity of the church – but the symbol kind of falls apart the moment the tunic is taken away from Jesus.
Some point to the fact that the high-priest also had a seamless garment – and they see priestly and sacrificial symbolism here. But the seamless garment of the high-priest was the outer garment. So that symbolism doesn’t really work either.
We are on more solid ground if we more on cultural norms and Scriptural directives.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.
Scripture directed that all pieces of clothing be made of the same material. A woollen cloak was all wool. A linen garment was all linen. A leather belt was all leather. What this means is that lots of Jews walked around with seamless garments woven from one material. In was a normal part of life.
Four small piles of clothing … and a seamless garment.
What is striking here is how little earthly possessions Jesus actually has.
There are no luxuries.
It’s the bare minimum isn’t it.
Yet, even the little Jesus has, is taken away.
Which leaves Jesus with … nothing.
Jesus is naked on the cross.
Knowing that this is our Saviour … Our Messiah … Our King.
It … well it almost feels blasphemous talking about Jesus like this doesn’t it.
Indeed it is so hard to fathom that, historically, there are those who try and sanitise this situation. They do so by referring to Mishnah Sanhedrin 6.3, which was written in the second century AD. This Mishnah describes how the process of stoning someone who is condemned to death. In the description, even though the condemned is stripped naked, he is given a small loin cloth. And women were also given small coverings for their front and back.
But, this is not a stoning, it is a crucifixion.
And the Jews are not in control of the process – the Romans are.
When the Romans are involved the condemned crucified were always naked. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who lived at the same time as Jesus, describes a crucifixion.
The men ordered to lead the slave to his punishment. Having stretched out both his arms and fastened them to a piece of wood which extended across his breast and shoulders as far as his wrists, they followed him, tearing his naked body with whips.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities 7.69.2
People thrown to the lions were naked. People executed on the battlefield were stripped naked. It was a method the Romans used to humiliate, cause fear, and exert control. The deliberate humiliation is a part of the brutality of the Roman military.
But here is what we really have to come to grips with. What we are witnessing – Jesus being stripped naked – this is actually just business as usual. Business as usual for the soldiers. Another day. Another crucifixion. That was their duty.
Get the body fastened to the cross, with nails through hands and feet.
Pull the cross upright, so the real agony can begin.
The crucified slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. Then the crucified pushes themselves upward to avoid the stretching torment placing full weight on the nail through their feet. Again … searing pain. Eventually the strain is all too much and the one being crucified can’t lift anymore. A terrible crushing pain deep in the chest starts to happen as the lungs slowly fills with serum and begin to compress the heart. The crucified will die from suffocation, or heart failure.