Summary: Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this question. The reply of Jesus to that question left Pilate very unsettled!
Introduction: John chapter 18 records the arrest of Jesus while He and the disciples were in the garden of Gethsemane. In one of the most illegal trials of history, Jesus was questioned by several different people including Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.
Pilate, being a pagan Roman, seems to have never really understood just Who this Jesus, standing before him, really was. The last part of John 18 records some of the questions Pilate asked and the replies Jesus gave to him. Pilate had told the Jews assembled before him, “I don’t find any fault in this Man” but for them, that wasn’t enough. Now what would Pilate do?
Full disclosure: this has been one of the most difficult messages I’ve ever prepared. To think that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would humble Himself to endure maltreatment like this, it’s beyond anything I can think of. He did all this, and endured all of this, because He loved us.
Additional material is available in any of the conservative commentaries on John’s Gospel such as works by Arthur W. Pink, John R. Rice, Oliver Greene, plus other on-line resources. I have not intentionally used any of these for this message. Please take advantage of any and all good resources in order to help understand and explain the Word of God to as many as you can.
1 Pilate announced, “Behold the Man!”
Text, John 19:1-7, KJV: 1 Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. 2 And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, 3 And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. 4 Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. 5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! 6 When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. 7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.
Pilate had asked Jesus four questions according to John 18:33-40 and even though he was satisfied with the replies of Jesus, Pilate still was facing a difficult choice. He clearly didn’t want to crucify an innocent man but he still had to do something to please the mob. He appealed to the custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover season. He may have thought this would satisfy the mob who had been clamoring for Jesus to die.
But he was oh, so wrong.
The crowd demanded Barabbas, a robber (!) and a murderer (Luke 23:19)!
Now what would Pilate do with Jesus?
Pilate had Jesus scourged. This most likely means that Pilate didn’t do this himself but had some of the soldiers nearby do this. They were probably more than willing to do this. Bullies and tyrants usually look for the weak and defenseless in order to do whatever they feel like or feel like doing. Clearly they hadn’t heard Jesus Himself say that He could ask the Father for twelve legions (a legion was around 6000 soldiers) of angels to deliver Him (Matthew 26:53), or if they had, they didn’t care. This was their time, and they were going to make the most of it.
Scourging was even worse than it sounds. If Jesus was scourged with a Roman whip, this was most likely a “cat of nine tails”, nine leather strips (usually) each with pieces of flesh-cutting materials. Some Bible teachers noted that these could have been bone, rock, or anything else that would cause pain to the victim. In addition, the Jews could only inflict 40 stripes or lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3) but the Romans didn’t seem to have any such limit.
Even worse, the soldiers “platted” or wove a crown of thorns and as John says, “put it on His head”. I doubt they did this gently. The exact genus or species of these thorns is not known but we can be sure they were long enough and sharp enough to cause as much pain as possible.
As an aside, part of the curse placed on the ground when Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3), Adam was told the ground would bring forth “thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:18).” As part of the redemption from that sin and that curse, the very Creator would be mistreated with some of the very items He had made!
Finally the scourging was done and, miraculously, Jesus survived it. We cannot imagine the pain He went through, during and after this. John does not say when the crown of thorns was placed on His head but that was another serious pain that was inflicted on our Lord. The soldiers were not done yet, however, as after all of that, they smote (slapped or punched) Him with their hands. But one of the greatest pains of all had to be the insults they aimed at Jesus. I mean, “Hail, king of the Jews!” when they had just finished, or even were in the process, of tormenting Him. Someone once observed that harsh words hurt more than harsh blows.